Indie bands get into the island life

Ibiza has influenced dance music for years. But what's the sound of Orkney or Eigg?

"People just went running off into the woods, going for walks to the middle of nowhere, sleeping out in the fields." Cate Le Bon is describing the inspiration behind her current album Cyrk. The scene she's setting is not dissimilar to an indie Sun, Sex And Suspicious Parents: 300 people let loose for a weekend of drinking, music and midnight exploration. Except the island location isn't Ibiza, or Malia; it's a small Scottish island south of Skye called Eigg.

In September 2010, Fence Records hosted the Away Game festival on the Isle of Eigg. Tickets sold out in six minutes. It's not surprising. The picture Le Bon paints of the festival is one of wonder. The island has a population of roughly 70 people, all of whom were up for a good time. "It was like being children again. There's a security to being on an island – there's damage limitation – there's only so far you can go. You can't really get lost, because you're in a tiny place."

When the time came to write Cyrk, there could only be one push. "It was a real kick to want to write songs about how a place like Eigg makes you feel. The complete isolation, and feeling at one with your surroundings. And I haven't felt that properly since I was a child in rural Wales. So when I went to Eigg, it felt familiar to me even though I'd never visited before."

Le Bon's not the only artist to have found inspiration in a remote island. From British Sea Power's Man of Aran to Fair Isle singer Lise Sinclair, who has just come back from touring a new album inspired by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown, it seems that isolation breeds imagination. Meanwhile, on Orkney, the Magnetic North are preparing their debut album.

Comprised of Erland And The Carnival members Gawain Erland Cooper and Simon Tong, with vocals by Yorkshire singer Hannah Peel, the Magnetic North formed after Orkney native Cooper found a 1930s tourism guide to Orkney of the same title. He then had a vivid dream in which he was (stick with us) visited by the ghost of Betty Corrigall, an Orcadian girl who died in the 1770s. Cooper woke the next morning with a list of track names, each a location on Orkney.

Vocalist Hannah Peel hopes that the album, Orkney: Symphony Of the Magnetic North, will encourage fans to visit the island to link up sounds with locations. "It's kind of like a treasure map," she explains. "We want to make a map that you can download from the website in PDF and take it with you."

The geographical impetus has also made the band think about a possible follow up, based on Tong's hometown. "We're going to write about Wigan. Orcadians travel across the sea to Newfoundland. Where would you go from Wigan pier?"

• This article was amended on 10 April 2012. The original said Lise Sinclair's new album was inspired by the "Shetland poet George Mackay Brown". Brown was born in Orkney and lived there for most of his life. This has been corrected.


Ailbhe Malone

The GuardianTramp

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