Songs for Albert Ross

This Lazy Sunday it’s time to pull the duvet up tight and get cosy and warm, as Worm casts us adrift on the dark and stormy waters of the North Atlantic…

In 1967, a couple of twitchers on a jaunt to the Hebrides to look for migratory arctic birds were met by a bewildering sight. Sat before them on a cold windswept rock in the far reaches of the Firth of Forth was a Black-Browed Albatross. In twitching terms, this was somewhat akin to finding flamingos in Grimsby, as the bird they were looking at wasn’t just slightly lost, but a full 10,000 miles away from its usual home in Antarctica. Once the news of this rather baffling blow-in reached the national press, it wasn’t long before some wag christened the bird Albert Ross. After having been blown so spectacularly off course (some think he was simply too far away from his normal breeding grounds to have just got lost, and may in fact have been trapped by a mischievous sailor and released into the northern gulf stream) Albert made his home in the Gannet colonies of the Hebrides. To exacerbate his feelings of alienation, albatross can live for up to 70 years – meaning that Albert also faced the protracted ignominy of his amorous advances being rebuffed by the confused gannets for decades.

After a while Albert pitched up in the gannetry at Hermaness on Unst and was seen there for years as celebrity in residence, before disappearing in 1996, presumed dead, only to miraculously reappear in the Sula Sgeir between 2005-2007.

For all those years Albert the Black-Browed Albatross had been wandering the North Atlantic completely alone, the only member of his species in the entire northern hemisphere. Nearly 40 years setting out across the waves, through the storms, one little lost soul. As you sit cosy and warm at home I hope these songs will make you think of windswept hebridean islands and Albert Ross the lonely, lost albatross.

First, a song entitled Albatross – no, not the Fleetwood Mac one as that would have been too obvious, (and besides I find that one far too warm and bucolic to put me in mind of solitary birds at the wind-blasted ends of the earth). I had to upload this song onto youtube myself as no other copy of it seems to exist online. It’s melancholy electronic post-rock from the aptly titled band North Atlantic Drift, and suitably conjours up Albert’s world of turbulent and cold dark seas.

King Creosote has been producing gentle folk music for a while now, but he really entered the limelight last year on teaming up with electronic soundtrack producer Jon Hopkins, producing one of the finest albums of 2011 – Diamond Mine. Nominated for the Mercury prize, The whole album is written around a ‘concept’ involving a scottish fishing community and woven throughout the wistful singing and sparkling electronic chords are the sounds of seabirds and harbour life. This song/soundscape, John Taylors Month Away, tells the story of a young fisherman as he sets off in his boat in rough winter storms, already dreaming of the safety and warmth of home.


Some more post rock here from the wonderfully named British Sea Power. In 2009 BSP were commissioned to create a soundtrack for the restored BFI footage of Man of Aran, a 1934 documentary of a group of hebridean crofters and basking shark hunters. You might have seen it on BBC4 recently. It’s well worth seeking out other parts of the film which appear on Youtube, as the music really works best alongside the footage it was created for, creating a stirring backdrop to their hardscrape lives (much of which was faked, as many of the practices such as shark hunting had died out years before).

Finally we have “Pharaohs”, a fairly obscure but rather lovely instrumental that served as the B-side to the massive 1986 Tears for Fears hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. The only voice heard is a recording of radio 4 announcer Brian Perkins reading the shipping forecast.

There are warnings of gales in Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Fisher, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Finisterre, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faroes and Southeast Iceland.
The general synopsis at one eight double-O: low just north of Viking, nine double-seven, moving steadily east-northeast.
Low 300 miles south of Iceland. Atlantic low forming, moving steadily northeast.
A ridge of high pressure has swayed between North and South Utsire. The area forecast for the next twenty-four hours. Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Forth.

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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

7 thoughts on “Songs for Albert Ross

    December 2, 2012 at 10:54

    An excellent theme and a really interesting selection – all new to me. Thanks for the intros. So glad that Albert didn’t die of loneliness.

    December 2, 2012 at 14:24

    All new to me too, except for BSP – I must get out more.

    John Halliwell
    December 2, 2012 at 19:02

    A lovely post, Worm – very enjoyable.

    If someone had said to me, ten years or so ago, that I would, within a few years, see the light and recognise that electronic music was worthy of embrace, I would, if in one of my grumpy, bear-with-a-sore-head moods, tell the bringer of such enlightenment where to shove his synthesizer. All that changed when the restored films of Mitchell and Kenyon were issued by the BFI. I was practically awestruck by the clarity and astonishing depth of the films, but there was another factor that gave them enormous impact: it was the electronic soundtrack that accompanied those moving images from one hundred years earlier. The music, composed and played by In the Nursery moved the viewing experience from astonishing to unforgettable.

    The first clip here featuring North Atlantic Drift’s Albatross reminded me immediately of the soundtrack to the Mitchell and Kenyon films. The single photograph is wonderfully apt and helps this listener to get inside the text. The BSP clip is also very atmospheric.

  4. Brit
    December 2, 2012 at 20:26

    Gorgeous stuff, Worm. I’ve just added King Creosote to my Christmas wishlist.

    December 3, 2012 at 03:26

    There is a poem by Yeats, originally I think part of a play, beginning something like

    Lonely the sea bird lies at her rest
    Blown like a dawn-blenched parcel of spray
    Upon the wind, or follows her prey
    Under a great waves hollowing crest.

    Which brings to mind Richard Henry Dana’s description of albatrosses in the south Atlantic (quoted probably by D.H. Lawrence, else why would I remember it?).

    December 3, 2012 at 15:08

    Think I’ll definitely get some King Creosote on that evidence.

  7. Worm
    December 3, 2012 at 15:32

    thanks all for your comments, glad you liked the music and the photo John, and thank you George for the poem!

    Owen, its a great album, there’s some songs on there even better than the one I posted here

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