Amy Duncan Emerges From Lockdown ‘Cocoon’ With New Album
by Geoff Ford
Award-winning Scottish folk musician Amy Duncan releases her new album Cocoon on Friday 26 November via her own Filly Records label.Lockdown restrictions frame the aptly-titled Cocoon, which captures constrained life in slow motion, mixing memories of childhood with dreams of escape, days drifting by, the spectre of death and nights spent dancing at home with loved ones.
“Early in the pandemic, I was transported back to how I felt as a child,” Amy reflects. “Partly it was having so much spare time, but also feeling quite fearful of the world. In particular, I was reminded of moving from Glasgow to a small town in Perthshire, aged 11, when my whole world completely changed.”
The classically trained Duncan fully embraced electronics on this new collection, switching from her usual acoustic instruments to synths, electric guitar and electric upright bass. The result is a spectral new sound with space for her high, hypnotic vocals to swim over minimal soundscapes and percussion, as showcased in her latest single You Know Me.
You Know Me follows the album’s lead single A Door Is Opening, a sparkling, sun-dappled song about leaving the house for daily lockdown walks. Sonically, it mimics the wonder of the world outside when the only alternative is four walls. “The simple action of opening the door and stepping out felt like a special occasion,” remembers Amy.
Lockdown walks also inspired the skittering Treasure Hunt, in which clues are followed and lost ones twinkle like stars in the sky. “I’d always try to find something new in the same scenery,” says Amy. “I was searching for beauty while socially distancing, aware of what getting too close to other people could mean. The walks were an escape but also a reminder of what was happening all over the world.”
Like the critically-acclaimed The Hidden World, Cocoon was mixed and mastered by Cameron Malcolm, who produced Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile’s 2012 solo album Mid Air. Amy’s previous three albums were produced by Cameron’s dad, Calum Malcolm (The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout).
“I’d bought a new keyboard to take on the tour that never happened and I became obsessed with an electric piano sound during the first lockdown. I love that the chords leave lots of space and that the tremolo keeps the space going. It was a happy accident that I had the piano to experiment on and a plan that this album would take me in a different direction.”
That plan got underway last August when Amy took part, remotely, in a week-long residency run by Sage Gateshead. For the programme, she unearthed Warrior, a song she had written a few years back, which she loved, but hadn’t been able to fit on an album.
“I was meant to go to Newcastle, but it was all online, which gave me space at home to really think about my music and where I wanted to take it. I chose Warrior as it’s about my childhood, running round playing bows and arrows while fearing a nuclear war because that’s what adults talked about at the time.”
Amy set her soaring, swooping vocals to glitchy electronics and pounding percussion and the song she had sat on for so long took flight. Next, she wrote Cocoon’s spooky closer Forget Me Not, one of a handful of tracks that began as titles which harked back to her childhood.
“The pandemic taught me to value my freedom and to make the most of opportunities when they arise”
“Forget Me Not is inspired by a garden I had in Glasgow,” says Amy. “It was just a little patch of ground full of wild Forget-Me-Nots, but it felt like a special, secret place to me.”
The stripped-back Blood, with its haunting harmonies and chilling lyrics, began as The Flood and recounts a recurring dream Amy used to have of her childhood flat in Glasgow filling up with water and sweeping everything, including herself, down the endless stairs outside. Take me back to a place of safety, she pleads as the song closes.
The opening title track refers to Amy partying with her partner Steven and her 20-year-old son Finn Kennedy when the three were cocooned at home. Finn, a musician who had just won a place at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and contributes acoustic guitar to the album. “Every Friday night we’d get the tunes on and just dance in the sitting room,” says Amy. “Those were the good times, the best bits of lockdown alongside the walks.”
Most of the instruments on Cocoon were played by Amy, who also demoed the album alone at home, before recording the vocals with Cameron at the Noisefloor studio in Leith.
To suit Cocoon’s new sound, she has assembled an all-new band and is properly putting herself out there. She will make her return to the stage at a very special show at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms on November 21, which will also be broadcast live, before her first tour finally begins in the spring.
“I always thought it would be a given that I could go and play live whenever I felt ready” she says. “The pandemic taught me to value my freedom and to make the most of opportunities when they arise as you don’t know when life is going to suddenly change. I am really looking forward to my album launch and connecting with a live audience in this new world”
Fifteen years on from her DIY debut Pilgrimage and little over a year since the release of her seventh album, The Hidden World, Amy is about to embark on a new era of her career. The Whole Town, the single from The Hidden World, had received radio play on BBC Radio 2’s Folk Show and BBC6 Music’s Radcliffe & Maconie.
“I’m not sure why, but I’ve always kept myself quite hidden,” she admits. “Making music is easy for me, promoting it is the hard part. Ironically, 2020 was due to be the year that I put myself out there. I got a live agent for the first time and had a tour booked.
“The positives from it are that I got to make this album, the tour is being re-booked for the spring and I’m no longer nervous about it. Having been stuck at home for so long, I can’t wait to get back on stage. I’m more ready for it than I’ve ever been.”
Amy Duncan Cocoon tracklist:
02 Treasure Hunt
03 You Know Me
06 A Door Is Opening
08 The Runaway
09 Forget Me Not