Composers Craig Armstrong and Calum Martin have spoken about their fears for the future of Gaelic psalm singing.

Mr Armstrong, best known for his film scores including Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, and Mr Martin, who is steeped in the Gaelic psalm singing tradition on Lewis, have expressed their concerns as they release a new collaborative album. The Edge of the Sea combines psalm singing, which is traditionally sung unaccompanied in church, with music composed by Armstrong and played by the Scottish Ensemble.

Gaelic psalm singing, which can trace its history back hundreds of years, is a unique form of church singing in the Western Isles. But the two men fear that the future of the tradition is in real danger of disappearing as congregations grow older and Gaelic services increasingly disappear.

“The bottom line at the end of the day is our tradition as we knew it and as we were brought up is on the way out,” Mr Martin has told The Herald Magazine. “There are very, very few Gaelic services now. I think the way things are looking I can see it dying out in the churches.”


Calum Martin

“It needs someone to say, ‘Look, this is a hugely important tradition and we are in danger of losing it,’” Mr Armstrong added.

The album, The Edge of the Sea, which features singers from Lewis and Harris and fiddler Duncan Chisholm, alongside the Scottish Ensemble, grew out of a meeting between the two men at Celtic Connections in 2014. In making the album, they both hope that psalm singing might reach a new constituency. “This record is one little step in hopefully getting it out there to the more general public,” Mr Armstrong said.

Mr Martin, who is a member of the Back Free Church on Lewis, believes that it highlights a form of singing that should be very much seen as part of Scotland’s musical legacy. “I actually think this should be completely embedded in the traditional music of Scotland. At the moment it isn’t. It’s typical of islanders, and all of us, that it’s when we’ve lost something that we recognise the importance of what it was.”


You can read the full interview with Craig Armstrong and Calum Martin in The Herald Magazine tomorrow, and online from Sunday.