MONDAY morning, January 17. It is less than two weeks before the Tinderbox Collective and Kathryn Joseph are due to take to the stage at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of this year’s Celtic Connections. Only they’re not sure it’s definitely going to happen.

“All my parts are crossed,” Joseph admits, though, the Aberdonian singer-songwriter is hoping rather than believing her Celtic Connections event will go ahead when we speak.

“Everyone else I know who’s playing Celtic Connections has already had theirs cancelled. It will be very lucky if we get to, I think. But then, also, you feel a guilt that others aren’t at all. It’s a weird one.”

This has been a difficult, perhaps even traumatic few weeks for the Glasgow festival as it has sought to deal with this winter’s Covid restrictions that have put paid to so many of its plans. Gigs have been cancelled, others moved online. But the day after we speak Joseph and Tinderbox will get confirmation that their gig will go ahead.

It means that there will be a proper live celebration for the launch of the new EP, The Blood, The Weight, The Weary, which sees Joseph rerecording three of her most charged songs with Tinderbox’s 30-piece orchestra made up of young people.

On paper, it’s a brave move. Joseph, surely one of the most exciting Scottish artists to have emerged in the last decade, has made her name with songs full of love and loss and grief presented with an emotional and sonic nakedness. Her two albums, the 2015 Scottish Album of the Year Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled and From When I Wake the Want Is, released in 2018, are bare, stark things, animated by Joseph’s expressive piano-playing and her extraordinary voice. Marcus Mackay adds drums and synths to both, but even these are used sparingly.

And so, the new EP is something of a reinvention. On The Weary, arranger Luci Holland adds a sumptuous orchestral introduction to Joseph’s track. On Weight, Sam Irvine’s arrangement brings a minimalist feel (inspired by Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians). Oh, and a marimba. While on The Blood, Tinderbox’s artistic director Jack Nissan couches Joseph’s unique voice in a swelling cushion of orchestral sound that aspires to – and reaches, I think – the epic.

Joseph admits that she wasn’t sure about the idea of orchestral versions of her work to begin with. “Can I get away with just my weird, croaky voice and all this noise?” she asked herself.

But the result has thrilled her. “As soon as I heard the arrangements I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s better than my version.’ It was a very immediate, ‘This makes sense’. For each track to be as perfect …” She runs out of words for a moment, before settling for, “I love them.”

Listening to these new versions of her songs has been an emotional experience, she says.

“I think it almost gives me a chance to listen to them again, and to feel them again. A string section makes me emotional anyway.”

What is so impressive about the EP is the way the addition of the orchestra never overpowers the original songs. The arrangements never swamp the emotion of Joseph’s singing and playing.

It was a real risk,” admits Tinderbox’s Jack Nissan. But, he adds, the bareness of the original songs meant there was room for the orchestra to expand into.

“There was space to make them sound different and feel different. I was quite keen that they didn’t feel like the original, to bring something a bit different to them through the process of arrangement and collaboration.

“I think the key thing is it tries to hold the soul and the heart you hear in Kathryn’s singing, holding on to the core emotion behind the music.”

Joseph and Tinderbox Collective first collaborated together at the Hidden Door Festival in Leith in 2017 and, Nissan says, there was an “immediate creative click”. The EP and next week’s live performances grew out of that. The EP was originally scheduled to come out in 2020, so there has been a wait for this all to come together. That wait has been worth it.


What is all the more impressive is that the members of Tinderbox Collective are so young.

“They could all be my children,” says Joseph, who was 40 when her first album won the SAY award. “But I’ve just never met such brilliant, beautiful, kind humans.”

Nissan set up the Tinderbox Collective a decade ago. Originally from London, he had moved to Edinburgh to study and then began to play in local bands. He’d always had an interest in education, and he wanted to bring music and kids together.

Based around North Edinburgh Arts in Muirhouse, Tinderbox holds workshops for schools and stages weekly music-based youth clubs. Over the years it has nurtured kids in their early teens to learn an instrument. Many of the members of the orchestra, who range in age from 14 to 25, have learned to be musicians via the youth clubs and are now passing their knowledge on to younger people. Sam Irvine, who arranged Weight, joined when he was 14 and now he’s 24.

Still, none of this can have been easy over the last couple of Covid-scarred years. “Obviously, we’ve had to stop playing music together in person,” Nissan admits. “The youth clubs weren’t able to get together, and we weren’t allowed to play live music, which is very sad.

“We ended up doing a huge amount of online youth clubs, playing music to each other. And we started an online music school and a musical instrument library.”

Joseph feels she has been one of the lucky ones during the pandemic. She has been writing and recording a new album which will see the light of day in April (musically, she says, “it’s barer than it’s ever been before”). Inevitably, though, this pandemic period when she couldn’t play live much has had an impact.

“I definitely feel like I’m at the beginning of it again, confidence-wise. But that’s maybe okay too,” Joseph says.

“It worries me how it has affected other people. It’s just so difficult to not be able to do the thing that you need to do to make money. But, also, for your mental health. It’s so connected for everyone doing anything creative. So, yeah, it’s been a very strange time for everyone.”

Now, though we are inching gingerly back in the direction of normality.

“I remember thinking, ‘How does everyone go back to normal?’” Joseph admits. “It used to be our favourite thing to do, to see a gig. And now you’re worried about being close to anyone at a gig which is the whole point of being at a gig.”

When the world did open up again, she says, she went to see Erland Cooper play at the Barbican in London. “That had been the first time I’d seen live music in a year. I knew I would be affected by it, but I was bawling my eyes out.”

Nissan hopes, though, we are heading in the right direction again. “The last six months it was really exciting to start playing music again and starting to go to gigs and see live music. It came back quite quickly. So, hopefully this winter blip will pass, and we’ll be back to live music again.”

All parts crossed.

Tinderbox Collective & Kathryn Joseph play The Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow next Saturday. The Blood, The Weight, The Weary is out on Friday