Aby Vulliamy is getting political. The now Yorkshire-based viola player and musical collaborator with the likes of Bill Wells, RM Hubbert, Hanna Tuulikki and other artists in Glasgow’s low-key musical underground is talking about her first solo album, Spin Cycle, which she launches with a show at the city’s Glad Café tonight. A deeply personal collection of songs, Spin Cycle sees Vulliamy accompanied by school assembly piano, viola, trombone and percussion. Yet for all the record’s intimacy, she sounds like its follow-up might be a lot more out-there.
“I feel like I want to make quite a radge second album,” Vulliamy says. “This is the world I’ve brought my kids into, and I’ve got loads of ideas about that.”
Released on the German Karaoke Kalk label, Spin Cycle mines the joyful highs and draining lows of Vulliamy’s experience as a mother of two daughters. The result is a thing of organic beauty, pulsed throughout by a quiet strength that comes from Vulliamy’s experience working as a music therapist as much as being a mother and artist. While she reckons she has played on almost forty albums, Vulliamy only recently considered releasing an album of her own.
“The idea of generating my own stuff didn’t occur to me for a long time,” she says. “Without being self-deprecatory, I’ve always thought of myself as a social musician. I’m not precious, and can go into a studio with someone and respond to what they’re doing, and I feel I have the strength to add little sparks, maybe, to someone else’s stuff, but releasing my own work was different. I started to write music before I had words, and I couldn’t do lyrics without wanting to notate it straight away, but then once I had my kids they all seemed to come out very natural, and I could let it evolve into its own thing.”
Spin Cycle was recorded over a four-year period, during which time Vulliamy was bringing up her two daughters Elsa and Poppy with her personal and musical partner George Murray, who plays trombone on Spin Cycle. There was upheaval too as the family moved away from Glasgow.
“That was the nature of my life at the time,” she says. “I’d jot things down when I was awake breast-feeding in the middle of the night, and it would come out like it wasn’t me.”
When she performed in Bradford last Friday night, which is the nearest to where Vulliamy and Murray now live, Elsa and Poppy were in attendance, with Elsa making the between-song announcements from the stage. Both took part in a video made to accompany one of the songs from Spin Cycle, This Precious Time, which captures them effectively action painting in their back garden.
“I don’t know how much they fully understand that they’re the inspiration for a lot of the record,” Vulliamy says, “but I think they can see there’s something they can feel proud of. They’re really proud of the video.”
Key to the creation of Spin Cycle was producer Stevie Jones. He too has been a back-seat musical engine for the likes of Aidan Moffat and Alasdair Roberts. Jones has also provided scores for theatre, including the Traverse’s recent production of Clare Duffy’s play, Arctic Oil. Aside from this, he has released records of his own work as Sound of Yell, a loose-knit and ever-fluctuating troupe which more often than not has included Vulliamy’s viola as a vital component.
“It was Stevie who said I should record these songs, just to document them,” Vulliamy says, “but once we got the basics down, it was irresistible not to finish them. There are two people this album couldn’t exist without. Stevie for coaxing me out of my insecurities, and George, who is the father of the children I’m writing about.”
Growing up in Hull, Vulliamy began her own musical life from a young age.
“Music was everywhere when I was a child,” says Vulliamy, who initially played violin, but quickly discovered that “it didn’t suit me. The viola was much more mellow.”
Vulliamy received lessons free of charge, while a student of her father’s gave her piano lessons for 50p a week. If Vulliamy were growing up today, it’s unlikely that either option would be available to her. Again, this is where politics comes in.
“It kills me that it’s only rich kids and people who can afford to pay a substantial amount of money for one lesson a week who can get that experience now,” she says. “I used to go into schools to do stuff, and you’d ask what instruments they had and what I had to bring, and too often schools had nothing.”
Vulliamy initially studied fine art.
“I didn’t think I was a performer,” she says, “but I soon realised that how you present your work is all part of a performance, and the people who could suck up to the teachers were the ones who got top marks.”
Vulliamy went to Guildhall School of Music, where she trained as a therapist. It was while working as an occupational therapy assistant that she realised music therapy could be an actual job. With Vulliamy and Murray moving to Glasgow, the couple fell in with a fertile music scene that saw Vulliamy play in drummer Alex Neilson’s large-scale troupe, Scatter, and with Hanna Tuulikki and Chris Hladowski in spectral trio, Nalle.
Vulliamy also played alongside Daniel Padden in The One Ensemble, and with Bill Wells in his National Jazz Trio of Scotland. More recently, she has joined Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, the Swiss-based fourteen-piece World jazz ensemble with roots in Edinburgh’s DIY scene. At tonight’s Glad Café show in Glasgow, Vulliamy will play with a trio completed by Jones and Murray, as well as one or two special guests from the album in what looks set to be a musical homecoming of sorts.
“In London it was all very genre-specific,” Vulliamy says, “but in Glasgow I got involved in so many things like performance and theatre, and there was so much cross-fertilisation. I remember coming from a classical background feeling initially quite disabled, whereas in Glasgow everything was super-intuitive and it didn’t really fit into any genre. That’s a bit like the music I do now. I don’t fit in anywhere, really, and I quite like that.”
Aby Vulliamy appears at the Glad Café, Glasgow, tonight. Spin Cycle is available now on Karaoke Kalk Records.
The Herald, October 25th 2018