Jodie Marie – Illumination in the Darkness

 

Sometimes you may have to travel a long way from home in order to appreciate what you left behind.

That certainly seems to have been the case with Pembrokeshire singer/songwriter Jodie Marie who went almost to the ends of the earth for her latest musical project.

In January this year she journeyed beyond the Arctic Circle to spend three weeks on a remote island in northern Norway at a time of almost 24-hours-a-day darkness.

The result of her sojourn on Seiland is Polar Night, a stunning new EP of six songs inspired by – and composed during – her time there. And many of them are not only touched by the spirit of the far north but also tinged with love and fondness for her life back home.

Jodie was no stranger to Norway – she had toured there in 2019 – but the idea of immersing herself in its polar darkness came from her friend and fellow musician Gøril Nilsen of the band I See Rivers.

An application to the Arts Council Wales International Opportunities Fund to finance an artistic residency on Seiland was successful, and Jodie set off not only to share and write music but also to engage with the local indigenous Sámi people.

“I’ve always loved writing when there is no distraction,” said Jodie, who spent three weeks living in a cabin – alone apart from her keyboard, some guitars and a Sámi reindeer-skin drum. “You’re on your own with your thoughts, not being distracted by everyday life. Being on Seiland in winter is something so extreme – I thought it could be really interesting to see what came out of it.

“It was pitch black almost all of the time. Then there is what they call the blue hour, which happens before and after the light hour – everything looks blue.When there was the one hour of light, I would go out and explore, meet the Norwegians and the Sámi, then I would go back to the cabin and write. There was literally nothing else I could do.”

The average temperature during her stay was –10C and at one point the cold was so intense that it hit –27C.

But Jodie had a warm welcome from the locals. There are usually about 80 or 90 people living on the island – but only 30 of them were staying there through the winter dark. “They meet regularly in the local shop and have coffee and waffles,” said Jodie. “And it’s a way of checking that everyone is safe.

“The ‘cultural exchange’ part of my visit was more talking than anything. Although I have very little Norwegian, the people on the island speak a bit of English. And the Sámi owner of the shop, André, and his wife, Marilou, spoke good English and would often translate for me when other islanders were talking. 

“The Sámi are the only indigenous people in Europe and in the past their language was suppressed. The thing that united me and the Sámi was that the Welsh language – my language – was also suppressed.”

And what about the music? “The songs were purposefully minimal,” she says. “I’m usually good at overcomplicating everything, but this was different. Everything was flowing – and I just kept writing and writing.”

Jodie recorded demos of her new songs in the cabin but because she was conscious that her voice wasn’t up to par, thanks to being in post-covid recovery, she re-recorded them back in Pembrokeshire at StudiOwz (the studio she and her partner, Owain Fleetwood Jenkins, established in the former Carmel Baptist Chapel in Clarbeston) keeping the same basic instrumentation and simplicity of approach.

Will she go back to Seiland again? “I would love to be there at the time of the midnight sun – the complete opposite of the polar night. And I would also love to go back and do a little performance for the local people. In the meantime I will be sending copies of the songs to them as a thank you.”

  • The EP’s first single, Eye of the Storm, is out on 14 April; second single, Blue Hour, on 28 April; the full Polar Night EP is released by Carmel Records on 5 May. Jodie Marie will perform all the songs live at StudiOwz, Clarbeston, on 9 and 10 May. A short documentary about her trip will also be screened for the first time. More information: www.jodiemarie.com.
  • A full review of the Polar Night EP will appear in Pembrokeshire.Online very soon.

 

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at www.nigel-summerley.blogspot.com.

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