Review
Culture
Music
4 min read

Faith, hope and FOMO

Missing out on seeing her favourite band's first live gig provides Mica Gray a lesson in doubt and faith.

Mica Gray is a wellbeing practitioner working in adult mental health. She is training to be a counselling psychologist.

A singer stands beside musical instrument behind pink frosted glass on the front of a stage.
SAULT's first gig.

The morning found me sat upright at my work desk between two tasks. One half of me was talking to my colleague and the other was debating the ticket prices on my computer screen. My favourite music group SAULT had just announced their first ever live show and I was one of the lucky ones who had managed to fight through the ticket queue to get to the point of purchase. The group had put out nine studio albums in the past four years and had never given a single interview nor put out a piece of promotional material that would reveal their identities. I was excited like so many others to finally get a glimpse behind the veil.  

The only problem was that the ticket price was high. Yes, it was my favourite band, but they had never done a live show before. How could I be sure it would be worth the expense? Across social media others were expressing similar doubts. SAULT had never played a live show before. The venue they’d chosen was an abandoned IKEA - hardly the Roundhouse or the Royal Albert Hall. There would be no alcohol at the venue, how were gig goers supposed to have fun? Given that the band's lyrics often focus on spiritual themes, and that high ticket price, was this another case of a religious group trying to financially exploit their followers. While SAULT have not professed to be a Christian band, a lot of their lyrics focus on spiritual themes and reference God as Lord. The show itself was called ‘Acts of Faith’ after all. By the time I had deliberated and decided that I would take the chance and get the tickets they were gone. The show had sold out. 

Three days later, footage from the show began to circulate online. Videos revealed elaborate stage designs, dance sequences, choir performances, a full orchestra, exhibitions, fashion shows and so much more. Testimonies flooded the timeline with “it was the show of the year” being a common refrain. Many of the doubters came back to say how wrong they were, how the show was worth so much more than the price. How the artists behind SAULT were seasoned professionals and this was anything but an amateur performance. How the venue was perfect, and any other place would not have worked. How the lack of alcohol didn’t matter because there was such a ‘heavenly’ atmosphere. 

Scrolling through all the content I realized how perfect the title ‘Acts of Faith’ was for this show. Were there was no assurance that the cost of the show would be worth it, it would have been an act of faith to trust the artists and buy those tickets anyway. It would have been an act of faith to trust their choice of venue, of making it an alcohol-free event. I imagine it would’ve been an act of faith for the artists themselves too - an act of faith to step out and produce such an elaborate show for the first ever live event. An act of faith to pour all their effort into it without any experience to say that it would work out the way it did.

Those SAULT fans who saw the doubts and uncertainties and still decided to act in faith were able to witness something magical. 

As I watched this all unfold, I couldn’t help but think of how much courage it takes to step out in faith in these ways. As a trainee psychologist, my studies tell me that faith is a subset of hope. One which is associated with positive mental health and wellbeing, resilience, coping with anxiety and healthy relationships. Faith tends to have an additive impact on our lives.  

Doubt on the other hand, is a protective mechanism that helps us to minimize risk so that we can preserve ourselves, others or our resources. Doubt often works by integrating our past experiences into our present. For instance, those who shared their doubt about the quality of SAULT’s first live show did so for good reason. Many first artist shows are underwhelming for fans. Spiritual leaders and groups have exploited followers in the past. An old IKEA hasn’t historically been the best venue for esteemed musicians. On that evidence, attending the show seemed like it would have just been a loss. However, what actually happened was quite the opposite. Those SAULT fans who saw the doubts and uncertainties and still decided to act in faith were able to witness something magical. It reminded me of John, one of the followers of Jesus, who wrote: ‘blessed are they who have believed but not seen’. Sometimes, we want to see the evidence of our faith so that we can believe we have good grounds on which to make a decision, and that is wise. But sometimes, faith asks us to go beyond our wisdom, to go beyond our lived experiences and to be open to something new that we haven’t seen yet. 

Of course, not all acts of faith work out the way that SAULT’s first show did. Sometimes we step out in faith and rather than having our hopes realized, we are met with disappointment. We are met with our fears coming true and met with risks that become real losses. Though those moments can be deeply painful, we can at least be glad that we had the courage and ability to hope at all. Those moments remind us that sometimes the act of faith is the end in itself, they remind us that it is not about the reward of faith, but about keeping the flame of hope alive underneath it. 

 Though I won’t be able to look back years from now and say I was at SAULT’s first show as I would’ve liked to - thanks to the password I couldn’t recall, I can look back and say that morning where I was sat at my desk between the faith and doubt taught me a valuable lesson: faith is not the absence of doubt, but the ability to see beyond it - to choose beyond it. In 2024, I think that’s a lesson worth holding on to. 

Article
Art
Culture
1 min read

St Kilda: sketching sanctuary and struggle

A remote Scottish island’s many meanings catch an artist’s eye.

Alastair Gordon is co-founder of Morphē Arts, a painter and art tutor at Leith School of Art. He works from his studio in London and exhibits across the UK, Europe and the US. 

An artist holds a sketchbook while standing overlooking a deserted village by a bay, sided by jagged cliffs.
Sketching on St Kilda.

Nestled amidst the tempestuous waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, the islands of St Kilda stand as a testament to isolation unparalleled in the British Isles. Located miles out from the Scottish mainland, the islands form an archipelago that rises defiantly, resembling a fortress of solitude amidst the tumultuous waves. 

In 1930, the islanders made a heartfelt plea to be evacuated from their beloved home, as the challenges of survival had become insurmountable. This marked the poignant conclusion of a remarkable two thousand years of human existence on the islands and no permanent community has been established since. Presently, St Kilda stands as a wild and desolate terrain, teeming with a diverse array of wildlife. Amongst the rugged slopes, one can witness the unexpected presence of wild sheep, descendants of the original livestock once cared for by the community. Following the evacuation, the sheep were left to roam freely, adapting to their newfound freedom. Isolated from the outside world for countless centuries, the islands have even given rise to their own unique subspecies of mouse and wren, a testament to the extraordinary resilience of life in this remote haven. 

It took me three arduous attempts, spread across consecutive years, to finally set foot on the elusive Hirta, the main island in a cluster of islets and sea stacks known collectively as St Kilda. Access to this remote wilderness is only granted during the warmer months, and my previous endeavours had been thwarted by relentless bouts of stormy weather. However, these failed attempts only served to intensify my determination, turning the eventual arrival into a pilgrimage of sorts, where the sweet taste of success was amplified by the challenges overcome. 

Standing at the water's edge, I found myself contemplating the concept of an island as a unique form of solitude, a refuge or retreat, perhaps even a hermitage or prison. 

As St Kilda emerged on the horizon, it appeared like a jagged tooth or a mystical axis mundi, a place where the earthly and spiritual realms intersect. Despite its wild and untamed nature, the island is paradoxically dominated by the imposing presence of the Ministry of Defence. Strange listening devices and radars loom over the cliff tops, as if engaged in a silent conversation with the world beyond. Stories of St Kilda often carry an air of romanticism, but the reality of island life was harsh and unforgiving. 

As our boat ventured into the circular embrace of St Kilda, a sudden stillness descended upon the waters, transforming the surroundings into an idyllic oasis of tranquillity. The island, formed from the remnants of a volcanic eruption, boasts a natural harbour in the shape of a perfect circle, its walls rising like a majestic amphitheatre to a towering height of 426 metres, equivalent to the Empire State Building, before plunging abruptly into a sheer drop.  

The village, consisting of a single street lined with stone cottages known as Black Houses, was the epicentre of island life. Daily existence revolved around the rhythms of fishing, agriculture, and church. Each morning, the island parliament convened to allocate the day's tasks, which often involved harvesting birds, tending to livestock, and repairing nets. Every year, the men of the island would scale the treacherous cliffs with nothing more than homemade ropes to gather the young birds from their precarious nests, while their protective parents swooped and dived in an attempt to thwart such pillaging. Winters were harsh, and the traditions of the church were strict. Missionaries were sent to the island to minister to the faithful, imposing a rigid routine of spiritual disciplines that seemed to serve as both law and religion.  

Upon reaching the shore, we were greeted by the island steward, one of only two current inhabitants of the island and resident only in the warmer months. Unless, of course, one counts the Ministry of Defence, whose enigmatic presence permeates every corner of the island. Their satellite dishes and listening posts loom ominously, as if engaged in some clandestine communication with an unseen realm, shattering the illusion of complete wilderness.  

Standing at the water's edge, I found myself contemplating the concept of an island as a unique form of solitude, a refuge or retreat, perhaps even a hermitage or prison. It brought to mind the image of Superman in his fortress of solitude or Edmond Dantès, a victim of misfortune, imprisoned and abandoned until the idea of the Count allowed for a rebirth. 

But deep down, I knew that this fantasy was far from the brutal reality faced by those who eked out a living on the edge of the world 

As a child, I often sought solace on islands during family holidays. There was something about the encircling presence of land surrounded by water that evoked a sense of tranquillity, a sanctuary away from the worries of the world. A sacred space where a weary soul could commune with the divine.  

As I ascended the steep walls of Hirta, my camera in hand and sketchbook tucked under my arm, I couldn't help but feel a sense of purpose. I felt like one of those Romantic painters of the previous century who attempted to bring a taste of the natural sublime to the city dwellers, trapped in their concrete jungles and smog-filled air. In that moment, I released mine is not the task of modern-day Romantic painter, venturing into the wilderness to capture moments of awe-inspiring beauty but to chronicle the mundane moments of domestic sublime as witnessed by this landscape through centuries of human inhabitation. The images I captured and the sketches I made now form the basis of new paintings to feature in an upcoming exhibition at An Lanntair gallery in Stornoway.  

But as I continued my climb, I couldn't help but question the romantic notions that had fuelled my journey. The landscape itself remained indifferent to my perception of it. It cared not for the grand narratives I projected onto its rugged terrain. It simply existed, unyielding and unapologetic. 

And what of St Kilda? Was it truly an idyllic haven, shielded from the political and ecological pollutants of the outside world? Or was it a fortress of solitude, where harsh regimes and a cruel climate ruled? Perhaps it was an oxymoron, embodying both extremes simultaneously. 

As our boat sailed away from the island, I found myself pondering the reality of life on St Kilda. What was it truly like to inhabit such a remote place? At times, I allowed my imagination to wander, envisioning a utopia where crime was unheard of, where the absence of policing was a testament to the inherent goodness of humanity. But deep down, I knew that this fantasy was far from the brutal reality faced by those who eked out a living on the edge of the world. Life on St Kilda must have been a constant struggle, a battle against the elements, made bearable only by the flickering hope of a better future. 

As I packed away my camera and sketchbook, I couldn't help but feel a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to glimpse into the past, to touch the remnants of a forgotten world. The exhibition I will present in Stornoway will be more than just a collection of art; it will be a tribute to the resilience of the islanders, not just in St Kilda but across the Outer Hebrides in times of hardship, to their ability to find beauty and hope in the harshest of circumstances. And as I prepare to share their story again through painting, I hope that it will serve as a reminder of the fragility and strength of the human spirit, even in the face of isolation and adversity. 

 

Alastair Gordon is an artist based in Edinburgh and London. His new exhibition of paintings opens at An Lanntair in Stornoway, Isle of Harris 31 May 2024. The exhibition coincides with a parallel two-person exhibition with Elaine Woo MacGregor opening the same night at Cynthia Corbett Gallery, London.