Ewan McLennan & George Monbiot, Breaking the Spell of Loneliness

IssueApril - May 2017
Review by Gabrielle Lewry

ImageHuman beings are social creatures and the effects of loneliness are deeply harmful to us, to our health and our mental state. We are inclined towards altruism and community but an obsession with individualism is driving us into isolation. And this separation can be useful to those in power: a community of people working together is not so easy to control as a fragmented society of apparently disparate individuals.

George Monbiot believes that loneliness has become an epidemic and this album – a collaboration with the Scottish folk musician and singer songwriter Ewan McClennan – is a response to that epidemic.

The result is a collection of ballads and anthems that are deeply touching in their honesty and poignancy, understated but powerful in their delivery. McClennan’s vocals are sincere and empathic and create an intimate space to explore the issues raised. The traditional folk music that accompanies him is skilled and ensures that this album stands as a musical accomplishment in its own right.

The characters brought to life in these songs are ones that many of us will have met in our everyday lives. The elderly woman who endlessly talks at the checkout because at home she only has ‘these four walls’; the hotel maid who is working to support her child in a far-off country, whose ‘unseen hands … sweep the night away’; and the children cut off from nature who are no longer running free in the woods. But we also have the celebratory ‘Reclaim the Streets’, reminding us of how joyful community can be. Monbiot says that he ‘wanted to do something engaging, that might not only document the problem, but help address it’ – a way to break ‘the spell of separation’. Live performances of these songs are being used as a way of bringing people together and to ‘make friends among the strangers in our midst’.

Though this is a beautiful album to listen to, I still found myself thinking: how will it help the lonely people that it describes? But really it is a reminder to acknowledge the invisible ones of our society. To recognise how isolated we may have become without even realising it. To deeply feel our own heartfelt yearning for community. Most of all, to make a commitment to connect.

The album is completed by McClennan’s cover of ‘We Shall Overcome’. As the classic lyric goes, ‘we’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand some day’. Perhaps it is time to make ‘some day’ today.

Topics: Culture