Starting a family and her attendant nurturing responsibilities kept Dot Allison’s music career largely on pause for 12 years.
Best known as the voice of early ’90s electro pioneers One Dove, the Edinburgh songsmith broke her lengthy silence with the recent download single Long Exposure, taken from her new album Heart-Shaped Scars, released yesterday.
Recorded at Castlesound Studios in Allison’s home city, the LP’s a compellingly sparse neo-folk affair that explores themes of attachment and nature in poetic lyrics amid a ukulele and strings-covered ambient soundscape.
Married to the soundtrack composer Christian Henson — son of actors Una Stubbs and the late Nicky Henson — Dot says family life has changed her approach to making music.
“Your priorities in life sort of shift, so in a way it takes the pressure off the music and maybe that gives you a bit of freedom, ” she explains.
“Before I had kids music was kind of the focal point of my adult life, so it’s quite nice to have it as something that I’m free to loosen the reins around a bit, and maybe that helps creatively. Hopefully, also, motherhood brings a bit of wisdom from having to grow as a person.”
‘Pete Doherty gave me good feedback’
Always interested in poetry, the singer regards time spent crafting songs with enfant terrible Peter Doherty as crucial to developing her later methodology.
“Pete gave me good feedback about my writing,” she says.
“He had a Libertines closed poetry forum and gave me a log in, so I started thinking, ‘Oh God, people might actually be reading this so I’d better think about it!’
“I practised properly and ended up writing more because I was given a space to put something out in more vivid language. Some poems were more throwaway than others, but it was just the process of actually doing it that really helped my lyricism.”
One Dove belatedly reached the UK’s top 30 in 1993 with their Andrew Weatherall co-produced debut album Morning Dove White, then split while working on its follow-up.
Allison’s breathy vocals later featured in collaborations with legends Scott Walker, Massive Attack and Paul Weller, while she released the albums Afterglow, We Are Science, Exaltation Of Larks and roots drama Room 7½, co-produced by PJ Harvey sidekick Rob Ellis.
Hebrides were inspiring spot for Dot
A constant inspiration since childhood has been the Hebrides, and she regularly visited her cottage on the remote islands until lockdown’s intervention.
Performing Hebridean folk house concerts down the years with musician friends such as Sarah Campbell and Amy Bowman has further developed her unique “dark Celtic” fusion. “The way I see it, all instruments are at your disposal to make music the way you feel like making it at the time,” Dot adds.
“I’m not strictly a folkie, I just grew up playing piano and a bit of guitar, then made electronic music. Only because of my use of keyboards was I able to write Fallen and songs like that when I was in One Dove.
“That transition was easy, but it’s not like I’m a maestro on any kind of folk instrument. My pals from school, we played guitar and piano as teens. We had Beatles songbooks, and Joni Mitchell and Carol King, and just pottered about.
“I remember hearing A Guy Called Gerald for the first time in 1989 when I was a student in Glasgow, and being absolutely mesmerised. I suppose it was a bit of a punk of its own time in a way, Mr Fingers, the Trax Records stuff and acid house, it was like completely lawless in a way and I loved that.
“Being a piano player, I thought I could play on the synths and make that kind of music because that’s what I was into at that time.”
Mum’s the word
Underscoring her protective instincts, Dot says her family commitments rule out touring Heart-Shaped Scars, although she’d be open to a few one-off gigs. She wants her album to be “comforting like a familiar in-utero heartbeat”, and the impression is of a mother doing right.
“If the album’s about anything, it’s about attachment,” she declares.
“Having secure primary bonds is key for humanity. If that’s not protected you get all sorts of tyrants and difficulties. Attachment is a profound concept and it’s something that could benefit from being talked about more.”