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‘A pocket of Paris in Dundee’: Balgay Hill inspired new album from Idlewild’s Andrew Wasylyk

Andrew Wasylyk's new album, Balgay Hill: Mornings in Magnolia, is inspired by the Dundee landmark.
Andrew Wasylyk's new album, Balgay Hill: Mornings in Magnolia, is inspired by the Dundee landmark.

When the world was thrown into lockdown, Andrew Wasylyk, like many musicians, didn’t know if he’d ever play live again.

Left with nothing to do in the spring of 2020 but walk and hope for the best, the Dundee musician and composer soon found solace and inspiration in one of the city’s best-loved beauty spots – so much so that he dedicated his whole album to it.

Balgay Hill: Mornings in Magnolia is Andrew’s fifth solo record, and, as the name suggests, is inspired by Balgay Park and its 19th Century necropolis.

Released today, it’s what the 39-year-old calls “an album of recreational meditations”, with a medley of instrumental loops, trumpet features and field recordings from the park itself combining into a dreamy, 10-track musical landscape.

But track names like Western Necropolis Twilight and Observatory In Bloom make it clear just how much the real landscape influenced the final product.

The Mills Observatory features on the album. Picture supplied by Stewart Irvine.

Musically, Morning In Magnolia is a departure for Andrew – partly out of necessity, and partly out of choice.

“Predominantly, it’s just myself on solo records, but on the last few, there have been string arrangements,” he explains.

“That wasn’t able to happen on this record, because you couldn’t have anyone in the same room as you, let alone a quartet or anything like that. So it was just myself on this record, along with my friend and trumpet player, Rachel Simpson.

“I think that has definitely shifted elements a little bit.”


Of course, though he can “barely bring myself to say the ‘p’ word”, this was a pandemic album.

It was written in 2020 when morning walks to Balgay became a mental refuge, and then a creative ritual for the composer, who fans might recognise from bands Idlewild and The Hazey Janes.

“I was taking these morning walks through Balgay, and it was such a special place to spend time, and to think… to not think! Just to kind of be,” he explains.

Balgay Park’s distinctive Blue Bridge. Picture supplied by Stewart Irvine.

“The park became a sanctuary to me. I think, like many folk, I felt a bit of a dip in my mental wellbeing, and I needed to address that.

“Through the early morning walks I was finding comfort and work and routine. And I found myself coming home and starting to write music.

“It reaffirmed the importance of public parks and green areas within the city, and that spurred me on to have all the music centred in Balgay.”

‘A pocket of Paris in Dundee’

Although he has visited Balgay Park all his life, like many people during lockdown, Andrew began to find new details in this familiar place which made their way into the music.

“I was going off beaten tracks, finding carvings on the old trees, of new love couples in 1910 and things,” he smiles.

“I’ve got family who are the in the necropolis, so it’s a place I’m familiar with. But it definitely took on new meanings.

“Details started to emerge, the more time I spent there and the more I learned about it.”

Fans gathered at the tomb of rock singer Jim Morrison at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris on July 3 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. Picture: AP.

And one such detail is a surprising link between Dundee and France’s capital, with music once again at the heart.

“Paris’ famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison and everyone is buried, influenced the layout and design of Balgay and the necropololis area,” Andrew explains.

“And I loved that idea of having a kind of ‘pocket of Paris’ in Dundee’s West End.”

‘Smiling School’ for the masked-up

The album is not only a homage to local landscape, but also local art. Its ninth track, Smiling School For Calvinists, is an unmistakable reference to the novel of the same name by Dundee-based artist and writer Bill Duncan.

Coincidentally, both Bill and Andrew also exhibited work at Dundee’s Kathryn Rattray Gallery earlier this year.

“I’ve admired Bill’s work for many years and at the start of 2020, I reread the book,” admits Andrew.

Andrew curated the Unhalfwintering exhibition at Kathryn Rattray Gallery in May. Picture: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media.

“It was at that point, everyone had their masks on. If you were anything like me, you were trying to reach out to people through your body language – so a smile, or some eye contact. And of course no one could see each other’s mouths!

“And then of course, there were still folk who were kind of deadpan and still wouldn’t crack half a smile, because they’re just so dour. But I love that, as well! I’m guilty of it too, probably.

“So assigning that playful title to that song was a slightly tongue-in-cheek thing to do.”

Filmed in tinsel and onion skin

As well as the album, Andrew will be releasing a short film shot in Balgay Park by fellow artist Tommy Perman.

“It’s a 35-minute film,” Andrew explains. “It was all shot in Balgay using Tommy’s homemade lenses, made from recycled and found material – leaves and tinsel and card. Even onion skins!

“So it’s a kind of pinhole camera principle.”

Ahead of today’s release, the album has already been warmly received – which seems to baffle its creator, despite him having been nominated for Scottish Album of the Year in 2019. 

“There’s always a little bit of trepidation around putting something out into the world,” Andrew says modestly. “But a couple of tracks have been shared and people have been really kind and generous with their words about those.

“It’s even been on the radio a few times, would you believe? Strange, trundling music on Six Music – so that was nice!”

Balgay Hill: Morning In Magnolia is out today, August 20, on all major streaming platforms.

The accompanying short film is screening in the Glad Café in Glasgow this weekend.

Andrew Wasylyk will be playing the album live in Edinburgh on August 28.


FEATURE: ‘I’m starting to feel those pangs to perform live again’, says Dundee musician Andrew Wasylyk