Caught by the River

Helpston to Bernera / Commoners to Crofters

20th November 2020

Jim Ghedi gives insight into the lands and legacies which shaped his upcoming album, and shares a live session filmed on the Outer Hebridean island of Bernera. With accompanying film photographs shot by Jim.

The studio sits on a small Island in Loch Roag west off the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, a converted fishing factory looking out on the Atlantic. It’s January, bitterly cold and utterly silent. The ghostly cry of the curlew is heard in the distance. I drink more coffee, watch the ocean, instilled & utterly transfixed. We have sighted white-tailed eagles, hen harriers, cormorants and seals while we’ve been here, and we have heard the stories of the Guga Men of Ness, with their fortnight’s pilgrimage to the uninhabited northern island of Sula Sgeir — a centuries-old tradition of hunting wild gannets to feed their communities for the winter. We’ve visited the standing stones of Callanish VIII (Tursachan), megalithic monuments and Iron Age settlements. This island of Bernera is full of stillness, wildness, history and defiant beauty.

We’re setting up today to film a live session of one of the tracks from the album we’ve just finished. ‘Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters’ was inspired directly by a poem of the same name by the late English poet John Clare. The poem and his life were centred around a time of the Land Enclosure Act in England, where common land was enclosed and lower class farmworkers / labourers and their families were forced into poverty. Subsequently the countryside across England in the years ahead would be dramatically shaped, changed and managed under the hands of private landowners, who pursued for years the starving of labouring class communities, often to death — or criminalising them by making arrests over trespassing. This ensured their aim to put a big Private sign up and claim rights & access to the majority of land in England.

As we set up, Nat & Julia (the filmmakers of this session) made an acute connection to the song by informing me of the ‘Bernera Riot’ which took place on this island in 1874 after the highland clearances. Crofters, after centuries having rights to the land, were being faced with evictions without reason and put under abominable conditions by landowners. This revolt exposed the maltreatment of the ​peasant classes in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and outed the corruption that was inherent in the landowning class. ​The Bernera Riot was subsequently taken to the courts and is now notable as the first legal challenge to Landlordism in Scotland — a catalyst for future resistance in what became known as the ‘Crofters’ War’.

After the filming I took a solitary walk. Time blends and rolls away from you here; you have to savour the light, grab the moments while you can, or the dark of the evening will creep in on you. I sit on the old fishing port hoping to hear one final curlew call, but it never comes — there’s just the sheep on the hills and the gulls overhead. I resort to watching the gloaming instead, thinking about how many stories lay in the land we explore and how the struggle of land reform seems like an ancient and ongoing fight, still intensely present with us today.


In The Furrows Of Common Place is released on 22nd January 2021 on Basin Rock. Pre-order via Jim’s Bandcamp or the Basin Rock website.