Gaelic song entices online gaming crowd

Barra singer Maggie MacInnes has embraced the opportunity of working with the game's developers. (Pic: Elaine Livingstone)Barra singer Maggie MacInnes has embraced the opportunity of working with the game's developers. (Pic: Elaine Livingstone)
Barra singer Maggie MacInnes has embraced the opportunity of working with the game's developers. (Pic: Elaine Livingstone)
​When messages from the Audio Director of a Bafta-winning game development studio started to appear in her Messenger account proposing the use of one of her songs in the trailer for its major new game, traditional Gaelic singer, Maggie MacInnes, admits that she thought it must be a wind-up.

But, as Maggie states, as she read on it became clear to her that "this guy knows what he's talking about, and he had a particular song in mind."

The sender of those messages was Daan Hendriks, of Brighton-based development studio, The Chinese Room, and by June this year, Maggie's haunting performance of the song “Fath Mo Mhulaid A Bhith Ann” (Being here has caused my Sorrow) graced the gripping and dark announcement trailer for the game, Still Wakes The Deep, as it was released across social media, globally.

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The game is set for release in early 2024 and is carded as a first-person, narrative, horror game, from the creators of such critically-acclaimed games as Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Dear Esther.

Pre-release promotional material from the makers reveals that the game is set in 1975, and sees disaster strike the Beira D oil rig off the coast of Scotland – and something has come aboard!

The trailer opens with the sounds and images of those stormy seas and, as the faint outlines of the oil rig begin to loom into view through clouds of sea-cast mist, the haunting beauty of Maggie's voice begins to dominate.

In completing the trailer, Daan Hendriks explains that the project's creative director, John McCormack had put together a draft for a concept using the audio track from a YouTube video he'd found, which featured a song by legendary Barra traditional Gaelic singer (and Maggie's mum) Flora MacNeil.

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As Daan states: "I loved the intimacy and the sound of the woman singing it, and decided we should forge ahead with including a Gaelic song in the final version of our trailer. I found out that the singer in that video was Flora MacNeil, and started to listen to a lot of her and also other singers’ renditions of traditional Gaelic songs.

"I made a shortlist and then looked up translations of the lyrics. Fath Mo Mhulaid A Bhith Ann, as it’s a sorrowful song about wanting a lover to return home, struck me as poetically relevant to the core story of our game. I’ll not give anything away, but there are strong themes related to family woven into the game’s narrative. The title’s translation, ‘Being here has caused my sorrow’, also fits perfectly with the setting."

The rendition of the song Daan first heard was performed by Flora MacNeil, and, as Daan explains, "through additional research, I found out that she had sadly passed away a few years ago. But, at the very bottom of her Wikipedia page it said that Flora's daughter, Maggie MacInnes was also a Gaelic traditional singer and harpist, and that is how I learned about Maggie.

"I then listened to some of her songs and was instantly struck by her voice – beautiful and original, yet to my ears with a similar tonality as her mother’s. I got in touch and that’s how she ended up working with us. We talked on the phone about the project and Maggie suggested some verses that are most relevant to the game’s story.

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"It was then a very swift process. Maggie recorded a couple of takes at home and nailed it instantly. Just a brilliant artist and performer."

Whilst The Chinese Room's creatives learned of the song from You Tube, the first version of the song Daan heard Maggie sing was from her first album, Cairistiona (Iona) released in 1984.

Maggie states: "Mum had heard the song growing up in Barra, and I think it had a connection to Father John McMillan, who drew her attention to it. Mum told me that it was composed by a Margaret MacNeil from Barra who married the Laird of Kinloch, Moidart. She was longing to be home in Barra, and it was the theme of longing for home which fitted in with the game’s scenario where folk are trapped on an oil rig off the coast of Scotland!

"There are many many verses to the song, all about missing Barra and verses chosen for the trailer are all about missing home and wanting to get back across the sea to Barra.

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"In the song she says that she is envious of the sun because she knows that tonight the sun in all its glory will be kissing the sands of Barra while she is in these unfriendly mountains. So it is full of emotion and of missing home.

"I was so impressed with Daan,” Maggie adds, "in the way he talked about the song and the way it affected him, the sort of raw emotion of the song and the intimacy with which he felt I was singing it – and also my mother – and he thought our voices sounded so similar."

Maggie is clear that she thinks her Mum would have been delighted and says that this unexpected twist in the life journey of the song, felt "like a wee gift from Mum”.

But what of the fact that whilst the trailer is set to promote the game to a global market, the words of the song are in Gaelic?

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"It is a pure example of music crossing all the boundaries and people not even needing to understand the language to get that message from the song," Maggie states.

"I've often thought, performing abroad, you've got a kind of opportunity to express the emotion of the song to people that haven't maybe heard much Gaelic before. But they are coming to a musical concert, so they're already kind of on your side and they're interested, whereas this is something absolutely different and crossing a boundary that is, I think, wonderful. It is wonderful that people can feel the same emotion."