Sarah Smout Wants to Help us Reconnect With Nature Through Music
Cellist, singer and songwriter Sarah Smout, from Skipton, has embarked on a new project to help reconnect us with nature and encourage everyone to join in local efforts to protect the planet
Sarah was eight years old when she began learning the cello at school. ‘I remember loving the instrument from day one, and realised that I could play by ear, as well as reading music,’ she says. She joined local bands in Bradford and Leeds as a teenager, and since then has become heavily involved in the folk circuit, touring with bands internationally for the past 10 years, but more recently focusing on her own music, and unusual projects like this one.
Sarah has a deep passion for the environment. ‘I grew up in the countryside and forged a connection with my surroundings, from the tiniest bugs to the hills and dales,’ she tells us. ‘This personal connection to nature shapes my identity as an artist.’ In 2017 her song, Arctic Ground, was written for Greenpeace and was used as part of their Save the Arctic campaign videos. The following year, she joined songwriter Sophie Ramsay and set off on a musical voyage over land and sea from Orkney to Iceland. But her new project is particularly close to her heart as it’s even closer to home.
‘Nature plays a big role in my inspiration,’ Sarah continues. ‘I’m concerned about our impact as humans upon the planet. I can see changes happening, such as floods and droughts, and read the science about climate change. I feel very strongly about communicating messages about the environment to as many people as possible, so that we are all in possession of the facts, and can put pressure on our governments to keep their promises about net zero targets.
‘I feel a sense of responsibility for future generations, and simply as a human who uses the planet to live. I think, if I ever have children, I want to feel that I tried to protect the environment for them to enjoy and to live in.’
Friends of the Dales chairman, Bruce McLeod, sat opposite Sarah in a local environmental group meeting, and the idea for Wild Music grew from there. ‘It became apparent that we were both concerned about the degradation of peat bogs as a vital carbon sink,’ she says. ‘He suggested, partly in jest I think, “why don’t you take your cello up on the moors?” Funnily enough, I had actually been thinking the same thing, and someone else saying it out loud seemed to spark the project.’
As part of the project, Sarah has released a new track, Atlas, which highlights just some of her concerns. ‘I read that the curlew was endangered, which upset me because they are regular visitors to my home fields, and their call is an iconic reminder that spring has arrived,’ Sarah says. ‘I wrote Atlas from a bird’s eye view, looking down on the land and seeing how just one change in an ecosystem affects everything.’
It’s the mesmerising documentary-esque video that accompanies the music which caught our attention. It was shot on Fleet Moss, an upland area separating Wharfedale and Wensleydale. In it you can recognise the depletion of the land and the degradation of the peat bogs, and the video aims to highlight Yorkshire Peat Partnership’s role in protecting and restoring some of the county’s most fragile environments.
Fleet Moss was highlighted by the Yorkshire Peat Partnership (YPP) as one of the largest, most challenging restoration sites. Sarah first visited the site in 2019 and was shocked by what she saw. ‘Huge peat hags, which are like cliff faces, towered above me, signalling thousands of years worth of peat, and carbon, had been washed away,’ she says. ‘There were hardly any mosses, or signs of life. But YPP have been working incredibly hard to restore the bog and when we were finally able to film the video, there was new cotton grass growing and nesting owls – a sign that things are going in the right direction.
‘I hope that people enjoy the film – the incredible footage and landscape, along with the lyrics of the song, seem to meld with the bleakness of the environment. By sharing this video, I hope that more people become aware of the importance of keeping peat in the ground. We need healthy peat bogs to absorb and retain carbon to help tackle climate change; they store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests. They are also incredibly biodiverse habitats, and beautiful places too.’
More videos highlighting other environmental issues are due to be filmed this year as the project continues, and Sarah has put together a solo show titled ‘Eyjar’, exploring our relationship with nature, the climate emergency, and sense of place through music, poetry, spoken word, and looped cello soundscapes. She hopes to continue inspiring others to take better care of the environment.
‘In recent years I have met a lot of people and organisations working to protect Yorkshire’s environments, from peat bogs to marine life. I know there are a lot of people who care and I can see things moving in the right direction, but we still need to support the people enacting the changes, and keep the momentum going.
‘I hope people enjoy Wild Music, and that we can share environmental messages far and wide. I am an independent artist and this is my passion, so it means a lot to me when others support the project. I’m looking forward to seeing it grow and perhaps go in directions I didn’t expect; that’s the exciting thing about making art – once you let it go it has a new life out in the public sphere and does things you didn’t plan. Music is a universal language, and can bring everyone together – it speaks to our souls, and I hope that my songs might spark conversation and thinking in others about things we can do to protect this planet we call home.’
To watch the video for Atlas, and to find out where to see Sarah next, visit www.sarahsmoutmusic.co.uk