"Are we songwriters who write songs about science? Sometimes. Are we actual scientists? No. Are we scientists of songwriting? Perhaps. Do we look great in lab coats? Always." Megan Henwood & Findlay Napier
Fresh from the lab and bursting with synergy, The Story Song Scientists (SSS) are back – white coats donned and ready to reveal their latest discoveries. The lab gurus, aka Megan Henwood and Findlay Napier, are rightly acknowledged as two of our most inventive, genre-hopping singer songwriters. Following their self-titled debut release in 2019, they released their second EP in October 2021 – the quirky Quantum Lyrics – showcasing it on a 10 date UK tour.
Scottish master storyteller Napier and Oxford-based BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards winner Henwood have a clear chemistry. They met at the famous Snape Maltings in Suffolk in 2016 on an English Folk Song and Dance Society (EFDSS) songwriting retreat. The story goes they were both in need of caffeine – Napier had driven nine hours from his Glasgow home whilst Henwood was jet-lagged having just returned from a month-long writing trip in Nashville. Somewhere amidst their seventh coffee of the morning Napier asked Henwood if she might be interested in writing a song about maths (!) and this new, coffee-fuelled ‘experimental’ songwriting partnership was born.
Now, a tried and tested ‘culture’, it has emerged as an intriguing, potent act that fuses the bold, lyric-savvy alt-folk of Henwood with the distinctive vocals, classy songwriting skills and wry wit of Napier who has been variously described as “Michael Marra meets Elvis Costello, a Caledonian Loudon Wainwright III or a Scottish James Taylor”.
Living up to their name, the duo have mined a seam of science-steeped stories. The pair’s dedicated research has unlocked a treasure trove of fascinating findings, prompting five highly original songs, some inspired by real-life stories. Cerebral and astute the narrative songs cover topics from clouds to volcanoes, blood to explosives - interspersed with complementary soundbites, poems, news announcements and ‘found sounds’ that weave their 2nd EP together - often punctuated with the buzz of radio static.
With Findlay on guitar and vocals, Megan adds electric and tenor guitars, ukulele, synths and drum programming to her voice while her brother Joe Henwood contributes bass to two tracks. Veering from folk to blues and country, the release kicks off with a climate catastrophe song - a chunky guitar rhythm and catchy chorus spelling out the tale of “the year without a summer” when summer temperatures were the coldest on record – most keenly felt in New England, Atlantic Canada and Western Europe and still referred to by Vermonters as “1800 and Froze to Death”. It followed the most powerful volcanic eruption in 10,000 years - Mount Tambora in Indonesia - which caused the worst famine of the 19th century and changed the course of world history.
“Napier is one of the finest songwriting talents of the contemporary Scottish folk scene”-
Folk Radio UK
“Henwood has moved far beyond folk’s parameters into a world where anything is possible” -
“Two of the UK’s finest singer songwriters” Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2
“Fascinating, intelligent folk songs- these two voices sound like they were destined to sing together”
The Rocking Magpie
"Intelligent songwriting and delightful voices in equal measure. The synergy between Megan and Findlay is palpable.”
David Evans, Folk Radio UK
Says Findlay: “The song is about the ripple effect the eruption triggered across the planet – everything from Islington’s Spa Fields Riots to the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Russian Revolution.” The post-apocalyptic feel is endorsed by the preceding rendition of Lord Byron’s daunting poem Darkness.
A radio news bulletin links to the gentle, flowing, lullaby-like Ode to the Man with the Golden Arm – a homage to an Australian whose blood plasma was found to contain a potent antibody used to create a remarkable treatment
(Anti-D) that protected unborn babies.
Says Megan: “The man with the golden arm is James Harrison. After discovering that his blood contained a rare antigen to Rhesus Disease, a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman's blood destroy her baby's blood cells, he decided to donate as much as he could. “His donations saved an estimated 2.5 million babies in Australia. This song is an ode to him and his extraordinarily humble altruism.” Harrison gave his last plasma donation in 2018 having donated blood every week for 60 years.
Meanwhile Lo and Behold heads down a ‘country’ lane and could be described as an ode to artificial intelligence. It’s a clever, slow tempo, tongue-in-cheek number unveiling a love story between two rival virtual assistants -Alexa and Siri. Says Megan: “'It is filled with longing and dodgy technology puns! The title comes from the very first words to be sent over the internet in 1969.”
The Anarchist Cookbook is a delicately rueful reflection on the 1971 book by William Powell which contained ‘recipes’ for the manufacture of explosives and weapons and a home ‘menu’ revealing how to concoct illicit drugs including LSD. Part of the counterculture protesting against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, it was written after Powell was attacked by police at a peaceful protest at New York’s Central Station. The folky, mellow melody belies the more chilling story of the publication that Powell described as “not a book for children or morons”.
The EP ends with the captivating Clouds preceded by the stately spoken manifesto of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Denouncing ‘blue sky thinking’ the mantra states “We believe clouds are unjustly maligned and life would be immeasurably poorer without them”.
Henwood and Napier kick back and drift into a celestial world of cloud giants and constellations to deliver a shimmering, retro-sounding end song as wispy and silky as a cirrus cloud.
Says Megan: “We love how all things cloud related sound poetic, whether it's scientific, historic or mythological and we tried to weave it all into the lyrics. It is also a reminder of the benefits in taking time out and watching the wild world go by.”
Clouds signs off an EP dripping with originality and thought-provoking, atmospheric songs that can truly be called ‘singular’ – a bold, quantum leap into the unexpected with the promise of more to come.
Supported by Arts Council England, Quantum Lyrics will be released on October 29 on the Dharma Records label, distributed by Proper Music Distribution and available on digital platforms.