He co-produced the RSPB birdsong recording that has hit the Top 20, and duets with nightingales – to highlight the beauty of a fragile world
It’s just before midnight, deep in the Sussex countryside, and a small group led by the bravely inventive folk singer Sam Lee sets out to go singing with nightingales. We walk in silence in the dark – no torches are allowed – skirting a wood and then clambering up a bank on to a disused railway track. And here, in the bushes, a male nightingale is singing, blasting through the silence with a song that is astonishingly loud and exuberant, with a constantly changing, complex flurry of notes broken by periods of silence.
We sit and listen, then Sam picks up a shruti box – the instrument used by Indian musicians to create drone effects – and begins overtone singing, where two notes are produced at once. “They love the harmonics”, he explains. Instead of flying off, the bird now joins in, singing even louder than before. And he continues singing when tonight’s guest musician, the composer and arranger Kate St John begins improvising on cor anglais. And so it continues for well over an hour, with Sam switching to folk songs, including The Nightingale, of course, and Kate playing thumb piano. “The birds know how to create a dialogue,” Sam explains. “They love cellos and flutes and folk songs – but not guitars or singer-songwriters.”