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Glenbuchat Heritage

156 Jake Williams, Musician, Hermit and Movie Star
The Glenbuchat Image Library
156 Jake Williams, Musician, Hermit and Movie Star

Jake Williams set out on Saturday 16 March 2013 to walk the course of the River Deveron, playing music relevant to the area on his travel.

He set out from Glenbuchat in poor winter conditions, accompanied by 11 others, 7 of whom walked all the way to Grouse Inn Cabrach with him.

The top photograph shows Jake standing at Foul Mire, which is the source of the Deveron.

The lower photograph Jake Williams playing the reel: Glenbuchat Lodge on his banjo at Foul Mire, source of the River Deveron. Thanks to Dr Alan Carr for the photographs

Jake the Musician

From Northings
‘With the Flow – A Song Walk along the River Deveron’

19 Mar 2013 in Aberdeen City & Shire, Moray, Music

Last weekend saw local musician and artist, Jake Williams, start his first day of walking the length of the River Deveron, from its source at the watershed between Glenbuchat and Cabrach to the sea at Banff. The 60 mile walk which will take over 8 days to complete, is part of Deveron Arts ‘Walks of Life’ programme.

On Jake’s song walk he will collect music connected to the River Deveron and on the way will play at a series of pub gigs where he will sing the assembled songs and show images of the walk, (see locations & dates below).

Jake is also hoping to record music in some of the locations and he would love to hear from anyone who knows of songs relating to the river, as he said “There are about a dozen traditional songs and Scottish dance tunes that have their location in the Deveron valley, there could be more. Do you know of one that I could sing?”

JAKES SONG WALK GIGS

• Sunday 17 March, 5pm – Grouse Inn, The Cabrach

• Wednesday 20 March, 8pm, Folknight, Servicemen’s club, Huntly

• Thursday 21 March, 8pm, Forbes Arms, Rothiemay.

• Sunday 24 March, 7.30pm, Market Arms, Banff.

Jake the Movie Star

Jake is well known in Glenbuchat along with his music. He is also well known for his appearance in a silent film about his hermit like life which was shown at a London film festival and won a prize at the Venice Film Festival

From the Scotsman
Published on Monday 21 May 2012


Quiet storm: How one man’s solitude became the toast of British Cinema.

JAKE Williams lives a hermit-like existence with only his two cats for company in a remote, ramshackle house in the Cairngorms. He is also the star of a near-silent documentary of his own daily life that has made him the toast of film festival.

THERE’S a joke Jake Williams likes to make about Two Years at Sea, the film in which he stars. He tells people, if they nip out to the toilet during a screening, that they missed a car chase and a love scene.

He laughs long and hard as he relates this over a bowl of soup in an Edinburgh café. I’ve seen the film, so I get the joke. It’s a film in which very little happens at all. The very idea of it featuring a car chase is indeed laughable.

Blurring the line between documentary and fiction, it follows 62-year-old Williams as he goes about his life in a remote, ramshackle house in the Cairngorms.

He goes for walks, bathes, and builds a fire. On one occasion, when examining an old jar of pills, he mumbles “chesty cough” but those two words are the only dialogue in the feature-length film.

It’s the work of Brighton-based Ben Rivers, a film-maker whose projects usually appear in art galleries, but Two Years at Sea (the title comes from the work Williams did 30 years ago to fund his isolated existence) is now screening at cinemas across the country. It portrays an “exaggerated reality”, a sort of utopian vision of Williams’ simple, solitary life. Its slow pace and lack of dialogue is refreshing to some, dull to others.

“People don’t talk that much to themselves, even when they live on their own,” says Rivers, on the phone from London. “I thought it would be a good challenge, and maybe it’s a challenge for the audience as well, but it offers a different kind of immersion, without dialogue. It’s about trying to lose yourself in a space in a way that’s different to a narrative engagement. It’s more about an atmospheric engagement.”

In person, Jake Williams is a little different to how I’d imagined him. Sure, the long, white beard is there, as is the untamed hair. He’s certainly got down the hermit look. But he has a mobile phone. It’s pink. He shows me photographs of his home on a laptop and complains about his “scabby” kitchen floor.

He read an article about himself which used the word “eccentric” a few too many times for his liking. He thinks he’s “normal” and anyway “everyone else is eccentric!” His day-to-day life, as he describes it, is as it appears on film, but with a little help from friends, family and technology.

“When I went to a screening in London I could see why people love the film,” he says. “It’s really slow and calm with nothing much happening.”

Does he think that the people who watched the film in London might envy his way of life? “I don’t know. It feels normal to me.”

Born and brought up in Inverness, Williams studied science at the University of Aberdeen. He taught for a while after graduating, and lived in Boston for two years, but became “scunnered with landlords” after a while and set out to buy his own home and live a simple life in the woods. The intensive two-year period he spent working at sea allowed him to achieve his goal, and at 32 he bought his home. He’s been working on it ever since. He says repeatedly that he takes things “in my stride”; a simple philosophy, but one linked to him starring in a feature about his life, a proposition of which some people might be wary.

He gets work planting trees in the winter, gets visitors from all over the world and plays in folk bands. Two cats keep him company and his daughter, who lives ten miles away, visits regularly. A mutual friend introduced him to Rivers, who was looking to make a film about someone who lives a solitary life in the woods. They made a short film together a decade ago, before embarking on this project and Williams jokes that perhaps they’ll make a third film in another ten years, though “I said to him ‘can you not give me young make-up and we’ll do a prequel?’”

There are surreal moments in Two Years at Sea which hint at the fact that this is not a film to be taken at face value. In one scene, Williams goes to sleep in a caravan on his land and wakes to find that while he slept it had floated up into the trees. Since between them director and star had gone to some lengths to haul the thing 15 feet in the air, Williams assumed this would be something of an action-packed scene. Not so, of course, but it helps to establish that the film is part fiction.

“It’s an exaggeration of certain parts of his life and it obviously leaves a lot out because that’s what film-making often does,” says Rivers. “It’s not full-blown fiction but it’s a fictionalised version of his life because it’s not him and it’s not meant to be an accurate representation of him. It’s him playing someone very much like himself.”

For Rivers, the opportunity to experience Williams’ lifestyle during filming was an exciting one. “It’s something I’ve always quite fancied since I was pretty young,” he says. “I used to think how nice it would be to just go and live in a hut in the forest, and I wanted to see if there was any reality to it and what that reality was, if it was as idealistic as it was in my mind. It was really quite different. In my more utopian vision it seemed a lot easier than it is. Especially in the winter it becomes a really difficult proposition, and you have to really believe in it to stick it out.”

Jake Williams has stuck it out for 30 years. He can get around on skis in the winter and is harvesting some kale at the moment, but it’s not an easy life, even if it’s presented as tranquil and dreamlike on screen. In one scene he builds a makeshift raft and rows out on a loch, his small craft drifting slowly across the screen over a period of several minutes.

As Rivers points out, it’s “not for everyone”, but for others it’s an antidote to the fast pace of modern life. Even Williams wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first: “Ben sent me clips of me floating on a pond and I thought ‘how are you going to make a film out of this?’” Rivers and Williams have been attending film festivals together, with Williams answering questions after screenings and even playing his mandolin for audiences.

“I’ve never really been interested in films,” he says. “I’ve got a short attention span. Even a film I’m enjoying, I think ‘oh, get to the point!’ And now I’m in a film that’s got no point at all.”

He’s proud of the result, however, and is enjoying being a star, so much so that he’s been hosting his own “mobile screenings” for friends by rigging up an old television in the back of a car and driving it to parties. A makeshift awning and seating complete the outdoor cinema experience.

For now, he’s got a rather more official screening to attend with Rivers, in Brussels. “We’re going to see the film a few times and then hang around like interesting characters,” he says with a twinkly smile that suggests that he’s pretty amused by the whole thing.

I watch the film for a second time after our interview. When Williams starts paddling his raft, I get up for a few minutes, returning to find that the screen looks almost exactly the same as when I left it. I know it’s not the case, of course, but the thought that I might just have missed our hero in a high-octane car chase in those few minutes certainly makes me chuckle.

To see what all the fuss is about, watch the official trailer for Two Years At Sea below.



From the Independent Wednesday 20 March 2013
Interview by Emily Jupp


I always fancied being a hermit. There was a tradition in the 18th century to pay hermits to live on your grounds and entertain the guests; I would have liked that. I live alone in an old house in the Scottish wilderness, near Aberdeen. There's an old stove that's the heart of the house and two bigs barns full of wood and useful things I've found.

I've lived like this since I got the house in the Eighties. I did it because I was sick of dealing with landlords. I was living in Aberdeen with friends, we'd made the place nice and then suddenly had to move out. It was a nightmare. I decided I would save money by any means to buy the first place I could afford. I always thought people would come and live with me eventually – it's not me that's impossible to live with, I'm very friendly – but it just hasn't happened yet.

I was a merchant seaman and a technician in 1973. I went round the islands at the north of Canada where you couldn't even go as a tourist back then and I got paid for it! I did that for a while, then in 1980 when I wanted to just save money I went back to that company and saved up enough to get the house.

I don't think my life is unconventional. I am just an owner-occupier. I did the work first and saved up rather than buying a mortgage for three decades or whatever. My expectations of where I could live were crumbling and my earnings were increasing and then they crossed over. I moved in the first day I got the place. There weren't any windows and it was very damp. It hadn't been lived in for 20 years. Somebody had stored hay at one end of a long, thin shed and I moved in and camped in it. Then I started making fires and getting the house dried out. That was about Halloween so I needed to get it ready for winter. It was a happy clappy adventure.

I've got a garden with a lot of kale – it's like a primitive cabbage. It's 1,000ft up where I live and that affects the climate. I'm not very good at growing carrots here, but I've got a lot of redcurrants. I consider myself to be a hunter-gatherer, so if I'm stopped at a layby and I see some wood, I pick it up. I don't like to miss a chance to get something for nothing. I've reached a level of incompetence in my own life... have you heard of the Peter Principle? You get promoted and promoted, or take too many things on, until you end up not doing anything very well. That's me. I like to do a lot of different little jobs. I am always busy boiling a pan of tatties on the fire for tomorrow or looking for something I've lost.

I'm a kind of half-arsed hermit; I've always had an open house and people visit me. I've been in Scottish dance bands, I write letters and freelance articles for The Leopard [a magazine on sustainable living] and I was even standing for the Green Party this month in the elections – I got 6 per cent of the votes, which they told me is quite good. But mostly I spend my days alone.

Summer is the best time. You can slip outside and cook with an outdoor fire. It's lovely. It's an easy life. If I want to stay at home I can. I stock up on food and firewood so I won't starve if I don't go out.

Three winters ago a bloke from Latvia was with me and the cold was nothing to him. We went skiing in the hills and had a great adventure. Having two people was good because we could keep the fire nice and toasty.

Then two winters ago it was a hard life... it was a hard winter everywhere. Somebody had tried to sue me and I had to go to Aberdeen to the court. I had to ski six miles in, then stay with a friend and then ski six miles back home regularly for about five months. I'd come home and the fires would be out and you're cold and wet. It was a nightmare. It's usually not that hard, that year was the exception, but I've survived.

To me, this seems like normal life. Having a career seems slightly odd. My main reason for doing this is just meanness. It seems inefficient to work in a job and take money home. This seems more straightforward or easier than that. It's just a blowing in the wind thing. You just do as good as you can, making the best of what's there. That makes it sound sort of depressing, but it's not – it's a great adventure.

From the Economist
SOLITUDE BUILDS LIKE ELECTRICITY
Posted by Simon Willis, April 4th 2012


A couple of days ago, I went to a preview of "Two Years at Sea", a new documentary by the artist and film-maker Ben Rivers. It follows the life of Jake Williams, a middle-aged man who lives alone in a modest and ramshackle house in a Scottish forest. He spends his days chopping wood, reading, sleeping and hanging bird perches made from old milk bottles. To look at, he's the classic hermit—lean, grey-bearded and melancholy. He sounds like a hermit too, which is to say he hardly speaks. I caught two snatches of comprehensible speech in the whole 88 minutes, mumbled to nobody in particular, one about cough mixture and the other about socks. That makes it sound like a long 88 minutes, but the power of the film comes from Williams's eccentricity, and the privileged glimpses you get of his very private world. The thing about recluses is that you don't tend to meet them often.

After seeing that, I came across "This is My Land", a 14-minute documentary Rivers made in 2006 which is also about Williams (excerpt here). In the earlier film, Williams talks directly to camera about the best way to build hedges, and smiles and laughs. "Two Years at Sea", made using 16mm film and old cameras, is darker. The Scottish landscape is grainy, the cloud charcoal and Rivers intersperses footage of Jake with photographs—a woman, two children, a couple baling hay—whose identity is never made clear, but whom we assume are Jake's family. The photos raise questions about the costs of Jake's life: whether he's escaping or searching; whether he's lonely as well as solitary, and if so, whether that's a blessing or a curse.

Similiar thoughts are developed by the novelist Marilynne Robinson in her new collection of essays "When I Was a Child I Read Books", which has just been published in Britain. Robinson writes about her own experience of solitude growing up in the American West, where, because of an emphasis on self-reliance, "lonesome" was used as a term of praise. She remembers "walking into the woods by myself and feeling the solitude around me build like electricity and pass through my body with a jolt that made my hair prickle." These were important experiences for her. "I am vehemently grateful," she says, "that, by whatever means, I learnt to assume that loneliness should be in part pleasure, sensitizing and clarifying, and that it is even a truer bond among people than any kind of proximity."

And the New York Times
By NICOLAS RAPOLD Published: October 11, 2012


“Two Years at Sea,” an enveloping portrait of a Scottish Highlands hermit from the experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers, is shot on 16-millimeter black-and-white film that feels at once tactile and evanescent. Similarly, the daily life we see of Jake Williams (the hermit who actually does live alone in a forest) is mundane and mysterious. The bearded Mr. Williams putters among junk, LPs and scarified snapshots (shown in montage), through varying shades of light and darkness, in a car, a raft and a camper. But his motives and means remain as cloudy as the overcast sky.

Mr. Williams, previously profiled in Mr. Rivers’s more documentary-like short “This Is My Land,” inhabits a fortress of solitude with a long lineage in the arts (and existence). Yet Mr. Rivers goes beyond traditional touchstones, as if to portray a purer isolation. Thoreauvian self-sufficiency or classical pastoral engagement with nature and its creatures takes a back seat to the company of objects, trees and music. Mr. Williams at times feels more like a figure in a landscape than a man living off the land.

The result is haunting, as a fishing trip on a jury-rigged raft turns into a James Benning-esque living landscape, yet also undeniably austere. Its final, shiver-inducing shot by fireside suggests a man disappearing into darkness itself




Picture added on 21 March 2013 at 00:10
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