Spring is here and with it comes a wee update on my new album and other news…
Album title revealed!
I can reveal the title of my new album – “Down The Railway Line”. The songs that will feature in “Down The Railway Line” are based on my memories of growing up in the small village of Fishcross, my experiences of both exciting adventures and the mundane weekly routine as well as a glimpse of what the future holds.
I grew up in Fishcross and spent uncountable hours playing down along the path that used to be the old railway line that ran from Alloa to Dunfermline. “Down The Railway Line” is a fitting title for the album, the railway line being symbolic of the journey we all take through life.
“Down The Railway Line” will be available to pre-order through Crowdfunder from 2nd April, with some exciting rewards in return for making a pledge. Check back here on 2nd April for the full details and link to my Crowdfunder page.
Photos in the rain
Just over a week ago, I met with my friend Kevin Ross who is a member of Loch Lomond Camera Club. Having been 7 years since my photo shoot with John Lamont, I figured it was time for a refresh of my promo photos and Kevin kindly agreed to take some new shots for me. So we head off, in the cold rain, into some of the historic parts of Fishcross including, of course, the old railway line, the miner’s memorial and Auchinbaird Doo’cot. I think you’ll agree that Kevin has done a tremendous job as you can see from the two photos below. You can find the full gallery of photos here.
I suppose you are wondering how “Down The Railway Line” is progressing? Well, wonder no more! The album is progressing very well and 7 out of the 9 songs that will feature on the album have been arranged. Once the other two are arranged, then it’s recording time! I should be able to commence recording within the next two or three weeks.
I’m thrilled with how the songs are sounding and it always amazes me how much songs evolved during the arranging process. In fact, most of the songs are sounding quite different to how I initially heard them in my head and I think they are all the better for it.
Expect some gentle, thoughtful songs mixed in with some of the more upbeat, big sounding songs. Overall, the songs are a bit more serious (except “The Sweetie Song” – that one is a lot of fun!) than the ones that appear on my first album “Travels”, but the few people that have heard some of them have all agreed one thing – you can’t get them out of your head!
A very happy new year to all of you, can you believe it’s 2018? Where on earth has the time gone?
Having been getting a bit more musically active over the last few months, coming out of hibernation I guess, I’ve been thinking about what comes next on my journey and have set myself a goal for this year. First of all, I’m delighted to announce that I am going to be a dad! Baby Huggan is due for release in June.
The news that I am going to be taking on all the responsibilities of parenthood has set a bit of a time limit on my musical plans. I’ve been toying with this idea for a number of years now and think it is now time for a new release. So my musical goal for 2018 is to record a brand new EP before Baby Huggan arrives. The track list will exclusively consist of new original songs, the majority of which have already been written and ready to be developed into something more.
Now, I know a few years ago I said I was working on my next project – “Project Blue” – it’s safe to say that this is dead in the water. I guess it was a case of trying to run before I could walk. So, the new EP will be sticking with what I know – writing songs. There’s been a few I’ve written since “Travels” that will appear, but there will also be some brand new unheard songs that I am really excited about working on.
That’s all for now, but keep your eyes peeled for more news about how the (as of yet untitled) EP is developing!
Back in August, I attend Glasgow Songwriting Festival – a weekend of songwriting workshops with Findlay Napier, Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock and Jim Hunter. I had been struggling with “writer’s block” and basically didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do next with my music. My grand ideas for “Project Blue” remained just that…ideas. I had been to a concert with Findlay Napier & Boo Hewerdine at the Tolbooth in Stirling and heard about the festival then and signed myself up for it…I am so glad I did!
At Glasgow Songwriting Festival, I learned some skills to help come up with new ideas and I found them to be very useful…I have so many ideas and have written 3 new songs since then! One of these songs I have now recorded and present to you for your listening pleasure. This song is called “Down The Railway Line” and was actually written during the festival in Jim Hunter’s workshop.
There is a path that stretches from Alloa in Clackmannanshire to Dunfermline in Fife. This path used to be a railway line used to transport coal and other freight from the coal mines in Clackmannanshire and Stirling to Fife. Growing up in Fishcross, I used to play down the Old Railway Line and I still often go walking along this path to this day. Every time I walk there, I think back to when I was a child and also imagine the trains storming down the track, shaking the miners working in the tunnels below. “Down The Railway Line” is all about thinking back to my childhood and imagining all the industrial goings on that used to fill the area.
This version of “Down The Railway Line” will feature in an app being developed at Stirling University for a project called “Landscape Legacies Of Coal Mining“. The aim of the project is to raise awareness of Clackmannanshire and Stirling’s rich industrial history and will eventually include guided tours and information about the area. You can find more information here and I will share more details when the app becomes available.
Until then, enjoy listening to “Down The Railway Line”. If you like the song and want download your own copy you can do so here.
There’s nothing quite like a trip to the Outer Hebrides to inspire, motivate and re-energise. My wife and I recently went on a hebridean holiday including the fantastic Hebridean Celtic Festival, Berneray Week and some nice surprise in Barra. All it took was a bit of a sing-song and some time on stunning beaches to get the creativity flowing again.
I’ve been going to the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway most years since 2004. This year, my wife made her first trip the festival and we had a ball! I’ve made a lot of friends over the years at the festival, and I’ve realised that my favourite aspects of it are not just the music: it’s the atmosphere, the people you meet and the unique experiences that make the Hebridean Celtic Festival such a special event. This year was no different, and besides all of the amazing artists we saw, one of my favourite moments happened the day after the festival. Basically, there were about 15 of us crammed into the cooking hut on the campsite, having a session and everyone was singing along to “In The Reek Of The Smouldering Peat”. It was one of those moments that really drove home just exactly why I love singing.
After the madness of the festival, we made our way through the mountains of Harris to catch the ferry over to Berneray, one of my favourite islands. Although the weather wasn’t exactly the best, travelling through Harris was quite simply stunning. Even in the bad weather the beaches in Seilebost and Scarista were shining. A lot of people think of Skye as having some of the must stunning scenery in Scotland, but for me that trip through Harris trumps them all.
We were staying in Berneray for 3 nights we happened to arrive in time for Berneray Week, which saw various events taking place all over the island, from sheepdog trials and sports days, to ceilidhs and barbecues. We stayed in the hostel the first night, instead of going to the ceilidh, as we felt we needed to relax and unwind a bit after 4 days of partying and dancing and we spent the evening chatting to other hostellers and passing the whisky around. This hostel is of course the very same place that inspired “In The Reek Of The Smouldering Peat” and sharing whisky and chatting to like-minded people seems to be what most people love about the hostel, as well as the stunning location of course. There’s a reason many people return to this amazing place year after year.
The next morning we woke up to blazing sunshine. If you ask me, when the sun shines in Berneray there is one thing you HAVE to do – take a walk around the coast of the island. I’ve always been blown away by the beauty of this small island, but it was even more special showing my wife all of the special places on the island. Walking up the east beach and on to the cliffs in the north, the view over the Sound of Harris to the mountains we had travelled through the day before is nothing short of mind-blowing. You would think that it would be heard to beat that view, but if you keep walking along the north you eventually make it to the west beach – 3 miles of pure white sand and that stunning blue-green colour I can only describe as “hebridean blue”. Walking down that beach, you see the uninhabited island of Boreray to the west. It really is one of the most perfect beaches and I’ve always found it a great spot for wildlife. This year we were lucky enough to see some dolphins, probably only about 20 feet away from us too!
The sunshine, sadly, wasn’t meant to last. That night we were treated to a spectacular lightning storm through the night which we could see striking in the distance, silhouetting the distant Cuillins in the flash. The next day was overcast, but mostly dry, so we decided to take a trip over to North Uist and take a walk around the Balranald nature reserve. It was a great walk, even though it was a bit boggy, and I think the fresh air did both of us wonders. In the evening, there was a massive bonfire and barbecue on the beach. We went along and enjoyed the warmth from the fire. It seemed that the whole of Berneray was gathered around the fire. I had taken my guitar along with me “just in case”, a woman noticed it and practically demanded that I start entertaining the onlookers. Of course, you don’t need to ask me twice! I sang a few songs, which people seemed to be enjoying singing along to. One wee boy came up to me and asked me to sing the “Rock Me Mama song” again (“Wagon Wheel”), I told him I would only sing it again if he sang it with me. So the pair of us sang our hearts out. The wee boy was over the moon to be singing with me, I’ll never forget that moment.
After Berneray, we had planned stay a night in South Uist before heading to Barra the next day. However, as we were driving through the Uists we decided to keep on driving to Eriskay and chance our luck and get the ferry over to Barra. We were able to get on the ferry so, in the torrential rain, we made our way over to Barra. After putting the tent up on the rain, we headed to my favourite pub in the Hebrides – the infamous Castlebay Bar. It was there that we saw a poster saying that the mighty Vatersay Boys would be playing in the bar on Friday and Saturday night…what a way to end our holiday!
The next day the sun made an appearance again, so we decided to visit the beaches of Vatersay. It was stunning. I even went in the water, though only up to my knees! After spending a nice bit of time on both the east and west beaches on Vatersay we headed back to Barra and paid a visit to the wonderful beach at Tangasdale. There was a circus tent set up on the machair, and we heard that Let’s Circus, who had been at the Hebridean Celtic Festival, were in Barra for three nights – the first circus ever to visit Barra. So we booked a ticket for that night. We then headed north to Eoligarry and visited a part of the island I hadn’t been to before. It was the most amazing spot, we could see over to Eriskay and South Uist and the water was crystal clear. We then headed down to the beach on the other side of the dunes from the airport and enjoyed the last of the sunshine before heading back to Tangasdale.
Later that night, we headed to the circus! It was fantastic, we had unicycle-riding clowns, double-jointed bendy folk, trapeze artists and, of course, the Balloonatic! It really was good fun and the atmosphere was brilliant. Little kids and big kids alike were having a whale of a time. I was amazed at the skill of all the acts. It was also great to see someone from Lewis, who had literally ran away and joined the circus at HebCelt, performing at the end. When the circus ended, we returned to the Castlebay Bar, where the Vatersay Boys were in full swing. It was a great end to a brilliant day.
The next day, the weather was awful. The rain was torrential and, as we lay in our tent, it felt like it was never going to end. Eventually, the rain stopped a little bit and we ceased the opportunity to head for some lunch. We then got in the car around the island for a while. The beaches we had visited the day before were now grey and wet, but the hebridean blue glow was still present in the shallows. We had booked a table for two at the fantastic Cafe Kisimul for dinner, so we headed there and read the menu…wow! I had been looking forward to the meal all week and had already decided what I was having: the Cafe Kisimul signature dish of scallop pakora for starters followed by chicken korma. I swear it was one of the best meals I have ever had! I highly recommend a visit to Cafe Kisimul for dinner if you ever find yourself in Barra. After our wonderful meal, we returned to Castlebay Bar where we were meeting a friend later. We were chatting to on older guy who was telling me that the only way to tell a woman just how beautiful she is, is to say it in gaelic. I guess I’m going to have to learn gaelic then! The Vatersay Boys started and the bar was transformed into a house of musical mayhem. The atmosphere was electric and the whisky measures were…strong. A perfect end to a perfect holiday.
I hope you have enjoyed reading all about our holiday. I can safely say I have returned from the island re-inspired and ready to continue with “Project Blue”. I was going through all of my ideas recorded on the computer and looking forward to expanding on what I’ve already written. Until my next post, farewell!
I thought I would give you an update on how things were progressing on my latest project. As this project doesn’t have a title at the moment, I’m simply referring it to as “Project Blue.” When I first came up with the idea a few years ago, it was going to be called “Hebridean Blue”, named after the beautiful blue-green colour of the sea on many of the beaches in the Hebrides. I don’t feel that the music I’m writing really reflects the beauty of the Hebrides, so Project Blue will have to do for now!
Writing Project Blue is going very well. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more creative than I do just now. It seems every time I go to work on Project Blue, more and more ideas keep coming. I’d say I’m about halfway through writing the initial ideas, which is still only a small part of the finished album as it will still need to be arranged, produced, mixed, mastered…the list goes on, but at least now I have a picture in my mind of how I want it to sound.
At the moment, Project Blue will be in two parts (which may be split into several tracks), each with a different feel/theme, but which ultimately are linked together. I have written two new songs, one of which, “Joy”, will definitely be in the album as I feel it would make a great ending for Part One, which starts quite dark/sad, but will end a lot brighter and happier. My hope is it will take the listener on an emotional journey from sadness to “Joy”.
The main theme of Part Two is based on a short instrumental I wrote that I used as the introduction to the “Wee County Sessions” video blog I did a few years back. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how I’ve been able to expand this short piece of music into something wonderful.
So, that’s how things are with Project Blue at the moment. I’ll give you another update once things have progressed further.
On 29th January 2016, Scotland’s premier folk rock band Runrig released their 14th and final studio album “The Story“. It’s a very reflective album, and the songs featured on it look back over their incredible 40+ year career with a sweet nostalgia that will be shared with by any Runrig fan.
What does “The Story” have to do with me? Well as a Runrig fan, the album certainly has got me thinking about my own story, which Runrig has played an important part in over the past 12 years.
My story begins in the summer of 2002. I had just left school and started at Falkirk College studying Hospitality Management (I know, right?) and on days off I enjoyed going to Europa Music, a popular record store in Stirling, and browsing through the folk CDs. I had heard Runrig’s version of “Loch Lomond” at the end of parties as far back as I can remember, and was looking for an album with it on it. I found their live album “Once In A Lifetime” in amongst the hundreds of CDs at Europa and decided to buy it, the album of course featuring the live version of Loch Lomond.” I took it home, listened to it, and ultimately wasn’t too keen on it. The album went to the bottom of my collection to gather dust.
Fast forward to Christmas of that year. I’m opening my presents and open one from my parents – it’s Runrig’s album “In Search Of Angels”. I remembered the first Runrig album I had bought and was a bit sceptical, but I stuck it in my CD player and gave it a listen. Wow! This wasn’t the same band I had listened to a few months earlier, this was fantastic!
I spent more time writing down Runrig lyrics than I did studying!
Over the months that followed, this album was listened to constantly, to the point that I knew most of the lyrics, and found myself at college, dreaming of the Hebrides and covering my notepad in lyrics from the album when I should have been paying attention to my lecturers. I had always enjoyed writing stories and poetry, and found fresh inspiration in my new-found favourite band.
I had listened again to “Once In A Lifetime” and now loved it. I also then learned that Runrig themselves had went through a major transformation, following the departure of former frontman Donnie Munro 1997, they had a new lead singer, Cape Breton’s own Bruce Guthro, and Runrig’s music suddenly sounded fresh and revived.
The summer of 2003 came along and Runrig were due to play Stirling Castle in celebration of their 30th anniversary and also the release of their new album “Proterra”. I had a choice of 3 things to do on that night: get a ticket and go the 30th anniversary concert, go to my friend’s 21st, or go to a ceilidh in Aberdeenshire. For some bizarre reason, I went to the ceilidh!
December 2003 came along and Runrig were on tour, so I decided to go to see them for the very first time in Perth. I remember getting to Perth and had to get a taxi out to my accommodation, which was a very basic “hotel” out by the airport (which I never even knew existed). My single room was absolutely tiny, I don’t think it even had an en-suite. I didn’t care, I was only going to be sleeping in it later that night then up early the next morning and, ultimately, it was cheap.
I got another taxi back into Perth and made my way to the concert hall. I remember getting there and being fairly close to the front and got chatting to some fellow fans. The lights went down and the support act came on. Scott MacDonald, I believe it was, although I may be wrong. After his set, there was short break before the light’s went down again and an old recording of Gaelic song came hauntingly from the speakers. Then the midi bagpipes started up, with the keyboards and cymbals quickly following. They opened with “From The North” and from that moment I was hooked. I can’t remember much else from that night, but I can remember feeling like a different person when I left.
The next morning, I gathered my things and headed home. At this time, there was no train station in Alloa, so I had to get a bus from Stirling to get home, but when I get to Stirling I found myself walking up the town. I got to the Old Arcade and entered the Andy Simpson Music Centre and bought my very first guitar: a Stagg acoustic guitar. It cost me about £80 and came with a gig bag and pitch-pipe. I went home and tried to play this thing, but couldn’t so I went online and ordered Runrig’s “Flower Of The West” songbook. Whilst I patiently waited on it arriving, I consulted the internet for the basic guitar chords and started to tinker around.
My original, if tatty, copy of “Flower Of The West”.
The Runrig songbook arrived, and I started to learn their songs. I was amazed with this book. It was beautifully put together with sheet music, guitar chords, stories about the songs and fantastic pictures from the Outer Hebrides. I wanted to go there. I began to get more familiar with the guitar and the basic chords and found I could sing along to some of the songs. One day I got brave and went busking at the bottom of King Street in Stirling, I think I made Enough for a burger and my bus home…
Throughout 2004, My Runrig album collection began to expand, as did my repertoire, confidence and ability on the guitar. In amongst all that, I started to feel a longing to visit the Outer Hebrides. Next thing I knew, I had booked tickets for the Hebridean Celtic Festival in the summer. Runrig were also playing a large outdoor concert at Crathes Castle a few weeks after HebCelt, so I booked tickets for that too. What a summer! I made some great friends between HebCelt and the Runrig gig at Crathes Castle.
Over the years that followed, I grew in confidence and began to play at open mic nights. These were essential experiences which eventually led to gigs all over Scotland, England…even two gigs in Denmark! My repertoire began to expand, not just with Runrig’s songs, but with traditional songs, folk covers and, eventually, my own songs. Every year since then I have returned to the Outer Hebrides, exploring more and more amazing places, including Barra, the Uists, Eigg, Mull and Islay. I also returned to the Hebridean Celtic Festival year after year.
In 2012, I gathered all the songs I had written and began to put together my album “Travels“, using the skills, knowledge and passion for music I had developed. Three and a bit years later, whilst I am very self-critical of “Travels” as I am with all of my music, every time I hear my album I feel a sense of pride, and remember all of the fantastic people, places and music that drove me to create it. Of course, I also remember where my story started: with Runrig and a cheap guitar.
Runrig’s music has indeed been the catalyst for my own music, as well as my adventures around Scotland. Whilst I will never achieve anywhere near the success that Runrig have had, the inspiration they have given me, as well as many others, will last a lifetime.
Runrig’s story may be drawing to a close, but I believe their legacy will turn to legend…and we all know that legends never die.
The snow is falling and it’s cold outside, so here’s a wee video to keep you occupied.
This is probably my favourite song by Dougie Maclean, “Turning Away”, and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoy singing it!
My session on Celtic Music Radio on Friday went really well, I hope you were able to tune in. I performed my new song “Please Don’t Take My Smile” alongside “In The Glen, Stan Rogers’ “White Squall” and the song in this video, “Turning Away”. Huge thanks to Celtic Music Radio for having me and to the audio department at Glasgow Caledonian University for making me sound great.
Well, it’s been a while hasn’t it? 2015 I decided to put everything music related on the backburner, as it was a very important year for me…I finally got married! However, I’m now re-booting the musical brain cells.
I have started writing again. It kinda feels like opening a new musical chapter in my life as the music I’m writing is quite different from “Travels”. I blame a shift in musical tastes for this as I have been reacquainting myself with the music of Mike Oldfield, one of my first true musical inspirations.
Although I have written six new songs since “Travels” was released, which I will probably make an EP out of eventually, I am currently writing a mostly instrumental piece. I’ve always loved music that starts with something simple and gradually builds up to a full, beautiful, dramatic climax. Mike Oldfield is of course the master of this type of music, however it’s probably the Treacherous Orchestra’s latest album “Grind” which has planted the seed in my mind.
Although it will never be to the same scale as Treacherous Orchestra or Mike Oldfield, the piece I am writing is inspired by them in that I aim to have a theme running through the music, starting with little instrumentation and building up to something a lot bigger. It is, of course, still in the very early stages. I do have a very rough draft of an opening track, which will be the basis for the rest of the music, but it’s way too rough to even let you hear a sample. I will, of course, be trying to keep it folky and with my own style. I suppose in a way I’ve already dabbled with this type of idea with my recording of “Johnny O’ Braidislee”. There will be songs in it too, but the primary focus will be instrumental.
In saying all of this, I have no idea how this will turn out. These things often grow arms and legs, and in a way, that’s what I want to happen and is how I am writing this new music.
I hope this is enough mystery to keep you interested for now, and I apologise for my lack of communication over past year or so.
My first musical adventure this year will be on Friday, where I will be performing a short set on Celtic Music Radio during their Celtic Connections broadcasts. Be sure to tune in on Friday 15th January from 3pm at www.celticmusicradio.net and across Glasgow on 95FM. I will be performing one of my new songs “Please Don’t Take My Smile” on the show, as well as a few other songs, so I hope you can tune in.
I suppose I can’t finish this email without posting a picture from my wedding! We had an absolutely perfect day, 4 years in the making, followed by an equally fantastic honeymoon travelling around Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City, Montreal and then New York City!
Well, it’s here! My first ever Christmas song “Staff Christmas Party” is now available. Having been to many a Christmas party, I felt it was time that I captured my observations and experiences in a song. I’m sure if you’ve been to one, you’ll be able to associate with the events in the song.
So have a wee listen and enjoy! If you want to buy it, you can download it for only 50p in my shop.
It’s been over a month since my last video, which I apologise for. I’ve been on holiday and trying to catch up with everything, but here is a brand new video of me singing “Travels”. I hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to leave your comments below 🙂