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!
Just when I think that 2013 is all wrapped up, an excellent opportunity pops up. I’m delighted to be supporting fantastic folk-rock band Skerryvore at Stirling’s brilliant venue The Tolbooth, this Saturday (21st December). I supported them a few years ago in Glasgow, and it’s gonna be great supporting them again!
The gig is sold out, which is quite ironic as I was on the waiting list for tickets! So, any of you that already have tickets, I look forward to seeing you at the gig. Gonna be a BELTER!
I am delighted to have been ask to appear on BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship folk music show “Travelling Folk” this Thursday! I’ll be nipping along to the studio on Thursday night and having a chat with Bruce MacGregor and Vic Galloway about music…they’re even gonna play a track or two from “Travels”!
Listen in on Thursday night on BBC Radio Scotland from 8-10pm on 92-95FM and online at bbc.co.uk/radioscotland. I believe the show will be available on BBC iPlayer for 7 days after the show too.
Hello, hope you are well. I took some video footage while I was at the open mic night at the Kilted Kangaroo in Stirling and thought I would share this one with you. This is Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, a wonderful song about love and motorbikes.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think.