For me, the best parts of Celtic Connections are those where international artists get together with a talented & versatile bunch of Scottish performers to create something new, something beautiful, something strange! In 2023, I thought I’d check out Trio de Kali, a griot music group from Mali; whose guests included a couple of Louisiana Bluegrass boys – Dirk Powell & Chris Watson – whose rendition of Little Maggie was my favorite piece of the show; a couple of Scottish singers including nightingale-voiced, Gaelic singing Hebridean Jenna Cumming & the blossoming talents of Kim Carnie; alongside whistles, accordion & guitar from three Scottish musicians, including the evergreen Ross Ainslie. In the middle of it all was this smiling Senegalese guy on a well weird, string’d gonzo instrument out of which he manag’d to extract some proper ninja licks, like… it was amazing.
Unfortunately, in this post-Brexit blunderbuss bullet storm of nonsense, only two of the Trio were allow’d to visit the country after flying to Paris… singer, Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté, & ngoni player, Mamadou Kouyaté, the son of the n’goni master, Bassekou Kouyate. Now, the version of n’goni Mamadou was playing is a beautiful bass-like instrument, & as a bass-player myself I’m definitely up for learning it, especially after seeing Mamadou so easy, so laid back & so cool as he play’d his part.
The performance itself was a mixture of the spirit songs of each of our performers, but play’d by the ensemble, which gave the piece harmony, continuity & class. Its amazing how they’d all been plonk’d together in a room – perhaps even that day – & manag’d to pull of something so mesmerisingly sensual… these are talented musicians all round. In its thirty years, Celtic Connections is always pushing against the bounds of what is possible in music, & yet again I was left completely enamour’d with the final product.
In 1996 I had just turn’d up at Barnsley College to start a degree course in Popular Music Studies. I’d also taken a couple of sheets of acid along, which was all perfectly set off by Kula Shaker’s recently releas’d & phenomenally good album K. Then it was magic mushroom season & I totally fell in love with the album, A quarter century later that same album is as good as ever, & last night I was having a reyt ol’ time to some of its classics, along with others from the band’s heavenly, esoteric & organic era-defining oeuvre.
The above video is from the lads last month, with my punter-venue being the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh, & was so heaving I could only garner half an occasional glimpse of the band in action from a upper wing of the venue. Still I was well buzzing, like, & carried on regardless, buzzing off the vibes & the music. Opening with Hey Dude & ending with Govinda, & all those other bangers in between, it was an absolute joy to be there. Crispian Mills is the George Harrison of Britpop, not afraid to chuck in a Clapton’s Crossroads riff either, floating effortlessly over the best bass player in Britain, I’ve often thought, Alonza Bevan. The next crucial pillar of the band is their yeti-shaggy organist, Jay Darlington – the drummer’s funky n’all – honest to god, reyt band!
Since the 90s, I don’t think I’ve experienced a band that comes anywhere near to the Shaker’s elegant & powerful rock, so it’s a real pleasure to see them in mood for hanging up their sticks & straps – nah, keep going lads, & lets get you out into the summery festival meadows, playing to thousands, which is the source spring of your true alchemy. Meanwhile, I’ve been reyt inspir’d to get ma fuckin’ gee-tah out & get busy on the fretfield!
Words: Damian Beeson Bullen Photography: Al Roberts
Rosie H Sullivan is currently touring Scotland The Mumble caught up with her for a wee blether
What are your earliest musical memories? Listening to music with my dad all the time! He isn’t a musician, but he adores music, so it’s something we’ve loved doing together since I was young.
Who has been your greatest musical influence over the years? I have many, it is ever changing! There is so much musical genius in this world that it’s hard to pick one. But if I really had too, I’d draw very strongly toward Joni Mitchell.
So… desert island, solar power’d CD player, 3 albums – what are they? Song for our daughter by Laura Marling. Blue by Joni Mitchell. Either ‘tusk’ or ‘rumours’ (super deluxe) by Fleetwood Mac.
Where do your songs come from & how do you shepherd them into existence? They’re all so different, formed differently and about different things. Usually it is just how I feel and have a moment of inspiration, or an idea has been secretly piecing itself together within me and if I find a melody it comes out quite easily.
You are quickly making a name for yourself on the Scottish music scene, but to you what exactly is the Scottish Music Scene? It really is an honour to be part of the Scottish music scene! There is such a broad array of musical talent from all across Scotland and I find it awfully comforting to know others within it.
You are signed to Nettwerk Records, what are they like? Nettwerk are wonderful. It is nearly a year since I signed with them, and my experience has been wholly positive so far. I have the best team and I feel listened to, supported and at times challenged, but I’m doing what I love and feel so lucky to be doing so.
How has the sound & songwriting evolv’d since the previous successful single, So I’ve Been Told? It’s a constant revolving door of picking up inspiration and influences from new music I hear, poetry, people I speak to! I think it is good to understand what it is I am trying to achieve when writing, and always thinking of how to improve can be super useful too. I can be inspired by the simplest of things.
Last month you release’d a track call’d Lights, can you tell us all about it? ‘Lights’ is a love song, inspire by the love within my parents’ relationship. They’ve been together almost forty years, and it is so amazing to see how strong love can be through all that time. I had an image in my head when I was thinking about people in love, and had this idea that we all have a small light within us, and when you find someone you match with, your lights spark together to become brighter as one.
Any shout-outs for the contributors? Ross Hamilton was my producer for my EP. He is a wonderful being to work with, super inspiring and also hilarious which is great for when you’re in the studio. Rachel Wilson played cello on ‘lights’ and I can’t unhear it – I love it so much!
You have currently half-way thro’ a mini tour of Scotland, how is at all going so far? So far, it has been amazing! More than I could ask for, we have had a great turn out at the shows and it has warmed my heart to see people coming to live music and singing along with me. It always reminds me why I do music, there is no feeling like it. I’m so excited for the last two dates, however quite sad as I don’t want it all to end!
What are the differences between recording music & playing live, & which platform do you prefer? It’s difficult, as I enjoy the whole process! I think connecting with people, in any way, whether that be through listening online to my recorded music, or coming to my gigs, it all comes down to how music makes people feel and connects us.
How is the rest of 2023 looking on all fronts? It would be lovely to get my music connecting with even more people and play more gigs! I feel quite inspired and creative at the moment and feel as if I’m growing every day. Hopefully back in the studio soon to start recording and also writing some more songs. I’m excited to see what 23 has in store
It was looking a bit Sketchy before the rain finished draining from the clouds, Niddrie Burn a raging torrent. It had been a surreal day, everything felt out of sync. I did a lot of healing for people that really need it, early doors. My legs were aching from yesterdays exercise, so after crimping my hair and wrapping up warm. I jumped on the 21 bus to call for Raymond so that we could head for our date with Claire Grogan’s Altered Images and Sophie Ellis Bexter. Equipped with Media Passes we cruised into Princes Street Gardens and The Ross bandstand. Built around it is one of the biggest stages I have seen for a long time; the lighting was out of this world and sound system just perfect. Everyone was really up for it and dancing.
I first saw Altered Images at Party In The Palace, August just gone they are a band that I have loved since I was a teen New Romantic Claire Grogan was every teens rock N Roll Crush, especially after her highly acclaimed acting role in the film Gregory’s Girl. The lead singer of Altered Images has a voice that has soundtracked a good 40 years of my life and every tune is buoyantly positive and beautifully delivered. The 80’s hits and disco covers are performed with finesse by a beautiful and well-rehearsed band, The contemporary numbers are equally as funky and dance-inducing. Everyone was loving it and everyone was really happy. The band had a really Good Time too. As the half-moon hung in the Winter night sky, we danced under the crimson-lit Castle. Ms Grogan is still as beautiful as she was 40 years ago. the crush is still intact, I know I know Claire is married to the man that inspired the love song. “Don’t Talk To Me About Love” Giving us the back story of that one melted a few hearts and everyone danced a little bit harder ❤. Closing with a rendition of Happy Birthday that lifted everyone’s spirits one notch higher and there was lots of room to dance. ❤ And dance we did in the best concert venue in the world.
There couldn’t have been a better warm up for to nights headlining act, Sophie Elis Bexter. Another artist that I got the opportunity to take in for the first time while at Party In the Palace. Damo, The Mumble Editor, was raving about her long before I knew who she was, Sophie is a 43-year-old mother of four children, with her husband, the very handsome Richard Jones, on Bass Guitar. Tonight was a boost for everyone who thought they were too old and past it The enormo stage really suited her and her brilliant band. We took in the performance from the back of the venue, because I wanted to take in the full spectacle of just how perfect everything was.
It was a dry but damp night, and everyone was dancing. the dance routines were expertly replicated from her legion of fans all around me. It was brilliant, Sophie took her coat off after the first song to reveal the most amazing dress, looking every bit the star that Sophie Ellis Bexter has become. Sure, its cheese, but really really good cheese, performed with gusto and passion. A British Madonna for all intents and purposes – her rendition of Like a Prayer confirming her inspiration, channelling her inner Madonna perfectly. I think this is the reason I love her so; her bass playing husband is a dish too, I can see how their marriage works, the creative chemistry between them both is electrical and on fire, encouraging her ecstatic audience to dance harder. To raise the energy, to keep warm. We obeyed. What a brilliant and absolutely fantastic experience. Rock N Roll baby ❤
Anyone lucky to have tickets for Hogmanay Headliners The Petshop Boys ❤ in Princes Street Gardens. You are in for a real treat, The stage is awesome, the Soundsystem is perfect. In the best concert venue in the world. Am getting excited now, I know it is going to be awesome ❤ Good Time Divine ❤
Words: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert Photography: Raymond Speedie
It was a dark and rainy Night in Aulde Reekie as I waited upon the 21, for like 29 mins, 29 mins when it was pissing it doon felt like 3 days. It was the first time I had been out all-day, I was prepped for a cold wet night, a good brolly and thermals, my long black cashmere coat is really waterproof. when the 21 came I was ever so grateful, getting off at Hawk Hill and walking round to Spuds so that he could perform his photogenic mastery. documenting The Pet Shop Boys and Midnight Fireworks.
When I was a nipper I bought Smash Hits every week. This was when Neil Tennant was the editor and I always really enjoyed his writing in Smash Hits, I swapped Smash Hits for Q Magazine and Neil Tennant also wrote for Q. I loved Loved loved Disco when it came out and it still stands as a cohesive whole. The hits of the PSBs are really really ingrained into people’s subconscious because they have been so successful. Of course this level of popularity ensures sell out concerts globally without faltering. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been satisfying a largely Gay audience for 4 decades and their pop light synthpopness has found its way into most people of a certain generation’s CD collection. Indeed the PSBs have become part of the framework of being British. National treasures.
So why would people pay £80 to stand in The Ross Bandstand in the middle of Winter in the pissing rain. for four hours. In the worst dreich inclement weather to have landed on The Hogmanay doorstep in recent History. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay has always been hardcore weatherwise, I will never forget seeing The Human League play a stage erected at the roundabout on the junction of Market Street, with gale-force Artic blasts adding an extra chill factor, it was still brilliant in a surreal only in Edinburgh kind of way. The difference being of all inclement weather that is hard to deal with persistent rain and being exposed to it is the hardest. Good Time sucker of them all. As you can guess, I am struggling to divorce myself from just how fucking minging it actually was, to give a balanced review.
Saying that, I am so so glad I made the effort, for the night was fantastic. I danced so hard on Friday. Sophie Ellis Bexter should have been the headliner; she is a lady that connects and genuinely cares, she was engaged with her Audience to get the best out of them, also it was a younger up for it crowd having a really Good Time. And of course it wasnae raining.
So, to come from the perspective of reviewing Edinburgh’s Hogmanay in past years, I can draw a comparison. My last one, The Street Party had three stages; housing The Human League, Colonel Mustard And the Dijon 5 Amongst others, that alone was worth the price of a Street Party ticket. I didn’t get to Princes Street Gardens West End for Rag n Bone Mans ushering in of the bells (Which was really really good by the way) and fireworks, I got there just as Rag n Boneman came on Stage if only because there was so much to see and do out with The Ross Bandstand. But this year there was none of that. So what were people actually paying for?
The warm-up DJ, DJ Elle Jo – Pretty Ugly – had a difficult job on her hands, warming up a soggy audience, she did look a little out of her depth on that mega stage as she played a good 80s/90s selection of tunes. Am not sure that she was comfortable, but we were nae there for comfort, we were there for Rock n Roll. And tonight’s host, Susie McCabe, introduced the Hogmanay Headliners to a backdrop of a projected Ukrainian flag.
The stage was prepped as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe took to it; at first before a minimal design – two lamp posts a microphone and Chris Lowes keyboards to begin a set of The Pet Shop Boys’ greatest hits, performed with full mega production glitz, with a rib-shaking soundsystem. The lights and the stage show were nothing less than excellent, and mesmerising. As hit after hit was performed, the stage set changed to reveal a proper band (gosh); the visuals were incredible and the party went off.
Stopping just before midnight for the countdown and fireworks, Susie McCabe announced the countdown and asked everyone to hug each other… Sweety, everyone is soaking wet, that’s nae gonna happen.
The Fireworks were spectacular; there were lots of Ooooos and Ahhhhs, explosions of pyrotechnic amazingness. It was a very nice firework display and then we all had a singalong to Aulde Lang Sign. Then The Pet Shop Boys came back on for their closing songs, with West End Girls as the encore being my fave Pet Shop Boys number.
I think had this been the middle of Summer, then this concert would have been a delight from start to finish. Because it was amazingly spectacular from a performance art perspective, better perceived from a hot beach, rather than a sea of cagoules and umbrellas.
Words: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert Photography: Raymond Speedie
I’m a fan of the Jive Aces, me. I’ve only seen ’em once, mind, up at the Edinburgh Fringe, but I though they were well cool. Acutely professional, yet immensely approachabe, these are amenable swing merchants, who know just where to find our audio g-spots & get us reyt going. Anyways, a pal of mine, tonight’s photographer, has a daughter who just happens to be among the occasional singers of who adorn the Aces’ canary-black stage, & so when we discover’d she would be doing a one-off festive show at the Aldwych Theatre in London, it would have been foolish not to accept the invitation to witness, ‘The Jive Aces Not Quite Christmas Show.’
Taking our seats in the Dress Circle of the Edwardian & wedding-cake decorated Aldwych theatre, what a treat was this festive variety box . Think of a variety buffet, with tap dancers, swing-groovers & a whole medley of singers & players. We had Ray Gelato, just about to start a stint at Ronnie Scotts, & an absolute donjon whizz at sax & swing. We had the London Belles, three delectable & sassy singers ‘from the locality,’ who synchronised notes & moves with an addictive elegance. We had tap-dancing maestro Adele Joel, we had Alan Power, a fantastic new talent from Ireland who seems somehow descended from the very bloodline of Elvis Presley; & finally, of course, my friend’s daughter, the living embodiment of Betty Boop, Rebecca Grant – a BBC beauty who had flown in from San Francisco in the middle of a film-shoot especially for this one-off gig.
The Jive Aces themselves are six stunningly talented lads who perform’d 500 live nightly streams in a row during the Pandemic, a veritable Hamburg period of intense song exploration which has widened vistas into a great Christmassy set here, a roots of Elvis gig there, & of course the core of their musical soul which is a feast of swing & jive. I loved the Jerry Lewis theatrics of the ‘Professor,’ Vince Hurley, on keyboards, while the drummer, Peter Howell, banging on the double bass strings, while its player, Ken Smith, was jazz fusioning all over the shop up the fretboard was literally the best thing I have ever seen in my life. Meanwhile, conducting everything with superslick, easy-vibes,caressing his ukelele & emitting kittenesque caramel vocals was mega-talented Ian Clarkson. What a band! What a joy!
We all have our foundation myths at the Jives Aces appreciation society; one of the audience members, a lovely woman of a certain age, had first seen the Aces a few years ago at the Twinwood celebration of Glen Miller’s music, & watch’d 490 of the 500 aforemention’d live streams. She & I, & everybody else all rose to our feet for the powerful & funky finale & from the spirit of the Jive Aces, a very merry Christmas to you all.
Words: Damian Beeson Bullen Photography: Michael Grant
4 musical acts were to perform in a night about City streets (Glasgow) & busking. Room 2 is a great venue and there was a special soul at the place last night. It’s special in that its layout was so well designed so that it can be host to any and every form of music there is. The night may prove beneficial for the ever so personal acts, all of whom stayed wonderfully in character, an evening for guitar and vocals, to own the stage in its also decent proportions.
Killer Whale (a powerful name for a band) came on a stage that was ready to celebrate and in some way inform. Hi stance was heroic, reflecting the evening and his voice was very ready to be listened to. He took a jam (musical) and merged lyrics that were hot, while warming up the room. The sense of celebration formed another woolly jumper creating a tight circumstance of pure heart.
Second on was a musician calling himself ‘Flew the arrow!’His music embarked on an honest passage. Wonderfully skilled of course, beautiful songsmanship through which he easily conveyed some great opinions opening things up. His style was all old Scottish (native) tradition, his melodies were transitional and he gave the musical proceedings a great hoist of wisdom and gratitude.
So we were at no 3, missions accomplished at the bar and what not. Ivy Gno nervously picked up her electric guitar and with bravado performed songs she had written herself still as a teenager. She kicked in with a voice to die for and youth on her side, fitting together so well the immediacy found the intimacy for a night well put together.
So as the final act took to the stage offering to be the last to make the statement that music conveys with a concurrence of appearance, in this talent and wisdom joyfully concentric was what Motopia (technology) would bring to the table. We got to really praise the stage forgetting to adhere to being an audience member who were delighted by what they saw and listened to.
So strong was the voice, the participation an evening given to the streets, to music, to love, to care…? an amazing show casing for all of these successful and driven performers. It was as if to look at the streets in fairness you have to walk into it and see what’s what. Little introduction for the bands themselves was needed we were treated to a take on music that was a show of strength and victory over needless suffering and necessary pain. A wonderful 3 hours of untameable and beautiful music.
The Full Moon was shining its rays over Aulde Reekie on a bitterly cold, crisp and frosty December evening. I was heading to the Old Town, a venue called The Caves, steeped in history and situated upon one of Edinburgh’s most powerful leylines for my first Skinny Lister experience along with, not one, but two fine support acts.
First up. Tom Jenkins. all the way from my Motherland, Pontypridd in the valleys of South Wales, a young artist with an inherent fine voice singing songs inspired by his travels around New Zealand complemented by expert guitar playing which proved to be the perfect opener for this rebel rousing night of Celtic grace, warming up the venue and the audience perfectly.
Next up, Billy Liar another solo artist, one of Edinburgh’s finest young Punk As Fuck offerings who has toured extensively through the Uk, mainland Europe, America and Australia, Another expert guitarist and brilliant songwriter, with a voice that has gathered just international acclaim, Billy proved to be another perfect, warm-up for the nights headlining act. The audience were going wild.
Up until this point I had been a Skinny Lister virgin, the capacity audience rapturously welcomed this mighty band on stage as they took us on a journey, expertly warmed up by a brilliant choice of support acts. Skinny Lister ripped into a performance of Celtic stompers, not too dissimilar from The Pogues in their prime, a cajun rockabilly masterclass that has seduced the world since they formed in 2009 The Band have seen many line-up changes throughout the years before settling on this current incarnation of brilliance. Performing songs from their 2021 long player.‘A Matter of Life & Love’, written and produced by the band themselves along with other numbers drawn from an extensive repertoire of the four LPs and numerous EPs that they have released and a few numbers taken from a new body of work.
Written through Dan and Lorna’s recent journey of becoming parents for the first time, it really is a heartwarming family affair, with Lorna’s brother Max on backing vocals and mandolin. Grandparents were on tour too, providing babysitting duties for the entire tour, and Lorna and Max’s father George Heptinstall. taking lead vocals on one of the songs. It’s no wonder this band have such a loyal following they are brilliant. Even dishing out free shots of whiskey to the audience members. Everyone was beaming and having a really Good Time.
Each of the band members have a striking presence beautiful and handsome, Tim Hilsden is a powerhouse of a drummer and Scot Milsom the Bass Player (Double Bass and Electric Bass) is so incredibly cool and funky with supermodel looks. Dan Heptinstall the lead Singer and guitarist equally rich in talent and looks and completing the male voice section, Max Thomas, equally with handsome swagger and mastery of his instrument The female lead vocalist Lorna Thomas a beautiful rock star whose voice and talent completely owned the stage and audience. she had us all in the palm of her hand. Indeed the combination of this collective called Skinny Lister is a sure-fired success A most excellent performance and a brilliant night out. Skinny Lister are going to be huge in 2023, watch this space.
Words: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert Photography: Raymond Speedie
On the back of releasing her hypnotic & elegant new album, Wildest Dreams , the Mumble caught up with its creator for a wee chat
Where are you from & where are you living today?
I was born in Flagstaff, Arizona but I’ve lived in five states permanently including Portland, Oregon, Olympia, Washington and all over California and New Yoik, New Yoik. I also lived in Berlin for five years and I moved to Edinburgh 10 years ago. I’ve stayed in Edinburgh longer than I’ve lived anywhere else consistently now.
What are your first musical memories from life in Arizona?
Singing to myself in the forest. Singing to myself to tune out the dysfunctional world around me. I remember one of my first concerts was Willie Nelson, and he winked at me. I wondered from then on why men cut their hair. It was so nice to see a man with long braids who sang from his heart. Apart from that, my mother wanted to be a blues singer. She played guitar and sang songs that she wrote. She’s away to that other realm now despite being only 20 years older than me, and if she could read this she would surely be happy to know that though I almost did, I didn’t pawn her guitar.
What instruments do you play & how did you pick them up in the first place?
I pick them up with my hands! I play guitar, baritone and concert ukulele, five-string banjo, piano and shakuhachi. I’d like to pick up the wooden flute here soon, as the trumpet might make our cabin fever turn into something more deadly. Portable stringed instruments make taking the show on the road easier, so maybe it’s a matter of practicality. I can’t see a better tool for a songwriter than a guitar, but it can be overly suggestive at times. I wanted to play the oboe when I was wee, but there wasn’t one in all of the town. I think I was influenced by Tchaikovsky’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ on that one.
Who has been your greatest musical influence over the years?
My first musical influence was Chopin, which might sound ridiculous, if not pretentious. I was unreasonably obsessed though with playing the piano because of hearing that music from a very young age. We couldn’t afford one both in space and money. It wasn’t until my mother married a man that had a piano that I could give it a go. I was probably around nine. Apart from that I love everything from The Meters to Joni Mitchell, Laura Viers to the Pixies. I used to listen to a lot of torch singers like Billie Holiday and early Sarah Vaughn, but right now I’m really into silence. I love very “old” music in general, Hoagy Carmichael and Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Skip James, Memphis Minnie…
Desert island, solar power’d CD player, 3 albums – what are they?
John Fahey, ‘The Dance of Death and other Plantation Favorites, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by the Beatles (‘Magical Mystery Tour’ is closely tied), Chopin ‘Nocturnes’, and Alan Watts ‘Out of your Mind’ lectures (that’s four, I never was much of a rule follower). I do think I play specifically acoustic music just for this apocalyptic kind of thinking; when the lights go out I want to know that I’m still plugged into something.
Where do your songs come from & how do you shepherd them into existence?
I enjoy your use of the word shepherd here. For a long time I thought that they just dropped from the ether but as I’ve been teaching songwriting in the last many years I have come to realize there is so much a craft-meets-art-meets-craft, absolutely. I am unconsciously working all the time. I tend to ask questions of myself, and the world around me, and then I attempt to answer these questions with as much candor as can be. When I’m stuck, I study music, learn a new song. And if I can’t answer the question, well – time to insert a good ol’ fashioned instrumental. ‘Banjo is the Swiss army knife of the darkside’ – but also some other more joyful places. And the places that can’t be met with one instrument can be found with another one. My instruments are helpful lovers and they all give me something different, never jilted that I took time with another. In my view, songwriting-as-life is played in and plays with empty space. It’s possible the main thing one needs to shepherd songs, and why I like this word, is that the practice is to realize they belong not to you but the universe; they exist within and without you, revealing themselves with careful observation and gentle nudge, if needed.
What are the key ingredients to your sound?
Harmonic depth, breath, improvisation and playful exchange, distilled poetry humor, candor, viewing vulnerability as strength, and Dr. Dirk’s homebrew.
Why the move to Edinburgh, & how do you find its music scene?
I had a magical and very happy dream about it when I was 24 living in Oly WA, which was a long time ago, but it stuck with me. We came in as EEA members as Dirk, despite seeming American, is actually German. When we lived in Berlin a few unfortunate violent incidents happened so it seemed like a good idea to check it out. Upon arriving, I found a gold ring on the street and Dr. Dirk a jazz hat he felt he very much needed. It had a feather in it already. The music scene has been good to us and I’m grateful to be here every day. I don’t mind the wind at all, but I think my road competes for top spot in that regard.
Can you tell us about your recent release, Wildest Dreams?
It’s a carefully selected group of songs that go together as an album and reflect my true and wildest dreams, some of which border on the odd nightmare (see: Sweet Sue, Feather Boa) but inside each song is a dream I’ve had in the past that has revealed itself to come to fruition. Like all truly wild things, these things know how to hibernate, be simple and just be. ‘Wild’ is a tricky word often overused/used incorrectly. I’ve chosen it on purpose because of its multiple interpretations. Motherhood for instance is a common dream for some but a “wild” one for someone like me to realize, and is reflected in this body of work. Inside scoop – the title of the album ‘Wildest Dreams’ is the title of a song I chose not to include on the album but will release at a later date. It was fully produced! It is an indie-pop number that stands on its own, but doesn’t reflect my “Wildest Dreams” as a notion. It instead chews over the regret of having gone after dreams in the first place and the possible unforeseen consequences of that. “You, me, we, we get what we deserve. I have let it run away with me the wildest of the wildest dreams” sings the chorus. Americans I’m told speak in hyperbole, but these here Wildest Dreams are what I have, and what I’m made of, plain as can be.
Any shout-outs for the contributors?
Ben Seal is a genuine boss of a producer with a magnificent studio at the Elm in Fife. He gave me the extra mile all the time and reeled in my perfectionism and neurosis with humor and tact, which is no easy feat. To boot, he’s an authentic creative and plays a lot of different instruments as well. It was more than fun for us to spend time together coming up with ideas and making them happen quickly. With someone this smart in the recording/cutting/mixing room, it’s easy to be spontaneous and experimental. It’s a necessary quality in a producer for me, and he nails it. His donning of colorful jumpers will keep you on your toes as much as he will.
Dr. Dirk is a fiddler of the highest caliber who can play a lot of styles with authentic reverence. More importantly perhaps, he has an editing ear and the decency to just play the right and needed part when accompanying a vocalist. Dirk has an experimental approach in learning, but a delicate sensitive touch and a true sense of song. It’s rare for a lot of players and I try to do my best to let him have at it sometimes. He’s patient and kind, “gently assertive” a fellow musician said recently, but I’d further that by saying he’s not playing for himself, he’s tapping into something much deeper. I consider him a civil servant to ‘the cause’, a rather noble one. We aren’t tired of each other yet somehow.
Joel ‘Joey’ “Jello” my bass player is also a dear friend and I feel he deeply understands the heart of my music. He’s playful, fun, and chock full of ideas. The music I write requires a lot of space and listening, but it also requires a strong ability for my instrumentalists to improvise and write parts of their own and he does this very well. I love writing things with Joey in mind, always interested in what he comes up with. We work well together and I enjoy traveling with him. I would be hard pressed to see a better accomplice in a room full of interesting strangers miles away from home.
I heard Jello has an unusual instrument, can you tell us about it & what does it sound like?
Yes, Joey made his own bass in Canada with some grant money from Creative Scotland and it’s been a game changer. I asked him to say a few words about it –
“Jellobelly couldn’t carry on trying to play cello and double bass at the same time for much longer. Things were getting desperate. Then Eddy Spoons turned up some ancient Silver Maple and Otis said “Sure. Come and make your crazy instrument with me in my workshop in Cape Breton”. And so, ‘The Beast’ was born…and she was called J-llo…..part cello, part double bass, 100% JelloBass.”
And lastly, Iona Lee did the artwork and album design. She’s an incredibly talented poet, muse and illustrator. I highly recommend her work, her pamphlets and new book coming out. Iona is funny, poignant and very needed right now as a voice on the scene.
Your son plays a part on the album too – how did that transpire?
I am so proud of Harlen. More and more often I catch him teaching himself something on his own without my prompting by Bo Burnam or the Gorillaz, Nirvana, and even recently, our favorite Chilly Gonzalez, and “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin. Surprises never cease and I think I’m over a decent hump with him. I can only hope he’s got ‘the itch’. We hope he grows to know it’s the best video game on earth, no screen needed, and a friend for life. I try to tell him – as I tell you all now – if it’s not hard going, even just a little bit, it’s probably not worth doing. Now work that left hand.
How do you balance motherhood with creating such a prolific & poetical wealth of beautiful music?
I don’t. I am robbing Peter to pay Paul every day. I manage because I have a nurturing competent husband who cooks, cleans and cares for our son with exceptional thought and skill. It doesn’t hurt he’s a musician who understands a specific kind of burnout we face and is accustomed to a more radical lifestyle. We live a fairly eccentric life to most, and inevitably extreme “imbalance” happens. I could perhaps be proud of being both a mother and musician all at once, but I don’t really feel that I have a choice in the matter. To me, it would be like being proud of freckles, or big hands or anything else that is involuntary. I am definitely both a musician and a mother, and both suffer because I am the other. I have this phenomenon in common with all other muso-mamas I know who (all that I can think of ) are married to fellow musicians for good reason. It requires intimate understanding. It can be a bit lonely sometimes to turn around as a songwriter-come-mother and realize you are nearly alone out there, as a species. We do need a lens with which to look at the issue because it’s clear many specific women’s voices and stories aren’t being heard in the numbers they could be. I believe thisgenuinely disadvantages us all. Unfortunately, the burden of having this conversation rests on the shoulders of already fairly busy women.
You have a secret gig coming up – are you allowed to tell us anything about it at all?
Nope, I’m not allowed – the mystery shall remain! But my lovely new label “New Teeth” (Leith) records will be hosting another release in January, and when Emma Briely’s animation for “Catfish Friend” is finished, another local one, I’m sure.
How is 2023 looking for you so far?
I’ll be doing lots and lots of recording starting with finishing a grant in January/Feb for Creative Scotland awarded in the pandemic to record a reflective album of the experience using some new tools. I’ll also be finishing an album for Delightful Squalor, my passion project with Lake Montgomery, fellow ‘merican from Texas. The Half Moon Medicine Show will be happening here and there no doubt, stay tuned! And then comes summer time with its festival season to keep us busy. I’ve always got my Jazz Bar showcase on every Friday 6:15-8:30 where I host some of Scotland’s finest and most unique musicians, songwriters, enchantresses and wizards in the business, unless I’m on the road. I know that I will be writing new things, and taking myself on a retreat. I finally got my driving license in the UK, so I’m able to take on more independent work, which is very exciting and long overdue.
It is clear Blackburn has two extremely different quality of youth systems. The first of these, the football academy at Blackburn Rovers, is clearly not very good – I mean, the way their first team was pumped at Turf Moor by the mighty Clarets last Armistice Day to an Ashley Barnes double & a cool side-foot finish from Zourary was emphatic. Top of the league, mind the gap, n’all that. In stark contrast, however, is that banging ebullient band of youthful charm & cool locally, & ever-wider-growingly, call’d the Illicits.
Sign’d on the spot to Alan McGee’s Creation 23 Label, they do feel rather Oasisey, & last night, as I watch’d them in the slightly austere, fairly small, but acoustically proud cellar-cloisters of the Hug & Pint on the Camdenesque Great Western Road in Glasgow, surrounded by a fairly young studenty audience, I was whisked back to my own 18th year, in 1994, when I saw Oasis play at TJs a week after they releas’d Supersonic. Lancashire & its unique, but ever-deadly approach to Rock & Roll, was back on tour.
The Illicits are a four-piece – a wild wee guitarist (Brad Hayes) who pull’d a supercool pose with every chord & sent his hyperactive jangling-spanging fingers all over the shop; a bass-player (Joe Mitchell) who started quite statuesque but revv’d up with the playing & passing of each punchy song; a drummer who was not their normal drummer I think, but drove a really aggressive beat; & an ultimately unique singer (George Richards) on rhythm guitar. His brash melodic shouting, like a yelling crooner, is one of the most original voices I’ve ever heard, except for the Vicious/Strummer sections of the set (such as Left Behind)- which were just pure punk & a real tonic to the more indier moments.
They play’d ten songs – two of which I’d listen’d to on repeat when first encountering the possibility of seeing the band – In What World & Feel It -, each of which opened the two halves of the ten-song set. A proper guitar band, they all play’d Gibsons & the sound was epic, especially Brad’s lead guitar which was drench’d with atmospheric sonic effects in a way no-one really does anymore – nice one our kid! Eye of the Storm was baggy as fuck, with its hypnotic hook-lyric, ‘in the eye of the storm / I won’t be alone,’ while new release ‘Come of Age’ & the tune after it ‘Play Your Part’ had magnificent jammy endings. I also loved again the middle-eight on ‘Feel It,’ which summon’d the spirits of Lennon/McCartney & Donavon into a magic wee cauldron of melody & chord changes.
A great shout out to the Scottish Musical Collective, a new enterprise that fill’d a brilliant Illicit-topp’d bill, which unfortunately I miss’d out on, but feeling the buzz in the room I’d like to check out another of their gigs. I got talking to the organiser who explain’d how his mate had met the band at a festival in Spain & that’s why they were all the way up this far north. But fair credit to this ripe bunch of tripe-guzzling, vowel-extending Lancashire lads – they’ve come all this way on a Wednesday & pull’d off a stormer. So all, good all round.
Track nine was the amazingly anthemic ‘Next Generation’ – ‘you are the next generation, you wanna be me, you wanna be free’ – which I think would be a smash hit with an accompanying female vocalist. Praise to George, like, he does all the singing in his tod, but every now again I think as Reni rais’d the Roses, he could do with a little boost to flesh out a tune.
The climax of the set was a cover of Born Slippy – think Oasis chucking in I Am the Walrus in ’94 -, which everyone totally buzz’d off & show’d a certain musical side to the band which could possibly one day manifest in a Screamedelica-esque rebranding of the band’s sound. But first of course, we’ll have a Definitely Maybe, then perhaps a London Calling, & perhaps in the middle of all that the true sound of these burgeoning, blossoming beauties will emerge.