Creative spark

Creative lightbulbThe other week I went along to the Tracy Emin retrospective exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival. I try to attend events like this as I’m always looking for some new creative spark to bring to my music. As it happens I didn’t take much away from this exhibition – far more shocking than genuinely creative (in my opinion). The thing I enjoyed most about the experience was in the gallery shop afterwards where T.M. had designed a notepad. On the front it had the message “I used to have imagination” and when you opened it it was blank. This made me smile.

While writing this it occurs to me that in a way this could be a spark for something new. It forms a picture in my head of a precipice (front cover) and a drop through the blank pages to the ground. The pages being empty could offer opportunities for safety. I must try this!

Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast 21 – song feature

Play Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast 21
We’ve made the decision to make our Scottish music podcast a fortnightly affair however the question was should it be different from the usual podcast at the start of every month. Well the answer we came up with was yes and what we’re going to do is feature a different kind of Scottish music in our mid-month broadcast. I’m sure you will have guessed from the title that this month we will feature on Scottish song – that is Scots, Gaelic and English, all very popular in today’s Scotland.

The show starts off with Only One Way from Karine Polwart’s Faultlines CD. This CD was massive when it came out and won Karine many fans and awards especially at the Radio 2 Folk Awards. It has many great songs on it including ‘The Sun’s Comin’ Over The Hill’ which won an award by its self at the aforementioned awards. This album got Karine onto the Radio 2 playlists which gave her career a massive boost and gained lots of exposure.

The next CD is by Daimh from their latest release Crossing Point. This is their third release and the first with Calum Alex MacMillan as the lead vocalist. He adds and extra facet to this great instrumental band and being a well known singer in his own right probably a few more fans. The song I chose is Mo Nighean Chruinn Donn. All the musicians in the band are great and the fiddle Gabe McVarish is particularly excellent. I loved his playing on their previous CD The Pirates of Puirt and his self penned tune ‘Supernose’ (great title).

The next CD is from Julie Fowlis, currently the Gaelic singer of the moment. She really has a great voice and her latest CD Cuilidh has done really well. I was amazed and very pleased when Julie won the Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year 2008 as I reckoned a Gaelic singer wouldn’t have a chance in hell of being voted top in a UK poll full of English speakers. It shows how well she is doing and the progress of her career. The song I’ve chosen is Mo Ghruagach Dhonn.

We’ve added a new feature to the mid month podcast and that is an interview with a leading Scottish musician. For this broadcast we chose Mairi Campbell, half of singing duo The Cast whose version of Auld Lang Syne was featured in this years Sex and the City movie. I say featured but it was practically a cast member coming it with 3 minutes of solo playing time. Brilliant! You can hear Mairi talk about it in the podcast and their new album Greengold. I’ve chosen their self-penned song ‘Smile Or Cry’.

I’ve finished up the podcast with a track from Kris Drever’s debut CD Black Water. I love this album and its songs and its performances and its production. It’s a real class effort. It has won lots of awards as well. I’ve known Kris for a while and always enjoyed his humour and musicianship. I remember him telling me that when he arrived in Edinburgh from Orkney he managed to catch Ronni Size (one of the forefathers of drum ‘n’ bass, a particular favourite of mine) playing a gig in Le Belle Angell. This was right at the start of drum ‘n’ bass and an amazing find of a gig. His music is very open minded which I’m sure influenced his band Lau (with Aidan O’Rourke and Martin Green).

Anyway that’s it for just now. Keep up with all the Foot Stompin’ news and CDs with our fortnightly newsletter.

Greentrax Recordings

I just wanted to do a quick blog on Greentrax Recordings. This record company has pretty much held Scottish music together over the last 20 odd years continuously releasing music every month of the year. They’ve recorded most of the main Scottish bands and have a great reputation for honesty and integrity. It’s not easy being a record company but Greentrax have pulled it off! As long as I can remember Ian and June Green (founders) have been selling LPs, cassettes, CDs and they’re still doing it. Greentrax release 2 CDs a month which keep companies like going. Their back catalogue is amazing – from Jean Redpath to Dick Gaughan to Shooglenifty to Peatbog Faeries. There are other record companies out there of course who have done good jobs (including our own Foot Stompin’ Records) but I’m sure that we would all admit to their being only one top dog. Long live Greentrax and their legacy.

You will find many Greentrax CDs at Foot Stompin’.

Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast 20

Foot Stompin’ Free Scottish Music Podcast 20 (click to play)

Here’s our latest Scottish music podcast. I’ve enjoyed putting it together as I have to go through all the different CDs new and old and decide what to play. I chose Queen Anne’s Revenge because I’ve admired Findlay Napier’s work for a long time especially in his old band Back of the Moon. The start of the track from his Just One Umbrella CD makes me laugh – I suppose I’ve always wanted to rock out myself and Findlay has just pulled it off!

I’m glad to see Sarah-Jane Summers making a CD at last (Nesta). I remember meeting Sarah Jane for the first time in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award a few years back and we had a workshop with Sue Wilson about how to write a biography. Sue talked about the need for a great first line and Sarah-Jane came up with the ‘Strathspey Queen’ which I always thought fitted her well.

The next duo Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller I’ve also known for some time. Jeana entered the BBC Young Trad a couple of times and made it to the final. She also helped out at the Scots Trad Music Awards and I remembered she had a sneeky look at all the results in the gold envelopes before they were announced! Siobhan I worked with in the Feis in Edinburgh and I and everyone else was bowled over by her amazing singing voice. She recorded a couple of tracks for the Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin Reel Jig Polka Pizza CD. it was great to see them both form a duo and win the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award in 2007. Their CD In a Bleeze is a blast.

The next track is Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band winning the World Pipe Band Championships in 2007. This is an amazing event and worth attending on Glasgow Green, August 16th.

The penultimate track is from Calum Kennedy and his Songs in Gaelic album. I’ve always been an admirer of his singing but not really heard him sing in Gaelic. This track is beautiful and the production is just right. It’s really interesting hearing the production that Scottish traditional music was given 20-30 years ago – completely different to what would happen today. This version reminds me more of Brian Eno.

We finish the podcast with Live in Scotland by the Unusual Suspects. I’ve played this before on the podcast but I love it. The memories of seeing them perform at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall are still with me. My wife Clare McLaughlin was performing with them on that tour and loved it. The track is so well arranged and everyone is playing brilliantly. It put me in mind also when (on that same tour) I went down to London to see them perform at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. They started the show and blew all subsequent acts of the stage. I felt so proud to be Scottish that night. Also that night Robin Cook gave a passionate anti-war speech which received a standing ovation.

We’re now producing the Foot Stompin’ podcast twice a month with the mid month programme featuring an interview with leading Scottish musicians.

Achieving goals for musicians

I’ve had these thoughts for a while after reading the book Big Bucks by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. While this (great) book is about making lots of money it totally corresponds to young musicians and how to make a career in music. I wish I had heard something like this when I was starting out. Of course I might have not done anything with the information but it would have been nice to have heard it anyway.

Basically the book takes 3 ideas as the way to progress.

1. Don’t get into the business of music unless you love playing/teaching music more than anything else in the world.

2. You need to want to make a career (ie make money) more than anything else. This sounds like a contradiction to the first point but what the first point does is give you focus while getting on with the job getting gigs etc. You need this original love of music to keep you going through the hard times trying to get gigs etc – stay the course.

3. Decide your goals. You have to plan your career, work out where you want to be in say – 10 years and then act on it. The metaphor the book uses is like standing at the bottom of the cliff face with no toe holds but as you study the cliff you start to see edges that will give you a lift up. The further you climb the more toe holds (ie options) that come apparent.

An example for a band could be that in 10 years you would like to be performing the major concert halls in the UK. How would you achieve this? Well you might decide that the best way would be to play floor spots at UK folk clubs for 6 months, then move on to your own folk club gigs bringing out a CD. You would market this through various chanels including live gigs, youtube, myspace, facebook etc building up a following and an interest. You would use this interest to get more gigs, festivals, media interest and when you need better contacts and larger gigs you get an agent to help you take the band to the next level and other countries. After another couple of years of working hard with a new CD you think you are ready to move to mid-size concert halls like Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall. In order to do this you might have to change to a new  agent who works more in this sector. You might also decide that this is the time to release a CD on a major label with great distribution and marketing capabilities. You might also want to release a DVD at this stage. Again working hard with a large mailing list and following with major label finance this might be time get on a decent support tour with a famous band. This momentum can bring you larger audiences allowing you to finally achieve your goal of playing the major concert venues in UK and around the world.

Of course this is a simplified version of a plan but when though out properly and discussed as a band with everyone pulling their weight it can bring cohesion and together to a lineup. Again none of this is easy and the caveat I would add is that if it doesn’t work at least you’ve tried. I always think you can have no regrets if you’ve given something a go.