When Idlewild took a break from playing and recording in 2010, I concentrated on making my own albums. Based in the Scottish Hebrides, which I had been for several years by that point, I effectively tried to do as little as i needed to get by – it was cheap living. Staring at sunsets, pottering about with paintings, poems, growing potatoes, drinking red wine, hanging about with my infant son - these things took priority over the kind of touring work Idlewild had focussed on for the previous 12 years. Living a fairly straight & normal life (albeit in a fairly remote location) seemed more rock and roll than rock and roll.
I be-friended Gordon Maclean who ran the An Tobar arts centre in Tobermory which had a small studio in the attic - I’d started writing songs with Gordon’s son Sorren (one of the best guitarist i’d ever heard, and at at the time only aged 19) the three of us started working on songs - and we’d get any musician who was passing through involved. It was liberating and completely different to any musical working situation i’d been in before. There was no expectation and i could do what i wanted (and did) and the record we starting putting together became the most diverse thing i’d been involved in. It was released as ‘The Impossible Songs & Other Songs’ in 2011. Another, record, ’Listen to keep’ followed in 2013 - that album was more straight, country influenced and live sounding, mainly because it was written to play (and sell) on tour. By this point I had a new band - Sorren on guitar, Danny Grant on drums, Gavin fox on bass (later replaced by Craig Ainslie) and Seonaid Aitken on violin (later replaced by Hannah Fisher) - we had been playing everywhere visiting towns and areas that i’d never been to before, playing folk clubs, art centres, small theatres, anywhere really.
Music & memories -
When I think back about tours - often it’s actually the albums we listened to while we were travelling that define them. Travelling and listening are two things that go together well. I travelled a lot when I was younger and my Dads collection ‘best-of’ tapes that accompanied the journeys (Paul McCartney, Beatles, Beach boys, show-tunes) had a lasting influence on my music tastes and my memories. Many of my favourite records are intertwined with the memorable journeys I’ve made - Touring America a lot between 2001-2003 The Grateful Dead soundtracked the long drives through the plains and deserts .’American Beauty’ or ‘Live in 1972’ would be on the tourbus stereo, as we drank beer as stars appeared and the world sunk into shadows outside the bus windows. Wilco’s ‘A Ghost Is Born’ - I listened to repeatedly on headphones in my tourbus bunk throughout 2005. Band dynamics had started to change, anxieties were creeping in, and it wasn’t a wholly happy time on tour. It’s still one of my favourite records though, and I still prefer listening to it while i’m moving. A little more recently, Tame Impala and their album ‘Lonerism’ - as the solo band drove between the folk clubs, and I wondered to myself if maybe playing folk music actually suited me. Kevin Parker and his pals seemed to be having more fun deconstructing their version of psychedelic pop. The Ulrich Schnauss album ‘A Strangely isolated place’ - we drove about 400 miles around Ireland in a hire car with only that CD as accompaniment. That record sounds much more like Ireland to me that anything by the Clancy Brothers. Cass McCombs, Beach House, Hamilton Leithauser, Thundercat ,Dylan, Joni - they’ve all got their particular stories and places attached to them over the years of travelling and touring. Solo drives & journeys with Jazz singers, hip hop & punk rock songs playing loudly, soundtracking the wild landscapes - both rural & urban. Yes, listening to music in a car, van, or tourbus - the ideas go in deep and influence thoughts & feelings. The world winds by and the album playing defines it temporarily.
My new album ‘The Deluder’ which is coming out on September 1st, I’ve had it on in the car recently - i think it’s a good driving record, certainly for me, hopefully for others. Its diverse, not folky, quite introspective I suppose, a midlife crisis record some suggest? hmmm, maybe, but if so it’s still got good tunes, and they work with well with the moving landscape. You can pre-order it now here.