Kevin is still the boy from Bishopmill
OVER Hogmanay I had the pleasure of contributing to a collaborative music album called ‘Speyside Sessions’. Like most experiences in my life, this was unplanned and materialised in a rather random manner.
During the Christmas holidays, I received a phone call from Out of the Darkness Theatre Company (ODTC), whom I have worked with on several occasions. "Are you free on the 27th for a couple of hours?"
"Absolutely", I replied casually. "What’s it for?"
As it happened, a Los Angeles film crew was coming to Elgin to shoot a biography episode based around local lad – and now Hollywood star – Kevin McKidd (centre). As Kevin is patron of ODTC, they wanted to visit the company and film the actors in action.
Artistic director of ODTC, Tina McGeever, decided we would perform a scene from a theatre show called ‘Kiratam’ that we had previously toured around Scotland. Thus, the crew arrived from LA and found themselves in Elgin Town Hall on a frosty winter’s morning. We performed the extract, during which I provided musical accompaniment.
Little did I know, the next project they planned to film was Kevin bringing together local musicians to record a Scottish folk album. And so, that is the story of how I was invited to record with them.
The production team featured Kevin in addition to Nick Lloyd-Webber (son of Lord Andrew), his writing partner Jamie Reid (another local lad) plus Brian Tolland (Del Amitri). Individually, they are all successful; as a foursome, they were dynamic.
In one week, we recorded 29 songs featuring an array of local musicians and singers.
It was magical. A combination of Kevin’s old school friends and newbies like myself arrived armed with violins, guitars, cellos, harps, drums, bodhrán’s – an eclectic mix of Celtic instruments.
Then arrived the king of fiddling, Paul Anderson, and I found myself making several desperate attempts to hide my violin. Paul used to judge many of the fiddle competitions I played in as a youngster, bringing flashbacks of yesteryear. He is a true musical genius and I felt completely privileged to play with him.
Piling into a room, we recorded track after track of the songs that signify the beauty, history and uniqueness of Scotland; all featuring a hearty dose of Moravian spirit, humour and warmth. Traditional songs and auld tunes were given a modern twist including treasures such as ‘The Lea Rig’ and ‘These Are My Mountains’.
Kevin brought together a unique group of people brimming with ideas and musical brilliance: a true representation of the music and the people of the North-east. I was truly in awe at the tremendous talent on display. I genuinely hadn’t realised how many gifted people reside in and around the area.
Even the setting was perfect – a beautiful old house complete with roaring fire, local whisky and traditional food.
The only personal downside during the process was that I suffered a throat infection that left me unable to sing. I tried on several occasions to croak a note with little advancement. However, I was privileged enough to play the fiddle, flute and bodhrán on several of the recordings – not all of these made it onto the final album, but I’m happy to say a few survived the cut.
Since recording Speyside Sessions, I have continued to play with a few of the local musicians. Frankly, it seemed like a wasted opportunity to not develop the friendships and musical connections we had formed over the week.
We are currently rehearsing a mixture of updated traditional music whilst attempting to folk-ify modern anthems. Personally, I have always been terrible at practising my instruments between musicianship jobs and it has given me the opportunity to refocus on playing for fun. We recently completed our first performance to an audience of friends where we played a mixture of tracks, including a song I composed about the Clavie. It was a wonderful opportunity to source some feedback and I hope we will continue to perform together.
The actual ‘Speyside Sessions’ album will be released in the UK on June 15, with all proceeds donated to international charity Save the Children. There are also talks of touring which would be a great opportunity to reunite the band.
I genuinely hope the project receives local support; a chance to showcase a wonderfully talented side of the Moray community. I had failed to notice the number of gifted musicians that this area produces. I hope that ‘Speyside Sessions’ is able to shed light on this and, in some way, kick-start more group projects and opportunities for musicians of the North-east to develop and grow together.
I have always loved collaborating with other musicians, and recently performed with the very talented Blair McLeod for Scottish Day – a chance to experiment musically and combine different styles. Similarly, with World Music Day approaching on June 21, I hope Elgin embraces this opportunity for musicians to unite.
In the meantime, Kevin McKidd deserves a big thank you for providing us all with such a unique opportunity. He may reside in Hollywood now but he is definitely still the boy from Bishopmill at heart.
For more information about Speyside Sessions please follow @SpeysideSession on Twitter, join the Facebook group "Speyside Sessions" or visit www.thespeysidesessions.com