Online Tuition Videos!

The Scottish Music Academy have launched a set of mixed level courses for numerous trad-celtic instruments.  The courses range from complete beginner to advanced and the course leaders are some of my favourite Scottish folk musicians – it is a great honour for me to be part of this team!  We will be working hard with The Academy to develop and promote this forward-thinking online resource.  Please check out our Website and Facebook page for more details!

Calum whistle side shot good

Fonder of Tønder?

We (Breabach) made it back to Edinburgh late last night.  I have heard many musicians refer to Tønder (actually pronounced ‘too-na’) as being the “best folk festival they ever attended”.  I had attended once before with Breabach 11 YEARS AGO and I remember having an excellent time, but I was keen to see what my impressions might be 11 yrs later, with a lot more festival experience under my belt.

We arrived around midnight on Friday, having been picked up by festival transport in Hamburg.  We quickly checked in and then walked over to see if there was any craic to be had – Things were cooking.  We headed for a beer and bumped into a hoard of pals from Scotland, England, Ireland, Canada, America, Quebec and beyond.


There were people dancing to a live music session in the corner of the hut and everybody in attendance was in tremendous form.  So much for ‘playing it safe’ on the first night.  We were out until 4.30am.  Whoopsy.  Worth it.


On the Saturday we gingerly rose from our hotel rooms.  We got a real sense of the festival’s energy during the daylight hours and tried to go see as much as possible of their impressive line-up.  The site is like a small village, really well designed and every taste and diet catered for.  We’re talking barbecued hogs, Danish pastries, rum-and-cigar bars, sit-down restaurant tents, indoor music, outdoor music.  Every member of festival staff was friendly, animated and knowledgeable on how to get instruments moved, questions answered, stages changed, problems fixed and most importantly get the atmosphere ‘fired up’.  Priorities seem to be; great shows and a great party!

We had a really fun gig on the Saturday night!  Later we danced to the Elephant Sessions, got the craic with Skippinish, drank, sang and yelled like madmen until the early hours.


We then grabbed a handful of hours sleep before playing on the Sunday morning at 11am.  We were a little glazed at first but the crowds, once again, were just brilliant and the team running the stage were top notch at getting us fueled with coffee and apple juice…and then more beers.


As broken as I am right now, I saw a lot of great music, caught up with a lot of old friends and have come away from  Tønder Folk Festival feeling inspired to write more songs, play more tunes take more journeys.  Maybe it is the best folk festival in the world??

…Certainly a great final festival of the Summer.  Thanks for having us Tønder!



More Wind this Week

So, for all of last week I was in the land of Piping Live.  Myself and a large portion of the world’s Highland pipers were in town for the festival and/or the World Pipe Band Championships which is on every August in Glasgow and brings more money to the city than any other single weekend in the year!  There is plenty to keep folk entertained.

This year was a little different for me.  I was invited to host the late night music at Piping Live’s festival club upstairs in the National Piping Centre – Cool gig to get.  I decided to open each night with a 2/4 march and I had some scribblings of information on the acts involved but, the thing that really struck me was how easy it is to talk a load of crap when there is a mic in your hand!  That was perhaps the biggest challenge.  Having said that, I enjoyed scaling it back each time and hopefully found my swing by the Friday night.  Each night had 3 to 4 acts and it was totally brilliant to hear these pipe-based acts young and old, men and women, from near and far.  They each delivered music with a  flair for tradition as well as brilliant skill and musicianship.

I was taken by the diversity of people that attended the late nights, and much of my time off-stage was spent listening to music but also meeting new friends and catching up with old ones.  There is a real comradery at this piping festival.  Pipers from across the globe throw around ideas for new music,  have a pint, get excited about old music, have a few more pints, complain about current musical woes and eventually the drams come out and there are confessions what they would “really like to hear next” from the piping community.  It is a great platform where these kind of discussions can occur and in some way, take root.

The week was full of musical inspiration for me with Tryst supporting Flook on the Monday night, acts at the Festival Club, a studio rehearsal between Breabach and Beolach on the Wednesday (more to come on that collaboration), an outdoor session on the Friday, The Worlds on the Saturday and to cap it all off, a performance with the legendary songwriter Dougie Maclean on the Sunday evening in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.  I honestly feel truly blessed to be involved in the Scottish folk and trad scene in Scotland.  It amazes me.

Here is a video clip from our Tryst show earlier last week – hopefully for your enjoyment.  Thanks to Megan Kenney for the video footage!




The Windy Weekend

Cyclones and crashing rain attacked many parts of the UK this weekend, but there was  another storm brewing, deep in the dark corners of Otago Street.  Nine misguided pipers who go by the name Tryst assembled and began to pull together a new show as part of Piping Live’s opening concert.

tryst light shot edit

Tryst comprise nine (and sometimes 10) fairly well-known Highland piping names from the Scottish folk scene; Finlay Macdonald, Ross Ainslie, Ali Hutton, Mairearad Green, Calum MacCrimmon, James Duncan Mackenzie, Lorne Macdougall, John Mulhearn, Steven Blake and our fearless conducter/sound technician Andrea Gobbi.  The band formed over a few pints back in 2013.  Conceptually aiming to push boundaries as bagpipe composers, arrangers and, as we keep finding out, as performers.  It’s already been an amazing and challenging journey, realising each other’s vision of original music for a piping group…and there are always plenty of obstacles…but that’s just pipes for you!

New chanters and reeds were issued in July with the invaluable support of G1 Reeds. Final scores edited, instruments set up – this weekend was our one chance to bring the show together – supporting the folk superstars and long time heroes of ours, FLOOK!

Monday arrived like a flash and there was definitely a nervous edge upon arriving at The Drygate to conduct the sound check and play through any last-minute holes in the material.

The gig itself was a ‘big blow’, we huffed and puffed, feet stomped, hearts pounded, bodies sweated – It was a considerably moist affair for all those in attendance, but we had a total blast playing the new music!  Thanks so much to our tuners Scott Figgins and David Shedden.  The drones buzzed beautifully, the tunes and arrangements seemed to serves us well and the vibe from the Piping Live audience was really great.


Later in the evening, we got to hear Swedish duo Dram and then Flook headline the night.  Unbelievably tight, packed full of expression and wonderfully animated arrangements in their set.  It is an honor to play at such a renowned festival, but it is also invaluable to be able to take influence from bands like Flook and many others on the expanding folk scene.

Flook Drygate 1

Our next Tryst adventure will be at the William Kennedy Piping Festival, Armagh this November.  Stay tuned!

Rest in Peace Mr Rigby

A few days ago i received word that a mighty jazz musician, Joe Rigby, had died.

About 8 years ago Scott Donald (Man’s Ruin, Laki Mera, Funkin Idiots) rang up and got me involved in a jam session with an American born Sax player that had some ‘days off’ in Dundee, Scotland.  He wanted to jam with a local piper. As it happened I was in town and pretty much free that evening, so I popped along to Showcase the Street.

Upon arrival, I was introduced to Roy Morris who acted as Mr Rigby’s UK agent, and then to a very mild mannered and undeniably ‘cool’ older gentleman, this was Joe. I could see there were mics set up already, and in respect of his readiness to play, i cautiously asked Joe what key we would like to start off in, or what kind of feel or line we could use as a starting point.  To this Joe said “we’ll just do whatever happens man, its gonna be great” I  confided that the pipes are a relatively limited instrument, they don’t offer much harmonic or dynamic range – at which point he came close to me put a hand on my shoulder and said “It’s cool man, we’ll just play and see where it goes”. I need to confess that these words gave me little comfort but i loved his vibe and we promptly got the instruments pieced together.

The ‘jam’ was actually a live studio session.  The team being Joe Rigby (saxes and flute), myself (pipes), Scotty Donald (kit) and Billy Fisher (percussion).  Our improvised collaboration was intended for Joe’s new album ‘For Harriet’ a three track record with literally no planning and tons of musical recklessness. I was in the company of an untamed jazz god, initially dipping and diving through curious musical motifs before inevitably attacking my senses with every possible tone, squawk, squeak and scream that the sax could achieve.

This was (thankfully) not my very first encounter with free jazz.  I took part in a music retreat organised by Hands Up For Trad in 2009 called Distil.  We had a mixed bag of mentors on the course, one of whom was a free jazz bassist called Simon Fell.  An incredible musical mind, his sessions on improv’ gave me at least a slight foothold on how to approach and interact with improvisation of this level.
Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely out of my depth!  This was a high speed train.  Joe had been riding this train for quite some time and i simply hopped on the back at the last minute. Clinging on for dear life as we hurtled down a dark and twisting track… i did my best to grow in the moment, stretching and reacting to Joe’s flare and fearless experimentation in music.  Perhaps one of the lighter moment’s from ‘For Harriet’ would be helpful as a reference:

I think the world of free jazz is, to many folk, an enigma…for some it might even be a complete unknown. That evening in a back street studio of Dundee, I danced around the edges of an endless landscape of possibility.  I wasn’t sure how to play, where to go, or how to feel…But, perhaps that is the aim of this rare art form? A place where everything meets nothing, a musical exorcism, a release from the self in some way.  It was somehow all of these things and I often think back on the session, wondering how i would respond to that musical exchange today…and how many journeys Joe took throughout his long and inspirational career.  As a slightly older musician today, I enjoy reassessing what my musical limits and tastes might be?  At what point do things become ‘too much’ for me?  When do I feel the urge to stop or incentive to ‘hold back’?  My musical outlook is certainly a lot broader thanks to the late, mild-mannered gentleman of jazz, Joe Rigby. Rest in peace Joe.

Mingus to Menstrie

Sorry for my tardiness folks.  I was at the local pub quiz last night and didn’t quite manage to finish this weeks blog in time…we lost by the way.

On Thursday I had the great delight of heading down to Glasgow’s relatively new jazz club The Blue Arrow to see David Bowden’s band perform Charles Mingus: Ah Um.

I, as it happens, am a huge Mingus fan.  A fan of both his music and his rather madcap background and character having read ‘Beneath the Underdog’, a completely bizarre and intoxicating autobiography.  I wondered if this young team would be able to convey the  playfulness and eccentricity of Mingus’ classic album – Yeeeessss, in the first few seconds my concerns were absolutely quashed.  Every hook, groove and break were electrifying – A brilliant night!  The magic of the music was enhanced only by the cold drink in my hand and the low lit mood of this very cool underground Venue.

On Saturday, Breabach got into a van and headed South to Warwick Folk Festival to perform the late night slot.

We always love getting back to Warwick, they have had us down several times over the years and it always achieves a warm and welcoming vibe, a wide selection of ales (tip of the hat to Nige’ and ‘Tash) as well as a huge squad of Morris Dancers performing in and around the site!  I think this was our first time playing the final slot on the Saturday so, thanks again to the festival for all their faith, it was a great party!

Monday was all about the pipes.  This Summer, my mission has been to get my grandpa’s old set of Henderson-Laurie’s into full working order.  Based on very sound advice from James Duncan Mackenzie, I contacted Ross Johnstone (Johnstone Bagpipes).  Ross is based in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire a village near Stirling and he is a master craftsman of the highland bagpipes…no, literally.  Ross has just been accepted into the official Guild of Master Craftsmen as a bagpipe maker – an incredible accolade (which you can see hanging on the wall of his workshop) but also, very well deserved recognition of a man who works solely by hand and by lathe.

Ross’ incredible work on my set of ‘family pipes’ has been above and beyond what I could have expected and it was a joy to get the  pìob mhòr home later that afternoon for a tune.  Singing!

In the Hebrides

On Friday morning we set off from Ibrox around 7:30am, up through Fort William, over the Skye Bridge at Kyle, up to Uig (which promptly reminded me of a middle-aged shirtless arm-wrestler grimacing to the sound of a conga drum… but that’s another story) and then the boat from Uig to Tarbert.  It was a beautiful, calm crossing and the sun was shining.   The rest of the band (Breabach) spotted some dolphins on the way, and I was reeling as we sailed right past the village of Urgha, Harris.

Approaching Urgha 2My paternal Great Grandmother (Christina) was a Mackinnon from Urgha Beag.  I have not yet managed to visit this area on foot but, observing the stark hills and coastline from the boat made me think of how it might have been for her growing up in this location.  She left Harris as a young adult and made her way to start a new life in British Colombia in the early 1900’s.

Boat docked, James Mackenzie was in Tarbert to meet us with a van and we shot up the road to Stornoway, Isle of Lewis to take part in the amazing and renowned Hebridean Celtic Festival.  The band have performed at the festival before in the past but it is no less thrilling to be in Lewis, playing on the mighty ‘Heb Celt’ stage at the foot of the castle grounds to an anually packed tent-full of folk.Festival from Hotel 2

We stayed very near by (see pic from my hotel room) at the Royal Hotel, this is where my grandpa Malcolm MacCrimmon and grandma Mairi (nee Chisholm) celebrated their marriage in 1945.  My grandma originally hailed from the village of Grabhair (pronounced Gravir) in South Lochs.  She sailed for Quebec City in January 1946 to meet her new husband Malcolm, took the train out west together started a family and lived out the remainder of their lives.

Saturday morning came like a slap in the face.  We got up early and made the trip back down to Tarbert, boat to Uig and then drove to Minginish in Portnalong, Isle of Skye.  I had never been to this specific part of the island, although it is not at all far (as the crow flies) to Dunvegan and Borreraig where the ancient MacCrimmon’s taught for many generations and held the post as pipers to MacLeod of Dunvegan.  The show in Minginish Community Hall was in complete and total contrast to our festival-sized Heb Celt experience on the Friday night.  There were loads of local folk as well as a bus load of visiting Germans all squished into the hall for a night of piping, singing and dancing – It was a brilliant evening!  We just love playing in village halls…especially in the far reaches of rural Scotland.  It was a lovely and memorable experience to be part of.

Minginish Show Malin and Seumas 4Playing before us were Malin Lewis and Seumas Maclennan, two wonderful Skye musicians.  I was very excited by the innovative piping of Malin Lewis who performed a range of traditional and contemporary tunes on a set of self-made two octave smallpipes.  A stunning sound, considered delivery on the instrument and a very exciting and unique young musician all round, worth keeping an eye out for.

Post-show session at the Old Inn, Carbost

Carbost Session 2

Cheers for now,

Summer so far…

Summer 2019 is well and truly underway!  I had a fantastic time eating lobster and playing music with Breabach out at the one-of-a-kind Sark Folk Festival at the start of July and just this weekend we had a blast performing at Stonehaven Folk Festival alongside Malinky and Dowally.  A highlight for me was when Malinky joined us on stage and the whole room sang The Rolling Hills of the Borders together in the encore.  Raised the roof!  Here are some pictures of our Sark adventure:



Aside from live shows I was recently involved in the organising and tutoring School of Folk in Glasgow alongside Laura-Beth Salter, John Somerville and Adam Sutherland.  We ran a 3 day event incorporating instrumental lessons, folk band sessions, pub sessions and a ceilidh (and a raffle).  Lots of fun and we got to know a great bunch of folk from all over the UK.  Keep your eyes peeled for School of Folk 2020 – we hope to announce more  in December this year.

Next up this weekend, I will be up in Lewis with Breabach for the Hebridean Celtic Festival (or Heb Celt) and then a show in Minginish Community Hall, Isle of Skye.  It’s supposed to bucket down – but a few drams and we’ll not be caring!

More news and pics in August,