Duncan’s Blog – February 2014

Normally weeks of relentless rain and gales would get to me, and I’d be desperate to head off to the sun for a while, but I’ve been so busy in all sorts of ways I haven’t spent too much time fretting about it. I just hope we’re rewarded with a good Spring and Summer – we deserve it, I’d say.

I think I mentioned before that Cy and I have been working on a song about ‘Skylark IX’, one of the ‘little ships’ involved in the Dunkirk evacuation during the early years of WW2. The ‘Skylark’ had been working as a cruise boat on Loch Lomond, unrecognised, for decades, eventually sinking at the moorings on the River Leven. A Dunkirk veteran, on holiday from the US, spotted the sad wreck, and identified her as the boat that saved 600 lives, including his own. A group of volunteers in the Vale of Leven have spent the past year or so fundraising to restore her to life, with the help of several young people who have not had the best deal from life, and who will learn new skills and play a part in the wee boat’s rebirth. We managed to deliver the song to the Trust this month, and at the time of writing, we’re hoping a well-known actor and musician will be recording it as a fundraising single. I hope to be able to name names next month!

Gig-wise, we’re hoping to go out on the road with Duncan & Johnny Cameron’s ‘McGinn Meets Seeger and McColl’ show, which sold out (with a waiting list of over 50 at Celtic Connections) so we’re busy sending out info to theatres around Scotland – two provisional bookings so far, so that’s a good start. March will see us at Greenock Boat Club (a particular favourite gig) on Saturday 15th and at Milton of Buchanan Memorial Hall, near Drymen on the 29th. Stevie Lawrence can’t make these gigs – he’s getting increasingly busy with his other bands, such as the Chili Pipers and Raintown – so we’ll be joined by our old pal Jim Yule, who is one of the most gifted guitarists we’ve ever worked with, and a founder-member of 70s and 80s folk-rock outfit New Celeste. He’s also a natural entertainer, so we’re really looking forward to the gigs.

In other news, we’re in talks about another Clydesiders CD – the one released at Christmas 2012 has sold really well, so the record label is keen to follow up its success. As ever, time is the enemy, and trying to get everyone in the band together to get things moving is really difficult, bt I’d really like to make it happen.

Cy and I seem to be getting a bit more productive at the writing, and we’ve a couple of quite strong ideas on the go. Because the band is in my name, a lot of people think that I write all the songs, but everything we do is a collaboration between the two of us – some are predominantly Cy’s, some mine, and some real 50/50s, but our ethos is that we share everything, and have done since we first started writing and playing together, abck in our school days. Cy Jack is a quiet, understated guy, and very modest, but I’d like to put on record that he’s very much the engine room of what we do. Far, far more of a musician than I could ever be, he’s responsible for many of the arrangements, and keeps the sound tight. I’m the blethery one who does the singing, and that gets the attention – rather unfairly. I’d be lost without him.

Anyway – late with the blog again, as per usual. March has come blinking into the sunlight already, and I can’t wait for the days to get longer and longer.

All the best

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – January 2014

Well, happy new year – starting the blog early in the month…one of many resolutions I expect to fall by the wayside.

It was a great festive season – lots happening around the village, and trips to Glasgow, Balmaha and London to see friends. I got to the stage of feeling quite grim at the sight of yet another glass of red wine, but you’ll be glad to know I’ve recovered. Plan is dry weeks and wet weekends, alcohol-wise. We’ll see…..

One highlight was a classic car ‘rally’ with pals who live in the village. I’ve had a really nice 1968 MG roadster for nearly sixteen years, and a slightly scruffier Morris 1000 Traveller for five, so the Morris was wheeled out, along with my pals’ cars – a 1936 Austin 10, 1975 MGB GT V8, a 1969 Riley Elf and a 1987 Citroen 2CV. 40-mile local run, everyone survived, although the old Austin did run out of petrol at one point! Great fun – I’m not into sport, don’t smoke, don’t spend a lot on clothes (that’s enough at the back there!) and drink only in, er…moderation, so apart from guitars, it’s the only thing I really spend any money on.

Gigs are starting to come in okay – quite a few in the diary, so it’s an encouraging start to the year. 2014 starts on the 29th of this month at Celtic Connections, opening for the Cameron Brothers’ superb tribute show ‘McGinn Meets Seeger and McColl’ at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. Tickets have been sold out for ages, with a long waiting list, but that’s entirely due to the main feature, I assure you!

31/1 – Still buzzing after the Tron gig. Sound engineer was superb, which makes all the difference. Our set seemed to be well-received, and the main act – well, they got a standing ovation at the end! We’re hoping to put a few more of these shows on around Scotland, so I’ll put them up on the website as and when.

I’m also looking forward to hearing my big pal Bruce Davies’s new album, which is just about to be released on Rothes Records. Bruce has a great voice, and he has recorded ‘The Road to Fife’ which Cy and I wrote for him a couple of years ago, so we’re delighted.

Right-oh, that’s enough for now. Hope to see you at one of our gigs sometme this year – don’t forget to come over and say hello.

Cheers

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – December 2013

After taking my eye off the ball a bit for a couple of months. I thought I’d try a bit harder with December’s blog. I’m starting it late on Boxing Day, after a great Christmas with the family. On reflection, this has been a good year for us, although it was blighted by the loss of a good friend and workmate, Alan Neve, during the summer (see July blog). We raised a glass to him at Christmas, and I’ll do the same at Hogmanay. I’m hoping that 2014 will be very special, though – for various reasons that’ll I’ll write about as the year goes on…

The month started well, with a visit to the Trad Awards at the Music Hall in Aberdeen. I love this event – so brilliantly organised by Simon Thoumire’s Hand Up For Trad team. I always catch up with loads of folk I know in the roots music scene, and everyone’s always delighted for the winners. I was particularly thrilled for my pal Chris Stout, who was voted Instrumentalist of the Year – so well deserved, as he’s a truly outstanding talent. He’s also been a great support to me over the past twenty years, both musically and as a mate.

Musically, it’s mostly been about writing. Cy and I are currently working on a song about ‘Skylark IX’ one of the flotilla of ‘brave little ships’ which ferried the Allied troops back and forward to the bigger ships during the evacuation of Dunkirk. My friend Mary contacted me as she’s involved in the mission to rescue and restore the Skylark, which had sunk at its moorings in the River Leven at Balloch, so the plan is to arrange for a local choir to record the song (if it’s any good…) as a fundraiser. I love stories like this. I truly believe in the importance of these heritage projects. It bothers me that parts of our maritime past are allowed to perish because restoring them wouldn’t be ‘economically viable’ – the ‘Maid of the Loch’ on Loch Lomond, for example, is the last paddle steamer built in the UK, and having her sail again would hugely enhance this magnificent part of Scotland. Why should it have to turn a profit? It would attract tourists in all sorts of ways, and bring benefits to the area that couldn’t be fully measured in economic terms. I’ve a feeling that the Lake Windermere steamers, the Cutty Sark or the Victory will survive regardless of cost, but maybe i’m staring to get a bit Scottish……..

December also started with the Clutha tragedy, of course – although it was really at the very end of November. I must be one of the few Scottish folk musicians who has never played a gig there, but it was (is) iconic, and it was such a shock. Enough has been said by others more entitled to comment, but it was a terrible thing to happen to decent folk just doing their jobs or enjoying a good night out.

Anyway, on a happier note, I’m looking forward to January and Celtic Connections. We’re supporting our pals Duncan and Johnny Cameron and their band at the Tron Theatre on Wednesday 29th Jan in their show ‘McGinn Meets Seeger and McColl’ – a tribute to three folk music legends. We’re playing the opening set, and will be including a couple of McGinn and McColl songs. Be great to see you there, if you can make it.

My only ‘live’ performance this month is on the 28th in our local pub, singing two songs as guest vocalist with our village rock band DIGG. They’re a really tight, talented outfit, so it’s no walk in the park for me – I’m singing ‘Pretty Woman’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Never Can Tell’, so I’ll need to put a bit of work into it. Great fun, though!

From now until the end of the year, the plan is to relax and recharge our batteries. We had a great month, which also included a trip down to London for me and the missus. It was primarily for me to have Christmas lunch with my colleagues and pals at PRS/MCPS, but we also managed to catch up with old friends for a night at a fab seafood restaurant in Charlotte Street, and got to see ‘The Jersey Boys’ in the West End, which was fabulous. Little did we realise that a short distance away eighty-odd people would be injured that same evening in a ceiling collapse. It’s just not possible to be safe 100% of the time, even when you’re having a great night out at the theatre, or in the pub, so I guess it’s true what they say – live for the day, and worry about tomorrow when it comes, which it never actually does. I’m doing my best to adopt that attitude, despite being a natural worrier

All that’s left to say is thanks to everyone who supported us by coming to gigs or buying our music in 2013. I hope everyone has had a great Christmas and I wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2014.

Cheers

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – October/November 2013

Most annoyed with myself that I didn’t get round to writing anything in the last couple of months – as I write this, we’re well into December!

October was pretty much gig-free, although I did manage a guest appearance with local rock band Digg, singing Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’ in our local pub….quite nerve-wracking. Although I’ve played hundreds of songs in cover bands over the decades, it’s usually been as bass player or rhythm guitarist. I’m reprising the spot on 29th December, and actually getting to sing two songs this time, adding Chuck Berry’s ‘Never Can Tell’. Rehearsals are very sociable, and great fun.

In early November, we played a headline spot in the inaugural Inverclyde Folk and Roots Festival at the fabulous new Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock. I have to say that the treatment we received from the promoter, Neil Lochiel, was among the best we’ve ever experienced – lovely three-course meal, great dressing room with drinks, snacks, chocolate etc. This was an ambitious event held over four weeks, and I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from everyone I’ve spoken to who took part or attended. I really hope Neil runs the event again next year, even if we’re not in it – it deserves to succeed, and will get my wholehearted support.

Work was really busy around that time too, taking part in music industry seminars all over the place – Glenfinnan, Skye, Newcastle, Hawick and Edinburgh to name just a few. I love meeting up and coming musicians and songwriters – my job can be great fun, a lot of the time! It’s tiring too, though, so we took ourselves off for a week in Lanzarote in mid-November, which was great for recharging the batteries.

Quite a fair few gigs have come in already for 2014, which I’ll get round to posting up any day now, but one of the most exciting will be doing the opening set at the Tron Theatre on Wednesday 29th January, as part of a Celtic Connections concert called ‘McGinn Meets Seeger and McColl’ headlined by our good pals Duncan and Johnny Cameron, with Andy Hamilton. It celebrates the work of Matt McGinn, and the time he met and worked with Ewan McColl and Pete Seeger in NYC in the 60s. The Cameron Brothers have been touring the show for some time, and I’m just thrilled we’ll be part of it at CC – and, hopefully, a few more venues around the country in 2014. Watch this space for details!

Right, that’s it for now – I’ll hopefully have more to tell you in the December post.

Have a wonderful Christmas, and I’ll try and get somthing posted for December before the year is over!

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – September 2013

Well, September’s over – blimey, that was quick! No gigs, sadly, but I’ve taken a deep breath and started to send a few emails out – couple of successes so far, so I’ll post the dates up as soon as they’re confirmed. I really don’t like self-promotion, wish the work would just come in of its own accord, but life ain’t that simple…

Highlight of an otherwise unremarkable month was a week in Puerto Pollensa, in Majorca – Irene and I just spent it wandering around the town, reading books and eating out every night. Just what we both needed – hope the effects last for a while!

Only bit of music news this month is that I’ve been asked to do a guest spot with Digg, a really good four-piece covers band based in our village, at their concert on 19th October. We rehearsed today at my pal Dave Lang’s studio Abair Audio, and it seemed to come together well – ‘Pretty Woman’ cover, but I had to sing it a tone lower than the Big O!!

Anyways – don’t forget the Inverclyde Folk and Roots Festival, that’s happening over two weeks in late October/early November. It’s a new event, and the organiser Neil Lochiel has put a phenomenal amount of work into booking loads of fantastic artists. We’re playing on Saturday 2nd November at the Studio Theatre in the fantastic new Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, supported by the superb Lynnie Carson and her band. Doors are at 7.30, and tickets are only £5 if booked in advance. Come along and support the festival if you can – it’s a bold initiative, and it’s great that folk like Neil have the passion and energy to make these new events happen – he deserves to have a great success with it. Here’s a link to the Facebook page :

https://www.facebook.com/groups/142017992675565/

So that’s September, then – autumn colours are becoming well established out here, and summer’s a fading memory…….looking forward to the crisper weather, I must say.

Keep safe and well

Cheers

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – August 2013

I’ve got a love-hate relationship with August. On the one hand, the weather’s been pretty good overall, and everything’s in full bloom, but on the other – you kind of know that summer’s coming to an end, and the green of the trees and bushes is starting to look a bit tired.

We had all sorts of plans to go off in the campervan for another week, but too much going on – never got round to it, but we did manage a couple of nights in Kilchoan, Ardnamurchan, where my daughter Julie has been filming a series on female ghillies for BBC Alba. I still can’t get used to this confident, immensely capable young woman, who seems to have friends and contacts in every town, street and village in Scotland – it seems hardly any time ago she was starting out at primary school….I can’t imagine there’s a prouder dad in the World.

Two really nice gigs this month. We played the Edinburgh Wee Folk Club on the 22nd, which has been running every night throughout the Fringe – an acoustic set, with no PA, amps etc. Run by the irrepressible ‘Paddy’ Bort, it’s a fantastic wee club for enthusiasts, and the programme is truly eclectic.

Last night, we played the Corstorphine Folk Club, at the Dower House, a truly special 16th Century mansion, once inhabited by Bonnie Prince Charlie during his time in Edinburgh. What a great club – always sold out, very professionally run by Ian and Frances Macrae and just a very special place to play. Stevie wasn’t able to do the August gigs, so Cy and I were joined by our great pal Jim Yule, a truly amazing guitarist and a really entertaining character – playing with him is an absolute ball.

One piece of really good news is that my friend Neil Lochiel has managed to secure funding to put on the first Inverclyde Folk and Roots Festival for a couple of weeks in late October/early November. We’ve been booked to appear at the Beacon Arts Centre on Saturday 2nd November, supported by the very talented singer-songwriter Lynnie Carson, so that’s very exciting. I’ll try and post a link on the site, if I can work out how to (!).

Writing-wise, Cy and I manged to finish the latest commission of a few Celtic tracks for TV, and we wrote a song for an album that should (fingers crossed) be quite a big seller at Christmas. Can’t say any more at the moment, but it’s a real fun project, nothing too serious.

Anyway, that’s it for now. No gigs so far for September or October, so it’s time I started sending out a few feelers, I suppose – argh – I hate marketing stuff!

Keep safe

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – July 2013

Nothing much to report on the music side of things this month – no gigs, and a chance for Irene, Duggie the Dug and I to get a couple of weeks away in the campervan, after we’d cleared the guitars and songwriting paraphenalia out of it. I took my wee Taylor acoustic away on holiday with me, but it didn’t come out the case at all.

As always, we headed for a week at Carradale Bay in Kintyre, and for once the sun beat down on our upturned apple cheeks for the whole week – fabulous weather in the most fantastic place, and great as always to catch up with all our pals who live there. On the first night we went to a concert of local musicians paying tribute to the late John Martyn, who had Carradale connections, and the standard of performances and musicianship was astonishing for such a wee community. Local artists the Twisted Melons from Campbeltown should be much more widely known, and watch out for singer-songwriter Adam Fortune, who I think has enormous potential – an accomplished and constantly-improving songwriter and a charismatic live performer, too.

Week two saw us upping sticks and heading for South Uist, after spending a night in Skye with my old band-mate from Dapplegrim Billy Ross and his lovely wife Christine in Skye. Billy was a founder-member of and lead singer in the acclaimed traditional band Ossian back in the 80s, but we go back all the way to our first band Hot Toddy in 1970 and have stayed close friends ever since, so we always look forward to seeing them.

What a change in the weather, though – we left Carribean sunshine in Kintyre to find mist, fog, gales and torrential rain in the Uists. A real shame, as I spent several summer holidays in Benbecula as a teenager on my great uncle’s croft, and love the area dearly. There was no respite from the endless mist and rain, though, so we cut our losses, abandoned plans for two days in Barra and headed back from Lochboisdale to Oban and then….back to Carradale, where the temperature was around 28! What a wonderful country this is – so many contrasts over such a short distance, but we don’t get enough days off to sit in a campervan staring at endless mist and rain, hence the sun-chasing. We’ll get back to Uist as soon as possible, though – this time last year that was where the good weather was, and I really love the islands.

Sadly, I got some awful news the day we returned to Carradale. Alan Neve, my colleague and friend at PRS/MCPS was killed in a cycling accident on his commute to work. Alan was only 54 – a dapper, cultured and utterly charming man who was universally liked and respected. Always helpful and friendly, and a really experienced and competent cyclist. I’m not sure of the circumstances of his accident, which involved a collision with a lorry outside Holburn tube station, but it brought home the vulnerability of all cyclists. My daughter Julie cycles to work in Glasgow city centre every day, and it just terrifies me, but there’s nothing I can do about it – she’s a grown woman, and in any case never took much notice of my nagging from the day she could first talk. Wouldn’t have it any other way, but I wish she’d just get the bus…..R.I.P. Alan, and thanks for all your help, advice and friendship over the years. Your wife Penny and 16-year old daughter Tilly have been much in my thoughts, although I haven’t met them – such a sad waste.

On happier matters though, a couple of new gigs have come in, and Cy and I are planning a trip to Islay in September, hopefully to play at the Port Charlotte Hotel. I’ll keep you posted.

That’s about it for now – I hope August brings a return to the fantastic sunshine we’ve had this month, and I’m looking forward to my gigs at the Wee Folk Club during the Edinburgh Fringe, and at the Corstorphine Folk Club on the 30th. Don’t know why I’m telling you about that one – it’s been sold out since early June – how good is that!!?

Anyhoo – wrap up well, and keep safe and healthy!

Cheers

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – June 2013

Well, not much to report this month. Probably more sunshine than we got all summer last year, so managed to et the new barbecue we bought up and running. We had a great time with our musician pals Chris Stout and Finlay Macdonald and their better halves, along with Cy and his wife Mairi, Dee and Emma (Dee manages Biffy Clyro, and we’ve been pals for years – he’s also bassist with the Pearlfishers) and of course the McCrones…..as I write this at the very end of June though, rain is falling and our campervan trip in July isn’t looking quite so enthralling….

Musically, we had a couple of projects, but no gigs. We recorded a song with Billy Stewart, a good friend of many years’ standing. He had written it in tribute to his son Gordon, who lost his battle with illness almost a year ago. Gordon had been planning on making a recording with us right up to the end, but it wasn’t to be, so this is a hugely important thing for his dad – Cy and I were so glad we could help make it happen. The song’s called ‘May I Walk in Your Shadow’, and will be available for download soon, to raise funds for – an awareness of – blood cancer charities. It’s a cracking song – very uplifting and breezy – and very suited to Gordon’s cheerful and optimistic personality.

We also managed to complete some library tracks we’d written, and worked with some cracking musicians at 45 a Side Studios in Glasgow – a great facility, and Paul McInally, the owner and sound engineer, did a great job for us.

London trip at the start of July, then it’ll be a couple of weeks off. Looking forward to Kintyre as always, and maybe a few days ‘on the road’ searching out places we’ve never visited before. In the West of Scotland, can’t be that many…!

Anyway, July’s gig-free as well – I’ll really need to think about plans for later in the year, as the diary’s empty after our two August concerts in Edinburgh. I just heard that the Corstorphine gig on 30th August is sold out, so we must be doing something right!

Hope everyone has a great summer, and that the sunshine manages to re-appear at some point!!

Cheers

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – May 2013

I’m writing this in our campervan, looking out from Sunnyside Croft in Arisaig – the sun is shining on Eigg and Rhum. Bliss, or it would be if the van’s 12v electric system hadn’t failed – again. It’s been one thing after another with this beast….it spends most of its life being used as an office cum writing studio in our back garden, and seems to dislike being made to go anywhere. This is its first trip since last August, and it’s done just over 4000 miles since new. Needless to say, none of its faults are ever covered by the warranty (read the terms and conditions, sir…). Ach well, the sky is blue and the view is stunning, so shut up, McCrone.

It was a real privilege for Cy and I to travel over to Carradale earlier in the month to play in the inaugural Noufest weekend – a three day celebration of the life and work of novelist and playwright Naomi Mitchison. Marvellous stories from her family and local musicians, fishermen and farmers, and great to work with our pals Mark, Stephen and Paul Johnson (aka The Twisted Melons) and the brilliant piper Lorne MacDougall.

A week later, Irene and I spent a coupe of great nights with a group of old friends in York, but I had to come back early to play at the Fintry Music Festival, where we supported Blazin’ Fiddles in front of an enthusiastic crowd of over 300. I’ve known everyone in the Blazers for years now, and we had a great time – they certainly know how to work an audience.

No gigs in the diary until August now, but I’ve a few ideas for later in the year and for 2014. It seems that promoting our own concerts might be the way to go, and I’m talking to another band about a series of double-headers. Do I need the stress of it all? Not really, but I do need to play and sing – can’t imagine a life without making music.

I really do love this time of year, though – June in particular always lifts my spirits, although the light nights sometimes make it difficult to get enough sleep. Apparently you need less as you get older, so I better get used to it!

Anyway, I reckon the long winter is finally out of the way, so here’s to long days, hill-walks, barbecues and happy times.

See you later,

Cheers

Duncan x

Duncan’s Blog – April 2013

Just about getting the blog done before the month’s over – it’s fairly flown by, and still no real sign of proper Spring weather here in Central Scotland.

Irene and I took off for a long-delayed and much-needed week in the sun, and Lanzarote certainly didn’t disappoint….something of a heatwave, with the hire car’s dashboard telling us of 38 degree heat on one sweltering day – unusual for this time of year, apparently. We lived high off the hog all week, eating out every evening, so I’m not looking forward at all to next month’s credit card bill!

We sat most evenings looking out over the Rubicon Marina in Playa Blanca, watching the yachts and floating gin palaces at their berths. It seemed like a fabulous view until we realised that all we were really seeing was a cluster of millionaires’ toys, obscuring the view out across the Atlantic. It’s quite possible that some of these dazzling yachts and cruisers were just bought for tax purposes, and that in some cases their owners have never even seen them. Wonder where their money comes from…….? By contrast, we spent one evening in the village of El Golfo on the west coast, eating fresh fish in a wee taverna and watching the sunset. The only boats were small, and belonged to the local fishermen.

Anyway, back home again, and looking forward to gigs next month in Kintyre and Fintry. Quiet times just now, although there are some irons in the fire for some really nice concerts later in the year. I probably need to put more effort into promoting the band but, as I’ve said before, it’s not something I’m at all comfortable doing.

On the writing front, Cy and I will hopefully finish recording eight tracks for a London media music publisher, and I’ll be looking to upgrade my recording set-up at home, hopefully to become more productive.

One very important task just now is to record a new song with our pal Billy Stewart, from Lanarkshire. Billy’s been a great help and support to me for many years, and has written a beautiful song in tribute to his son Gordon, who lost his long battle with cancer last July. In the two weeks before he left us, Gordon had been hatching a plan with me to record three songs to leave to his mum and dad, and our mutual friend John Weatherby at Sound Sense studios in Moffat, was geared up to bring his mobile recording rig out to Gordon’s house. Sadly, it was too late. Billy wants to see his son’s project to fruition, and only now feels he can get through the process – Gordon’s initial idea will grow into a fund-raising album, and several well-known Scottish artists have agreed to donate a track, so watch this space.

So – a month off in April, and definitely feeling the benefit of the break. Summer can’t be far away now (eh?) so fingers crossed for some barbecue weather!!

Cheers

Duncan x