I was born in Edinburgh Scotland New Years Day 1956. My first musical excursion started at the age of seven when I started at The College of Piping, learning the bagpipes. I took to this with a passion for five years and played the role of the boy Macrimmon with the silver chanter on the television for the BBC. At the age of twelve a mixture of hormones and Fender Stratocasters lured me to the guitar. With an increasingly expanding taste in music, the Bert Weedon Play In A Day manual was soon left behind and the delights of the late sixties / early seventies music scene beckoned. Bands like Little Feat, The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd were being played everywhere; it was the era of the guitar hero and the old black bluesmen were finding a young, predominately white audience, increasingly curious to trace the roots of where the music came from. Playing along to records was the main occupation of the boy hunter until a chance to become guitarist in the established Edinburgh rock band ‘Snake’ came along. A bizarre but educational year playing in fluorescent flares ensued.
Deciding that the city life was not for me, I moved to the small village of Glenuig on the North West of Scotland in 1976. At that time Celtic music was starting to make itself known and Alan Stivell, The Cheiftains, JSD band and many more were being played constantly in the village. The electric guitar was put in the cupboard and a D18 martin was purchased.
In spring of 1984 I bought a camper van and in the company of two good friends, headed off to Europe as part of a three guitar, three part harmony, CSN type ensemble. 12,000 miles, eight countries and six months later we returned to Scotland after a great adventure! I was very lucky to find a beautiful cottage on a small island near Glenuig called Shona Beag. In an idyllic setting and using a Tascam studio I started seriously writing songs for the first time. From the small population of the village the Thunderbird Band was formed in 1987. The line-up of guitar, bass, piano, and percussion also featured a three part female harmony with the superb singing of Carol Mackail, Carol Wallace and Micheala Rowan.
We headed down south to Hart St Studios in Edinburgh (accompanied by most of the village!) to record the first album; ‘Burnt Out In The Snow’. A party atmosphere prevailed throughout the recording and many of these songs still turn up in the live set to this day. Having gained in confidence, a second album ‘Waste the Paint’, appeared a year later. It was recorded in an old lighthouse in Leith; Edinburgh, and was mixed, produced and engineered by myself over a period of four months. I opted for a more acoustic sound and was privileged to feature the contributions of guest musicians such as Iain Macdonald of the Battlefield Band on flutes and whistles and Angus Grant of Shooglenifty on fiddle.
Robin Morton of Temple Records heard some of the tracks on the radio and offered me the chance to record the next album on his label with a compilation of the first two albums to be released immediately. ‘Uphill Slide’; 1991 and ‘Fingernail Moon’; 1992, were released as my third and forth albums. I was gigging with the band but also starting to play more solo concerts which gave me a chance to take the songs and strip them down to the bone in more intimate settings. At this time Brambus Records of Switzerland expressed an interest in releasing the next album and the now perennial tour of Switzerland, Austria and Germany started. It became an annual event I always looked forward to with relish. The songs that I was writing started to develop a ‘bluesier’ feel and I had just met Brian Mcalpine, whose outstanding New Orleans style piano and Cajun accordion, just turbo charged the whole arrangement. On the slower, soulful side, the haunting magic of Wendy Weatherby’s cello gave a new depth to the lyrics and music. A new digital studio had just opened in Ballachulish and the start of a great friendship with engineer, producer, musician and raconteur Nick Turner was born with the recording of ‘The Crack O Noon Club’ in 1995.
I was starting to get a lot of invites to play on some of the bigger tours in Scotland at that time and enjoyed tours with RunRig, The Waterboys, Wolfstone, The Rankin family, and the Battlefield Band. There were wonderful audiences and I made a lot of new friends. At this time an old idea for a songwriting project was taken up by the Highland Festival securing essential on board sponsorship from United Distillers and so ‘Songhunter’ was born. The idea was to find non-professional songwriters across the Highlands, work with their material and record it with the help of some of the best musicians in the highlands. This was to culminate in a tour showcasing the talents of these amateur songwriters. Greentrax Records agreed to release the album world wide so we brought together a seven piece band and out of over 400 songs submitted, 15 were chosen and the album ‘Spirits of the Land’ was released to great reviews.
It felt like time for a party so in ’96 I took a booking for Glenuig hall and invited friends, family and musicians to come and take part in a live album. Nick set up a studio backstage and, with a wonderful line up, recorded the whole ‘shebang’. A solo concert a week later in the Ceilidh Place; Ullapool, contributed some quieter numbers and six months later ‘Sparks in Flight’, the Live album was released on Brambus Records. At that time I needed a change to freshen up my songwriting so over the next couple of years I co-wrote with Nick Turner, Iain Macdonald and Rita Hunter, which was immensely enjoyable and formed the backbone of ‘Turning the Tide’, which was released on Scotsville/Watercolour music. A year later, on a European only release, ‘Old Dogs for the Hard Road’; an eclectic mix of new songs and obscure covers, was released. 2005 brought some lovely gigs, playing in a duo and trio situation with Jim Michie and Chris Pritchard. From this developed the idea of recording in the old style, live in the studio, round one stereo microphone. Two, one day sessions were recorded, and from a large set of songs we produced the ’90 M.P.H.’ album.
A full blown studio album “Coastlines”by MPH with the wonderful rhythm section of Jamie Ash and Graham Flett was recorded at Watercolour Studios in 2007/2008 and some spectacular photography by our friend and local man Ken Macdonald made this one of the best CD covers we’d had so far.
The Swiss tours continued every 18 months or so over the next few years, the demand for teaching and workshops increased and a busy life became even busier.
I’d been working more and more with Graham Flett and was honoured to play dobro on his debut album “Single Track Roads” in 2010. A natural progression from this was to start co writing, and in our respective recording sheds we started forming the basis of an album which would see fruition in 2013. ” Down in the Gin Shed” , a new collection of songs by Graham and myself using cutting edge recording shedology,and with Graham producing ,engineering and overseeing the whole project. New favourites including “Wild River Horses”,” Broken Feather” and” Gin Shed” have become very popular with the audiences at the live shows.
Last year we had a full on live show at Glenuig Hall with a myriad of guests to celebrate Captain Jim Michie’s landmark birthday, and after the rampant success of that we’ve decided to hold two nights of concerts in Glenuig Hall on July 15th and 16th. The entire Crack o’ Noon club plus Graham Flett , Gordon Gunn and James Mackintosh will be the house band for two very different concerts. The first night will be hosted by Jim Michie and will feature a staggering line up of special guests and songs. The Saturday night will see me trawling through the back catalogue of songs and pulling out some old favourites in a three hour marathon.
More details of this concert will appear on the site very shortly.
If you’ve managed to read this far, you deserve a medal for endurance! Many thanks for taking the time to peruse this.
See you soon Jim H.