Interview with singer \ songwriter, Colin Macleod at British Summer Time, Hyde Park.

It was New Years Eve, everyone was drunk. The boat crashed into rocks which are called The Beasts of Holm and they were in sight of the harbour....

Interview by Adrian Hextall

Pictures: (C) Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media

With some of the greatest rock and roll artists emerging in the 1960s testing the waters with folk music, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, The Animals, The Searchers, Jefferson Airplane and of course the great Joni Mitchell all helped pave the way for bands to explore and expand what they could deliver. 

As time has progressed, folk music combined with rock and metal has become the norm and now we see bands like Finntroll, Ensiferum, Korpiklaani, Turisas, and Moonsorrow all featuring on festival bills. Whilst some of the modern acts mentioned commonly deal with fantasy, mythology, paganism, history and nature, Colin Macleod has embraced those classic artists from the 1960s and has delivered an album comprised of eleven gorgeously woven songs that bear many emotions from dreamy, to moody and exhibit a wide range in musicality that’s both modern and epic. It’s folk music in one aspect of Scottish folklore with the makeup and appeal for a much wider audience. Close your eyes and you see the landscapes, rolling hills, wide open space and cinematic settings. Bloodlines, his debut album released earlier this year by BMG presents in his own words, a heartfelt assortment of songs that delve deep into his ancestry, background and lifestyle from the rugged landscapes, to the fishing villages and remote Gaelic-speaking communities. Communities that go back 600 years. A land full of mystery and magic tucked away in the Hebrides ‘Isle of Lewis’ which is home for this multifaceted artist and renaissance man. It’s the perfect backdrop and setting for stories to be whisked up, imagination provoked running wild, thus creating a massive amount of inspiration. takes us home.

When the offer to speak to Colin came through it was impossible to say no. His music paints a canvas that very few people manage to achieve and, given where he comes from, the fact that the songs are full of life, energy and vibrace is a surprise. The islands are known for their harsh environments, turbulent weather and in theory it’s enough to grind the toughest person down. Not so Macleod as we found out when we spoke before his set at British Summer Time. 

AH: Your album paints just the right picture, doesn’t it? You can hear the sun, the sea, the wind. You can picture those moments where it’s a beautiful vision and just stormy the next. I’m guessing that was something you were potentially going for?

CM: Yeah. Absolutely. The sonics of the designs were just as important as the lyrics to convey the story. I think it’s a thing with kind of a lot of this type of bands. I really like Sigur Rós something like that where they paint a picture without really saying anything and I wanted to have that element, so, yeah. I’m glad that came across.

AH: Definitely. ‘Kicks In’ for example felt like the right intro to the album. I can see that’s why it’s been one of the two lead singles as well. That gets the album moving. But ‘Dream’, that’s the one I think really where it does that full picture painting piece.

CM: Yeah. It was definitely an intentional thing. We kind of say, actually, ‘Dream’ was the one more than any on the album that was, a lot more about the song rather than the lyric. The lyric was very big and sort of like, religious overtones and like the entire encapsulation of the island but without being too specific about anything. So the music was the most important thing in that. So I’m glad it came across.

 AH: You mention the sound as well. I mean, there’s a band sound in there but of course it’s only you mentioned. Is that you doing everything to make the full music on the album? Is it you drumming? Is it a drum machine?

CM: The producer was in a lot of drumming. Ethan Jones, he’s very tidy on the drum kit and we had a lot of drum machine. It was an app believe it or not.  

AH: What was it?

CM: A £2.50 download from the app store. That was like a vintage drum kit. Similar to that thing. So we just got for laugh to try it. And we had that coming out into the desk and just it works.

AH: If it works.

CM: Why change it? It was kind of the main theme on the album actually while we’re recording. It was like, if it works then don’t fix it. A lot of the vocals were first take from the demos from another recording session. And a lot of them were, the lyrics were just sort of ideas from the head and they would come up and we’d record them. It’s all about the feel, isn’t it?

It’s all about the initial spark that’s inspiring you to do that was so important that we try to keep as much of that as possible.

AH: Yeah. From the imagery as well that you’ve got advertising the album, the album, cover, things like that, it actually wouldn’t feel right if didn’t have your dog with you as well. And you’ve even got the right sort of dog. 

CM: Yeah. That’s my dog. His a working dog. I have him for the farm so he’s always stealing the show. His a lovable little dog.

AH: No surprise. They’re always lovable. But hard work, I would imagine a very hardworking dog, it’s in a border collie’s nature.

CM: I think it’s the whole thing. Isn’t it like, it’s a bit of a cliché but standing wherever with your sheepdog but that’s what is it there, you know? That’s what we do.

AH: Yeah, absolutely. For those people that don’t believe, assuming its cliché, it isn’t. It is real life, isn’t it?

CM: Yeah. I’m an islander. I’m a crafter, first off. You know, that’s my heritage. That’s where I come from and I kind of got inspired by writing song about it. So it is, what it is. It’s what you see, what you get.

AH: How do you manage to get into that side? How do you manage to get in to the music and the art side of life when clearly, you’re almost destined to be a farmer, for example?

CM: Yeah. It’s the thing. It’s the two are so entwined at home. So many of the old boys were working during the week and then playing in the pub on a weekend. The two are just so wrapped up together. But when I was started picking instruments and stuff, I didn’t pick-up the guitar. I tried five pipes, I hated it. It sounds horrible. I tried traditional instruments, I was rubbish at it all. I didn’t really get into the trad scene. I like Neil Young, I like Prince and I like Bob Dylan. I got into that. I then got into the guitars. So, it was the same thing as what everyone else was doing. You work, whatever you do during the week and on the weekends, you play your songs. So I was trying to write my own and try to do my own thing rather than playing the trad tunes.

AH: The artists you mentioned naturally fit to the music you’re playing.

CM:: Yeah.

AH: Looking where you are or when you’re back in London again at the end of October, you’re down for the Blues Fest too, Van Morrison and Robert Plant as well. I mean that’s a bill you’ve got to be happy about being on.

CM: Absolutely. It’s a dream. That was our thing when we were kicking about, when we were starting. We used to play covers in the pub on a Saturday night to make money to go on tour. And that was started there, they’re Gods, those guys, I mean Robert Plant… watching ‘Song remains the same’ or whatever. That was our learning material and then we’re going to share the same stage, so no pressure. [Laughs]

AH: No whatsoever. It’s going to be that moment when you simply glance sideways and he’s at the side of the stage or something.

CM: Yeah. It’s nice. But it’s such a lovely recommendation, you know. He liked the album and he, you know, that’s a thumbs up that you always hope to have. You know, you always hope to have that sort of nod of approval from your inspiration.

AH: Musical heroes are few and far between but to actually have one of them identify with what you’re doing and, like you say, provide a seal of approval almost. You can’t ask for more.

CM:: Yeah. Absolutely.

AH: Well you can actually can. You can ask for at least a million units in sales. [laughing] You’ve been on BMG, which is for a debut album, that’s quite a label to land straight onto. Was that tough getting it or did they approach you? How did that come about?

CM: From most of these things have happened that so in my life, I just sort of to come around to a good people. Just meeting nice people and I’ve always just sort of done what I do, I do in it. I mean, Ethan is much the same kind of way, just some gigs. Me and Ethan (Ethan Johns the album producer who has also worked with Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams) we got on really well. I told him that I was making the album and he agreed to produce it. I met someone from BMG who loved the fact that I was doing that with Ethan and it was all just kind of personal connection and meeting the right people at the right time. So, yes. I’ve been ah…., I don’t want to say luck but I’ve been very fortunate.

AH: ‘Cause you’ve worked for it and the things have just fallen into place.

CM: And it just so happens that the person I met that was a supporter, worked at BMG and they picked it up. I’m very blessed that they did. I was just plugging away and I was, like everyone else, I’m doing it and the biggest reward for me is just to bring able to just sing your own songs on the stage and write your music. Just like that, they came on board and said, “We believe in this song, we’re going to do it.” So that was a nice thing.

AH: Now, reading about the topics that you got on there. I mean you got the piece on your Facebook page took me, you know, 600 years of history and things like that for the island. What is in there? 

CM: There’s a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of topics covered but it’s covered in the Isle of Lewis tradition which is, it’s not books, it’s a cup of tea round at your Uncle’s house and he tells you a story.

And you never let the truth get in the way of a good story. So, a lot is embellished. A lot of it is really facts about the historical stuff. There’s a song about the Iolaire that sunk in a stormy harbor with the soldiers coming back from the First World War. The men coming back from the war were within sight of the pier, they were 50, it can’t be much more than 50 meters away from the shore and the ships sank and it was like three quarters of the people on board were drowned and killed. Within sight of their relatives waiting for them to come back from the war. It’s like horrendous story of the, like, but that is the level of gaelic song and the stuff that they sing about. It’s the sort of brutal hardship but sang with a real poetic love and a real historicism.

It’s the hundred years anniversary of that this year and it’s a thing that we really feel that because it’s still passed down to us now, this was such a big impact for an island community. There wasn’t one family on the island that didn’t lose someone. It’s an island of 15,000 people. So, it was a big deal. So that’s that.

There’s also a story of a ghost. Like folklore and ghosts and spiritual people that can see into the future, all that stuff.

AH: Yeah.

CM: There’s a story of a man who was praying and he offered an ultimatum to God and he’s like, “If you exist, do something!” And the house shook and there’s lot’s of, you know. And that’s all that stuff but it’s – and some stuff that’s personal to me as well. But through all of it, the thread was I’m not going to read about it. I’m not going to recite it. There’s not going to be a fact show. I’m going to go and visit the old boys and see what they say.

AH: And then recount their stories with your interpretation of it. I mean, you mentioned the ghost stories for example. You’re bound to have those because there’s never a more suitable place in the world for those?

CM: Absolutely. There’s some random stuff. There’s the ghost of the Spanish fishermen who was washed up on shore at one point of the island but haunts a house at 56 miles away at another point of the island. None of it ever makes sense.

AH: I mean these things are always suppose to be, well, something happened there that spirit is trapped in that little square of the world that normally. No, no, no we’ll get 56 miles down the road and then we’ll trap them.

CM:: He got the bus. He always did.

AH: Nice. I like that! Just going back to the shipwreck for a moment. You’ve got a hundred year anniversary coming up. What happened to the boat and the people on board, I mean, is it all still there underwater, was it salvaged?

CM:: No. Most of it still there. It was broken up. It was a really, really violent storm for that part of the world that were used to kind of having heavy seas and big weather and, but it was a particularly violent storm. It was New Years Eve, everyone was drunk. The boat crashed into rocks which are called The Beasts of Holm and they were in sight of the harbour. They were so close to land that one of the men tied a rope around himself and a wave picked him up over the ship and put him on to the cliff. That’s how close they are.

He jumped off and as he hit the water, a wave picked him up and stop him on the top of it. And he managed to save people by holding his rope until the rope snapped and eventually, that was the end of it. New Year’s Day, men were lined up in blankets on the pier and all they have. That was them waiting for them to come home from war. You know, you couldn’t write it. It’s heavy stuff.

There’s an album there itself. There’s a lot of stuff I was getting into. I started to tell people what I was up to. I’m going to make this album, it’s like flood gates. People coming in the house with stories and pictures, and stuff it was just unbelievable. I got about 20 albums of material.

Like, there’s another one, my next door neighbor, my old Uncle. He was like, when he was 10, he was 85 when he died a couple of years ago. When he was 10 years old, there was a shipwreck and they went on and they cut her up. As they went away they said, “Free, your salvage, do what you want with it.” They cut off the hulk, green oak and they used it for fence posts. And they’re still there. You know, it’s just great little things at that which you never would have known.

AH: Aside from the O2 date later in the year, what else is coming up ?

CM: We’re going to America for a tour on October and I’m going to do a Scottish tour in September. Just, yeah, it’s great opportunity.

AH: If you can crack the States, I mean, on the sort of music you’re playing, it’s a fit out there these days, isn’t it? I’m comfortable they’re embracing it without a doubt.

CM:: Yeah, they seem to be really into. Yeah absolutely. It’s been a great response so far, so.

Colin’s album ‘Bloodlines’ is available now through the link below:

1. Kicks In
2. Runrun
3. Feels Like
4. What Does It Mean To You?
5. Old Fire
6. 100 Miles
7. Homesick Daughter
8. Dream
9. Shake The Walls
10. Ria
11. Bloodlines (Waking Hours)

Colin’s BST set photos are here: 

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