Review – The Wynntown Marshals – Big Ideas

Music can take you to many places, in reality and in your mind. My musical journey has led me to discover many new artists and fall in love with styles of music that I just never would have thought would have appealed to me.

Take The Wynntown Marshals, this highly accomplished Scottish Americana band, proclaimed ‘Europe’s best Americana band’ following the release of their debut full-length album ‘Westerner’ in 2010 and lauded by such music business luminaries as BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris, only showed up on my radar due to legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz and the fact that The Marshals’ guitarist, the highly talented Iain Sloan, was a member of the Ganz’s live band at the time I was reviewing their self-titled 2014 release.

There’s no such thing as a coincidence, they say, and I became firm friends with Iain who then introduced me to The Wynntown Marshals and the rest is history. The band were due to release their third album, ‘The End Of The Golden Age’, in 2015 (which I duly reviewed) and I’ve been a big fan ever since!

Work on the band’s long awaited fourth album, ‘Big Ideas’,originally started in 2018. The intervening years saw a line-up change and the confines of the global pandemic inevitably slowed progress, but the resulting album is arguably the highlight of the band’s 15-year career. Engineered and recorded with long-time collaborator Andrew Taylor of Dropkick, mixed by Garry Boyle at Slate Room Studios and mastered by Stuart Hamilton at Castlesound, the record is sonically a step above previous releases, and the mix allows the lush, vibrant instrumentation to take centre stage, providing the ideal backdrop to the recurring lyrical themes of nostalgia, love and loss.

That’s what the PR says and I have been lucky enough to have spent the last three or four weeks delving into this latest gem from The Marshals so here is my take on what these talented lads have delivered.

The driving, strident piano opening of first track, the rockingly joyful New Millennium, sets the tone for the rest of the album, it’s an unapologetic, in your face song with an underlying joyfulness that is just highly infectious. The jangling guitars of title track Big Ideas herald a more serious song about the pitfalls of society’s relationship with, and reliance on, social media. The tone gives a feel of The Smiths but without Morrissey’s hang ups! It’s a handsome piece of music and Keith’s vocals give it the necessary gravitas and conviction.

The mood quietens with the next two tracks, the laid back and wistful Tourist In My Hometown is an utter delight, this nostalgic and thoughtful piece of music wraps you in its many charms, the beautiful keyboards are a particular delight and Keith’s vocals once again shine. The mournful strains of Iain’s pedal steel guitar open the heartbreaking The Pocket, an emotive story song inspired by the historic battle for Stalingrad. This track just bleeds emotion in every note and word. Plaintive and contemplative, its is a melancholy wonder.

The tempo rises and the mood is lifted by the faster paced Learn To Lose, a reflective country rock track that the legendary Tom Petty would have been proud to have written. The lyrics are perfect and give a feel of longing, regret and a yearning for the past and the music is just top drawer, the instrumental break in the middle is just genius! The Missing Me has a hypnotic feel to it, the music mesmerising and soothing and Keith’s vocal is spellbinding. There’s a touch of Chris Isaak to this song, Iain’s guitar adding even more of a haunting, mysterious edge to proceedings, a definite highlight so far.

Almost a perfect piece of music, time seems to slow when the opening bars of Keys Found In Snow kick in. The seemingly whimsical lyrics of this poignant and touching song unfurl into a tale of a relationship in freefall, it is heart-wrenchingly sad and yet exquisite at the same time. The interplay between the pedal steel and piano is utterly bewitching and absorbing and adds another layer of class to what is already a superb piece of music. A soaring hammond organ and plaintive harmonica are key ingredients of the somber Disappointment, a song with a harder edge underneath the great music, a well written country rock tale of life in middle America.

Treat Me Right is a country song through and through, Keith’s heartfelt vocals and the elegant music a backdrop to an oft written story of love and relationships, the laid back guitar solo is sublime and puts a smile on my face. The album closes with the more folk infused delights of ‘Full Moon, Fallow Heart’ which, while downbeat in its delivery, is still unrelentingly positive in its widescreen outlook. A graceful piano and Keith’s wishful, musing vocals finish the song, and the album, with a hopeful lilt.

There’s a joy in hearing a band at the height of their creative powers and The Wynntown Marshals have returned with an album full of superb songs that connect with you on every level. We can all relate to the stories told within this album and appreciate the emotive highs and lows that are felt throughout its ten brilliant tracks. ‘Big Ideas’ reaches beyond just being an amazing Americana record, its is an outstanding achievement in every way!

Released 2nd September, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Big Ideas | The Wynntown Marshals (

The Wynntown Marshals Announce New Album – ‘Big Ideas’

‘Big Ideas’, the fourth full-length studio album by Edinburgh-based The Wynntown Marshals, will sound immediately familiar to those who know the band, and serves as the ideal introduction for those who are less familiar with their output. Four years in the making, the album features ten tracks covering jangling, forthright, radio-ready power pop, rugged, rootsy rockers, moody guitar workouts and stately ballads – all underpinned by the heartfelt, poetic wordplay for which the band are well- known.

The Wynntown Marshals were proclaimed ‘Europe’s best Americana band’ following the release of their debut full-length album ‘Westerner’ in 2010 and, in the years following its release, the band garnered significant praise and support from the likes of Bob Harris (whose BBC Radio 2 show was one of three BBC sessions the band have performed). The band’s second album ‘The Long Haul’ was featured in the Glasgow Herald’s ‘Top 10 Scottish Albums of 2013’ and Uncut magazine awarded it an 8/10 review, a feat they repeated with the follow-up ‘The End of The Golden Age’ in 2015 – with Uncut describing the band as ‘colonising the shadowlands between Tom Petty and Teenage Fanclub’.

Work on ‘Big Ideas’ originally started in 2018. The intervening years saw a line-up change and the confines of the global pandemic inevitably slowed progress, but the resulting album is arguably the highlight of the band’s 15-year career. Engineered and recorded with long-time collaborator Andrew Taylor of Dropkick, mixed by Garry Boyle at Slate Room Studios and mastered by Stuart Hamilton at Castlesound, the record is sonically a step above previous releases, and the mix allows the lush, vibrant instrumentation to take centre stage, providing the ideal backdrop to the recurring lyrical themes of nostalgia, love and loss.

Once again, the lyrics often seek to explore disparate, atypical themes for the genre. Album opener ‘New Millennium’ – a euphoric tale of youthful abandon set against the backdrop of a strident, chest- pounding heartland rocker – sets the scene for the rest of the album, bringing proceedings vividly to life. The title track highlights the pitfalls of society’s relationship with social media, while ‘The Pocket’ is a heart-breaking story song inspired by the historic battle for Stalingrad. The seemingly whimsical lyrics of the pensive track ‘Keys Found In Snow’ unfurl into a tale of a relationship in freefall, and the downbeat album closer ‘Full Moon, Fallow Heart’ is still unrelentingly positive in its widescreen outlook. Nothing in our world is ever perfect.

The Marshals have, like the rest of the planet, been through some significant challenges in recent times – and some of the album’s lyrical content is inevitably shaped by the events of the past two years (the title track and ‘Disappointment’ in particular), but – like the protagonists in the middle eight of the bittersweet track ‘Tourist In My Hometown’ – the band have ‘emerged unbroken, smarting from the pain’.

You can pre-order the album from bandcamp now:

Big Ideas | The Wynntown Marshals (

Review – Blue Rose Code – The Water Of Leith – by Progradar

Music never ceases to amaze me with its capacity to delight and its ability to lift you up when you are down and to perfectly fit your mood when you are happy and on top of the world. I know for a fact that my life is so much richer and rewarding because of my love of music.

There are artists, however, who stand out even more for me, musicians whose songwriting talents elevate the songs to another level, able to move you and alter your life with just one note. I have been very lucky to have had some of these very people come into my life and I am a better person for it.

Once again, I have my great friend Iain Sloan to thank for introducing me to the mercurial talents of Blue Rose Code (aka Ross Wilson). Iain contributes pedal steel to several tracks on the new Blue Rose Code album ‘The Water Of Leith’.

A nomad both geographically and musically, Ross writes from the heart eschewing any specific genre and the twelve new songs on ‘The Water Of Leith’, addressing themes of love, loss, travel, home, accepting the past and embracing the future, are painted with colours of folk, jazz, soul and pop; an eclecticism that has become a hallmark of Blue Rose Code and has seen him compared to John Martyn, Van Morrison and Tom Waits.

Underlining the sense of movement and place in Ross’s work and ‘The Water Of Leith’ is rooted in his return to his Scottish homeland. There, he reconnected with the stellar musicians who were to become an integral part of the new album’s sound: multi award-winning singer Julie Fowlis, celebrated Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, BBC Folk Award Winner, Ross Ainslie, 2017’s Scottish Jazz Awards’ instrumentalist of the year Konrad Wiszniewski, leading violinist Seonaid Aitken and three of Scotland’s finest jazz musicians; John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay, to name just some of the contributors. Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman features on the opening track. Ross co-produced the album with Angus Lyon.

(Image by Mark Archibald)

Music at its most simplistic has the power to move you and the twelve tracks on ‘The Water Of Leith’, despite being simple and charming, generate such a wide range of emotions. The incredibly tender Over The Fields (For John) is a touching tribute to Ross’ friend John Wetton (of Asia fame and more) who died earlier this year. Sparse instrumentation and the incredibly emotive vocals have a bleak and yet uplifting feel to them. There’s a sadness that is lifted by fond, nostalgic memories and I challenge you to not be wiping a tear from your eye when it comes to its gentle close. Bluebell has an upbeat, soulful vibe, Ross’s vocal has warmth and compassion at its core and Konrad Wiszniewski’s sax and Iain’s pedal steel add a touch of culture to this sophisticated piece of music. Wistful memories float along with the lilting tone of the music and draw you into its sincere embrace. Toe-tapping, feelgood music is at the heart of the wonderful Ebb & Flow with its great harmonies and superb brass, just under three-minutes of music that leaves you in a much better place than before it arrived. The Gaelic tinged hues of Passing Places is haunting in its brevity and beauty. Kathleen MacInnes mesmerising vocals are accompanied perfectly by the childlike innocence of the violin of Seonaid Aitken and Angus Lyon’s accordion with the mournful tone of Wild Lyle Watt’s acoustic guitar adding the final folk-infused touches.

The music segues straight into Sandaig where the sparseness is fleshed out with Ross’ stirring vocal. A song straight from the heart, this peaceful spot was immortalised as Camusfearna in ‘Ring of Bright Water’ – the famous book by Gavin Maxwell telling of his life with his pet otters at this lonely spot. Ross imbues the song with love and affection and a kind of longing and with Kathleen adding her distinctive vocals, it’s charm and beauty hypnotise you from the first note. A touching song full of jazz imbued soul, Nashville Blue has a real feel of the roaring 20’s about it. Its passionate feel and elegance cut right through you and the vocal performance is stirring and just a little sad. The incredible playing of all the musicians comes through to give a stellar, if slightly sombre, performance. A perfect slice of modern Scottish folk, On The Hill remains A Heart is a serious piece of music that has you enveloped in tte story, imagining yourself on a windswept hill as a certain part of your life’s journey comes to a melancholy close. The vocals have a more hushed and sincere tone to them and end the song with a thoughtful atmosphere, increased by the superb violin and cello. An open letter to the world that getting basics right is where we should start, Love Is… touches you right in your heart with its poignant vocals and bluegrass inspired music with Seonaid Aitken’s wondrous violin leading the way. A tenderly wistful song with a compassionate belief at its core.

Polaris is one of those delightful songs that you just keep returning to again and again and show that Ross is a modern singer/songwriter of huge talent. The tender yet powerful vocals are key here and bring an uplifting emotion to the chorus. A compelling piece of music that you can lose yourself in and forget about the worries of everyday life. Innovative and inventive, like a cross between free from jazz and traditional folk, The Water is nine minutes of utterly captivating music, an involving soundscape on which John Lowrie’s wandering piano and Colin Steele’s original trumpet playing are joined by the adroitness of James Lindsay’s double bass to lead you on a spiritual musical journey into your own psyche and everyone’s journey will be different.  You stop and listen to every note and every nuance and each playing reveals more of this incredible track. There’s no let up to the brilliance as the haunting delta blues and jazz-tinged hues of To The Shore work their way into your mind. A darkly meaningful song that seems to glide effortlessly into the room with a knowing aura, Ross’ vocal has the requisite husky tones to leave you imagining yourself in a dimly lit jazz club in the American depression. The musicianship is staggeringly good, turn the lights down, open a glass of something strong and red and just lose yourself in the wonderfully enigmatic music. The album closes out with the wistfully plaintive Child. Another sublimely simple song that touches the heartstrings with its affection and love. The piano of John Lowrie is the perfect accompaniment to Ross’ heartwarming vocal and the sax adds its stirring tribute and, as the track comes to its uncomplicated close, I just find myself smiling and at one with myself.

In the dark and complicated world that we live in we all need something to escape to, something that makes our lives better and richer and, for me and many others, it is music that has the capacity to do that. ‘The Water Of Leith’ is a poignant, moving collection of songs that have come straight from the heart of one of the best songwriters of this or any generation. Ross Wilson and Blue Rose Code have given us a definitive piece of music that will last the test of time and we would all be happier having it in our lives.

Released 27th October 2017

Buy the CD from Navigator Records

Buy the limited edition vinyl from bandcamp


Review – The Wynntown Marshals – After All These Years – by Progradar

“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life.”
― Rob Sheffield, Love Is a Mix Tape

Not quite an ‘old mix tape’, ‘After All These Years’ marks a decade of The Wynntown Marshals, Scotland’s masters of Americana. Three studio albums into the Wynntown Marshals’ career, the band mark that decade together with the release of a this new collection of classic Marshal’s tracks. Primarily a retrospective look back at some of the recorded highlights of the past ten years, this specially-priced 16-track collection also includes 3 new, previously unreleased tracks which set the scene for the next chapter in the band’s history.

Following their self-finaced EP in 2008, the band’s debut long player ‘Westerner’ was released in 2010, following some line-up changes 2013’s ‘Long Haul’ was seen as a big step forward for The Wynntown Marshals. I found out about the band through lead and pedal steel guitar guru Iain Sloan just in time for the release of ‘The End of the Golden Age’ in 2015.

2017 sees the line up of Sloan and original frontman (and principle songwriter) Keith Benzie, Richie Noble (keyboards) and the new rhythm section of Simon Walker (drums) and bassist David Mckee.

The lyrics are never throwaway, the subject matter often obscure. World-weary yet uplifting melodies are channelled by strident guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies, offset by beautiful keyboard parts and driven by a rock-solid rhythm section. Once referred to as ‘the masters of mid-tempo’, the band can also deftly turn their hand to heart-warming, uplifting power pop.

I got to know Iain through his playing with legendary Scots proggers Abel Ganz and it was during one of our numerous chats about music that he told me about The Wynntown Marshals. I’d never listened to much Americana before but was soon hooked on the band’s superb melodies and excellent songwriting.

‘After All These Years’ has something for just about anyone, allowing you to dip your toe into the band’s back catalogue while also showcasing three previously unreleased tracks for fans old and new. Take the laconic, bittersweet Low Country Comedown, an ode to life on the road, with its dynamic guitars and melancholy vocals combined with the swathes of Hammond organ and occasional heartrending pleas from the steel guitar. It’s a diamond of a song that really tugs at your heartstrings and opens this retrospective on a real high. The first of the unreleased tracks Your Time is another wistful tune that reflects the passing of time in a relationship. The organ that plays away in the background adds huge amounts of atmosphere in combination with the thoughtful guitars and Benzie’s contemplative vocal, a classic Marshals tune if ever you heard one. Keith says this about the song,

“Your Time’ is about wanting more time from/ with your partner when life/ kids get in the way! The verses chart (loosely) Fiona and I’s relationship with references to our honeymoon and both kids (and my preferred plane seat number).” 

One of the most complete tracks from ‘The End of the Golden Age’ Red Clay Hill is Americana at its absolute concentrated best. Benzie’s tribute to the shale bings of West Lothian is a charmingly nostalgic song replete with powerful guitars and rhythm section and that achingly sentimental sound of Sloan’s steel guitar. One of the more traditional country music feeling tracks, The Burning Blue is told from the perspective of a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain. Keith’s voice has a real good ol’ boy tone to it and combine brilliantly with Leigh Hammond’s harmony vocal and the jangling guitars just scream Grand Old Opry at you. A country song about the Battle of Britain might seems at odds but it really works and the catchy chorus has you singing along every time.

The laid-back synth-led vibes of Being Lazy show a more chilled out side to The Marshals, Keith’s mellow vocals and the easygoing instrumentation transport you back to lazy, hazy summer days when you’re just busy doing nothing. Canada ramps up the tempo once more with a raucous jangling guitar sound and insistent rhythm section giving impetus to Benzie’s pure Americana vocal delivery. More Americana tinged pop, it is a fast paced slice of musical cool. Ballad of Jayne was the answer to a New Jersey-based record label’s 2008 request to submit a song for a ‘Hair Metal’ tribute album. A smoky barroom reinterpretation of L.A. Guns tribute to Jayne Mansfield with Benzie’s husky vocal and Sloan’s steel guitar the main players, as a Hair Metal-lite track, it really hits the spot. Listen out for the excellent string-bending guitar solo which is a highlight. A particular crowd favourite of the band’s live set, Tide is a sprawling West Coast tinged track with hints of psychedelia and surfer dude cool. The wandering guitars and carefree vocals add layers of calm insouciance to a song that wouldn’t have been out of place at the original Woodstock.

My personal favourite, and second unreleased song, among sixteen wonderful tracks is the hauntingly beautiful Odessa where Keith’s heartfelt emotive vocals and Iain’s touchingly affective guitar deliver near perfection. Noble’s calming keyboards and the delicately balanced rhythm section just add to the wonderful ambience. I asked Iain if he could find out the story behind the song and Keith said,

“Ah, where do I begin? Nothing too cerebral if I’m honest – I’d always felt ‘Odessa’ was a romantic sounding place, so I did a bit of research then used it as a backdrop to a slightly mysterious and sad tale of unrequited love.”

The Marshals have always written songs with a story, songs based on historical facts and one of the earliest examples is 11:15, taken from the band’s debut EP. It tells the tale of the greatest flood in modern UK history which took place in rural Aberdeenshire in 1829 and is a true epic. Keith trades vocals with the harmonies of Leigh Hammond once again on this two-part track, the first part sets up the suspense with its slow, deliberate pace before there’s a pause and guitar, drums, bass and keyboards are let loose Almost a modern folk infused piece of Americana, it really does showcase the band’s many talents consummately. We move straight into the live staple and classic Marshals song End of the Golden Age with its addictive chorus and sublime musicianship. If some one asked me to pick a song that typifies the band’s brand of Americana I wouldn’t hesitate in choosing this captivating hook laden piece of brilliance with its superb vocal harmonies and distinguished guitar work. After the splendour of the previous track, the stripped back acoustic guitars, piano and strings of Curtain Call are a polar opposite. A tragic tale of a suicidal Victorian conjuror, its plaintive, subdued and sorrowful feel is emphasised by the thoughtful vocals that leave you in a contemplative and reflective state of mind.

A wondrously dreamy and meditative piece of music that transports you to the high sierra of California and its national parks, Thunder in the Valley is a song that just transports you to a place of pastoral calm. Let the music wash over you taking the stress of everyday life away and just enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. This is music that makes the whole world slow down and lets you live life at a pace to suit you, the vocals are composed and serene and the guitars are restrained and impassive, just a wonderfully relaxing song to listen to. The languidly poignant tale of the first captive orca, Moby Doll is a tragic and touching song that really does hit you hard. You can feel the emotion, first in Keith’s vocals and then in the steel guitar and swirling organ as it works its way into your soul, the instrumental close out is pure genius and holds you transfixed. Possibly the only Americana song about a captive albino Gorilla, Snowflake takes The Marshals back down the pure country route with its soft-shoe shuffle and jangling guitars. An uptempo track with some great vocal harmonies and a Duane Eddy guitar tone, it’s another song that hits home perfectly. The last and third and final unreleased song on the album is Different Drug, the reworking of an early EP track. Subtle piano and the cultured rhythm section lend a sophistication that signature Marshals sound that the band have honed over the last 10 years. Benzie’s distinctive voice delivers the lyrics perfectly and the keyboards and guitar drive this elegant track to its fantastic extended close.

‘After All These Years’ is a glorious celebration of 10 years of one of Scotland’s best exports and the so called ‘masters of mid-tempo’. For the fans that have lived the journey with The Wynntown Marshals it is a nostalgic retrospective containing all the highlights of a stellar career to date and for those that are new to the band it is a reminder of what they have missed so far. Here’s to the next ten years with this incredible band…

Released 1st September 2017

Buy ‘After All These Years’ from bandcamp

Featured image by Carol Graham Photography.



Review – Norrie McCulloch – Bare Along The Branches – by Progradar

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

“There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in music.” – (paraphrased from a quote by P.G. Wodehouse)

I’ve spent a large proportion of the last 3 or 4 years waxing lyrical about my musical discoveries and sharing them with the world at large (whether they liked it or not) but I’m man enough to admit that even I discover music from recommendations from friends and acquaintances.

I discovered the wonderful Scottish progressive rock band Abel Ganz through my friend (and now colleague) at Bad Elephant Music, David Elliott and that has opened up a wealth of new musical treasures that have been brought to my attention by the wonderful guitar player Iain Sloan who, as well as playing with the Ganz boys, lends his not inconsiderable talents to a few other Scottish artists including The Wynntown Marshals and Findlay Napier to name but two, enabling me to dig out these musical treasures too.

Iain also plays with the talented Scottish folk musician Norrie McCulloch and it is through his recommendation that I sought Norrie out and am I glad that I did, discovering that he was just about to release his new album ‘Bare Along The Branches’. 

‘Bare Along The Branches’ is Scottish Singer/Songwriter Norrie McCulloch’s third full-length album in as many years and is the follow up to 2016’s acclaimed ‘These Mountain Blues’. Featuring a backing band of regular collaborators: Dave McGowan, Stuart Kidd and Marco Rea with Iain Thompson and Iain Sloan also entering the fold for this new recording.

The album captures McCulloch writing about the human spirit, folklore, growing and belonging. A chance meeting with a Russian photographer gave him the albums cover imagery, its title and a new artistic relationship.

The album opens with the atmospheric Shutter with it’s melancholy driving piano line and echoing drums. Norrie’s world weary vocals take up the tale and you are immediately engrossed in the song. The banging shutter is the soundtrack to someone’s downward spiral, akin to a bell tolling and adding a slightly mournful note to this downcast, wistful tune. Like a well travelled troubadour Norrie’s brilliant voice just draws you in to the tale and the excellent music keeps you enthralled. Little Boat has a nostalgic feel to it from the first note, the delightful guitar tone is complemented by some wonderful keyboards and McCulloch’s sentimental vocals (channeling his inner Van Morrison)  give a feel of longing and remembrance. It’s simple beauty is utterly captivating and uplifting, a look back at time when life was simpler and uncomplicated perhaps? When music is this good, why bother making it convoluted and arduous, the engaging Hammond organ being a case in point, I’m left with a knowing grin on my face as it comes to a satisfying close.

The opening to the wonderfully whimsical Lonely Boy is sublime and reminds me of why I love music so much, that keyboard note immediately grabs your attention and your heart. It develops into a brilliant song of reminiscence and sepia tinged memories. There is an emotive depth to this track, brought to the surface by Norrie’s heartfelt, earnest vocals, full of warmth and succor. The chorus is serene and tender, demanding that you sing along and reflect on your own past. Bluegrass, Americana, Country and Folk all combine to brilliant effect on Frozen River. A song of loss but one with an upbeat feel, epitomised by the whipcrack inticate notes eminating from the banjo and mandolin. It fairly speeds along and the skill of the musicians involved is something special, all held together by the vocals of Norrie McCulloch, a voice that is proving to be very special indeed.

A gentle acoustic guitar introduces Safe Keeping, a song full of emotion and sentiment, a story of life in a small town, the ties that keep us there and the battles to break them. A descriptive guitar sits in the background, played with a deft, sophisticated skill. There is a pared back sincerity to the song, a simplicity that has an infinite depth to it and the unadorned vocals sit perfectly alongside giving the whole song an uncomplicated grace. Country blues personified and with a great lap steel guitar running through the centre, Never Leave You Behind has the feel of a good time song played by good old boys and wouldn’t be out of place at The Grand Ole Opry. There a touch of Willie Nelson to the vocals and I’m just left tapping my foot and singing along to this feel good tune.

While researching for the album I got talking to Norrie about the next track This Time which, to me, is a favourite due to its simplicity and honesty. He had this to say,

“I’m surprised at how many folks are liking that song from the album, I was very close to leaving it off but nice that it seems to resonate with people.”

Well I’m exceedingly glad you did! Kept down to basics with the eerie, haunting pedal steel of the talented Iain Sloan, the beautiful and unforgettable piano of Dave McGowan and Norrie delivering a near-perfect vocal performance, this is a song that will live with me for a very long time. There’s a stark grandeur to this track, a primal honesty that has lasted the ages and it makes you stop and listen. The elegant music and sublime, rarefied vocals linger long in the memory after the final, exquisite note plays out. Turn To Dust is a wonderful, simple tribute to Norrie’s mother who passed away shortly before this song was recorded live and solo on acoustic guitar. It’s a remarkably personal piece of music and you almost feel as if you are intruding a little on his grief but you feel the deep, amazing love a son has for his mother in every note and I feel privileged that he felt he could share these feelings with us. I’ll not lie, there’s a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat as it comes to a close. A laid back country blues tune with a harmonica note full of pathos and not a little sorrow, Around The Bend brings to mind depression era America and a small town with dusty streets full of care-worn wooden buildings. The vocals mirror this feeling perfectly, people carrying a world full of issues on their shoulders but the music has a stark grace to it as if beauty can be found in any situation. The lap steel and banjo add even more poignancy to the song, giving hope that redemption may indeed be found ‘around the bend’.

(Photo credit David Morrison)

The last song on the album is the bare simplicity and atmospheric refinement of Beggars Woods, a piece of music as timeless as it is elegant. There’s an echoing wonder to the guitar playing and a captivating tone to Norrie’s vocals, the song needs nothing more as it weaves its plaintive way through your heart and soul, pulling you along in its wake.

“When this life’s got you bare along the branches…”

A song about opening yourself to life, to all the good and bad that you will encounter, cleanse your soul and become something more. The incredible guitar solo feels full of pain and remorse and yet there is also a small bud of hope and a promise of redemption. Remember, nothing is set in stone and you make your own path, whatever you may have to overcome.

Music has become a way of life for me and it is releases like this that define my life and give it meaning. Norrie McCulloch writes songs that are mini works of art, songs about life and death that we can all relate to on a personal level. ‘Bare Along The Branches’ will take you on an admittedly stark and yet ultimately uplifting musical journey that will leave you in a much better place than when you first started.

Released 24th February 2017

Buy ‘Bare Along The Branches’ from bandcamp







Live Review – The Prog Before Christmas – CCA Glasgow 18/12/15 – by Progradar


(Your intrepid correspondent and Jon Hunt, aka jh)

No matter how long and arduous the journey, if the destination deserves it, it was a worthy one. Trust me, the trip up to Glasgow and back for The Prog Before Christmas was decidedly long and, at times, extremely arduous. However, what transpired and unfolded before me on that magnificent night of entertainment at the CCA was utterly magical and entirely worth every mile of train track I covered.

‘Ambitious’ could possibly have been the first word used when I heard that Denis Smith of Abel Ganz was organising a gig on the Friday before Christmas, and way up north in Glasgow too! But, in the inimitable style, they said , “build it and they will come…”and we did…..

The line up was pretty impressive too, legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz would be joined by the irreverent brilliance of Peter Jones’ Tiger Moth Tales and the whole darn shebang would kick off with the new kids on the block, Manchester’s own We Are Kin and this, just to top things off, would be their debut live performance. No pressure then eh guys?

Joining me on this jolly adventure way up North would be my mate, the brilliant Jon Hunt and we met at my hotel for a beer before heading over to Sauchihall Street and the impressive CCA venue where we met Adam and Dan from We Are Kin (featured image) outside before heading in for what would turn out to be a superb evening’s musical entertainment….


Heading up stairs to see Denis doing ticket duties, we walked into the room and I said a few hellos before We Are Kin took to the stage with hardly a sign of nerves and proceeded to leave a puzzled frown on gathered faces. Why a frown? well, did I tell you this was their debut live gig, first……one…..ever….? You would not have believed it as they delivered a superb live performance full of emotion, heart and soul, the twin vocals of Emma C and Nuru holding everybody rapt.


Home Sweet Home opened the set with Nuru taking lead on this superb track, disarming the audience with its warm embrace. There was more immediacy and an electronic edge to Hard Decision, a joint vocal delivery and underlying grittiness delivering a fast paced, energetic feel and the first sign of Adam McCann’s guitar virtuosity.


A brilliantly earnest track and one which captivated everybody, Without Them is a slow burner that builds gradually into an eye opening crescendo, Adam’s solo just made the hairs rise up on the back of your neck. The band then followed up with probably the song I had been looking forward to hearing the most. Tides of Midnight has been a favourite of mine since I first heard this unique band back in 2013 and it didn’t let me down, Emma C’s vocal adding layers of gravitas and the keyboards of Dan Zambas adding a polished veneer to the poignant guitar. This music stares deep into your soul and leaves you in a place of contentment.


Another favourite is Weight of the World, its inspired 80’s synth intro alway makes me smile and it just seemed to come to life in Glasgow with Gary Boast’s intricate drumming and Lee Braddock striding around the stage like some 70’s pimp-daddy with his feather embellished bowler hat. A great live experience indeed. What this band do best is ethereal, endearing and just downright beautiful and the delicate acoustic guitar and vocal that opened The End ticked all those boxes. A moving and yet, slightly sad track that has a mournful grace. I didn’t know whether to smile or cry at the end…


All good things must come to and end and this utterly wonderful debut performance came to a close with the delicate and soothing charms of The Door. One thing that We Are Kin do extremely well is to make you feel central to the music and this passionate song left me speechless and lost in its allure.


So, a first debut gig and a triumph, time to nip off to the Gents and the bar and then await the arrival of the outrageously talented Peter Jones, the man behind the much loved Tiger Moth Tales.


Peter is funny, not in any contrived manner, he is just a funny guy who is full of life and he has a guitar and keyboard combo with drum pedal that makes him appear to be some sort of modern day maestro of the one man band and he is fantastically good at it.

The first track, following some typical Jones banter, is Tigers in the Butter from the first TMT album ‘Cocoon’ and it just leaves you gobsmacked and in awe. Powerful and animated, Peter delivers an utterly convincing performance. A true troubadour, he has the audience in the palm of his hand as he moves onto Story Tellers from the follow up album. A magical album full of fairy tales and fantastic characters, it is Peter Jones whose voice and skill bring them to life on songs such as this. Bewitching all those around, his voice has a wonderful lilt to it as he recounts the tail in his own inimitable style.


There is a warmth and humility to the banter that flows from Peter between tracks and he had us all in stitches but what he is at heart is a first class musician and he writes songs that draw you in and take you on a fantastical journey like Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright. Like stepping through into Narnia, it takes you to an altogether more exciting place where just about anything can come true. The beautiful guitar work on this song nearly brought me to tears, as if it was really alive with its soaring grace. Now Peter never hides the fact he is a huge Genesis fan and his next track was a cover of More Fool Me and a great homage to his heroes. There was passion and soul in his delivery and he even had the crowd singing along, well those that knew the words anyway…..


There was a huge shout when another Genesis track was announced, this time Harold the Barrel, fast paced and humorous, even I was tapping my feet at this one and the more knowledgeable really seemed to join in the fray. After the cover-version interlude we were back to Peter’s original material and the brilliant The Merry Vicar. Quite a tongue-n-cheek and pompous song that has a really wry sense of humour. The way Peter can fit his voice to any song and nuance really comes to the fore on stage. I found myself smiling and chuckling away to the obvious comedy in the song. Not merely a song writer but a consummate entertainer and amazing musician too!

Well the time was surely flying as Peter strode confidently into the penultimate track of this astute and accomplished set, the fan favourite A Visit to Chigwick. It is on songs like this that Peter Jones sometime eccentric English persona comes to the fore. I have called him ‘Batshit Crazy’ in the past but only in a complimentary manner, it is that minor lunacy that allows him to write songs as near perfect as this and ones that appeal to wide audience. The final song was the traditional The Wassail Song (well it is Christmas isn’t it?) and the lengthy cheers and applause that followed the end of his performance are testament to his enduring appeal. If you have never seen Tiger Moth Tales live then you are missing an utter treat.


After shaking the great man’s hand it was another trip to the gents and the bar before the main event.

It was going to take something rather special to top what had already gone before but, if one band could do it, Abel Ganz could and they stood astride the stage like a Scottish Prog Colossus, time for the music to start……


What a way to open with the instrumental splendour of Rain again, end of rain. Sending shivers down your spine it really set the tempo and the anticipation. Full of highs and lows, powerful and yet a calming influence. The band then followed with a great track from the last but one release ‘Shooting Albatross’, Ventura. It fits seamlessly into the new style of the band from the last self-titled release, a wandering journey into your mind. The musicians all at the top of their form, working together in harmony (no, not THAT song). Mick MacFarlane’s instantly recognisable voice puts its arm around you like an old friend and you are left under its control. A brilliantly reassuring and heartening piece of music.


If there is one track that typifies the last album it is the five-part Obsolescence, more a self-affirming musical pilgrimage than a mere song. In a live setting it takes on a whole different aura and tonight these guys gave it wings and a life of its own. Davie Mitchell, Iain Sloan and Mick play their guitars with sheer grace and finesse (Iain’s lap steel dexterity needs a further mention, stunning!), Jack Webb animates the keyboards and Stevie Donnelly parades around his patch, his bass almost like a weapon. The glue holding this all together is the maestro Denis Smith on drums. I love this song even more hearing it played like this, utterly mesmerising.


A song full of emotion, Recuerdos adds a layer of delightful simpleness to proceedings. Gentle acoustic guitar and Mick’s soft vocal just lull you into a true sense of security. Ethereal and divine, I felt myself lost in wonderment until it came to a close.


Up next was the fourteen minutes of Prog near-perfection of Unconditional, a song that opens its soul and lets you in. Musically it delves deep into our collective knowledge and it darts from style to style but, ultimately it is very satisfying. Lilting piano, funky keyboards, scorching guitar and jazz style drums all combine to lift you off your feet into a place of musical nirvana. Maybe it is the fuzzy memory from one too many beers but I recall the band playing one of the tightest gigs I’ve seen. One of my favourite bands has now become THE favourite.


I’ve made it no secret in the past that I absolutely love the track Thank You, it feels exceedingly personal to me so, when it was brought out as the first encore, guess who was shouting and cheering louder than most. Mick’s vocal is a thing of utter refinement, beauty and style and the lap steel guitar backing just adds a subtle grace and dignity (hats off to Mr Sloan again). I was singing at the top of my voice and was that a tear in my eye? Yes, so what, I bloody loved it!


And to the final song of an unforgettable evening and a tribute to the recently deceased Chris Squire. A great version of  Yes’ Running With The Fox closed proceedings with aplomb and a lengthy standing ovation followed that was seriously well deserved.


A Prog Before Chritsmas, worth 11 hours on a train? what do you think?, of course it was,it was utterly bloody brilliant. Shall we do it all again next year? Denis!!!!!!!!

All artist pictures thanks to the excellent David Stook.