Apr 052023

The Comet is Coming, the London-based experimental jazz trio, electrified the stage and lit up the late winter darkness at the Aberdeen Lemon Tree with their cosmic sounds and captivating performance. Craig Chisholm reviews.

The show started with the pulsating energy of stunning openers, Code and Summon The Fire, and that immediately drew the audience in as the group’s saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (AKA King Shabaka), drummer Max ‘Betamax’ Hallett, and keyboardist Dan ‘Danalogue’ Leavers brought a fusion of spiritual jazz, cosmic funk, and electronica to the stage.

The trio’s improvisational style, coupled with their futuristic aesthetic, transported the audience to another dimension.

With intricate saxophone riffs, hypnotic drum patterns, and mesmerizing keyboard melodies, The Comet is Coming delivered a spellbinding performance that left the audience in awe.

Throughout the concert, the band showcased their eclectic range of influences, from Sun Ra’s space jazz to the cosmic funk of Parliament-Funkadelic, infusing each track with their unique sound. The audience was swept up in the band’s infectious energy, dancing and swaying to the pulsating rhythms.

Highlights of the show included the frenzied energy of aforementioned

Summon the Fire, Blood of the Past, Pyramids, and the driving funk of Final Eclipse.

The group’s dynamic stage presence, with each member contributing their own unique flair, kept the audience engaged and entertained from start to finish.

Overall, The Comet is Coming’s performance at Aberdeen Lemon Tree was a stunning showcase of their innovative sound and captivating stage presence.

The audience was left mesmerized by the trio’s cosmic sounds, and it was clear that the group’s experimental approach to jazz is pushing the boundaries of the genre in exciting new directions.

Gig of the year? In March? Quite possibly…..

Sep 152017

With thanks to Rob Adams.

Internationally acclaimed Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith brings his new quartet to the Blue Lamp on Thursday, September 28 as part of a UK tour that includes a concert at the world famous Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London.

The tour marks two anniversaries.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of jazz icon and Smith’s greatest inspiration, saxophonist John Coltrane.

It is also Smith’s fiftieth birthday year and he celebrated this with a sold-out, rapturously received concert in his home town during Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival in July.

A presence on the global jazz scene since his teenage years with vibraphonist Gary Burton’s Whiz Kids quintet, Smith has recorded for two of the most prestigious record labels in jazz, Blue Note and ECM Records.

He keeps a busy diary and when he’s not working with his own groups, directing the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and overseeing the jazz programme he established at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, he tours the world with Norwegian bass master Arild Andersen’s trio, which is widely regarded as one of the premier jazz groups working today.

His new quartet was formed specifically to play the music of Coltrane, a challenge Smith describes as daunting, as well as some new pieces written by Smith in homage to his hero.

“I recorded one of Coltrane’s tunes on my very first album, Giant Strides when I was sixteen, but I’ve never felt ready to do his music justice with a full tribute concert before,” he says.

“I’m not sure I’m ready now, because Coltrane was so far ahead of his time but these musicians I have with me are some of the best I’ve ever played with and they really inspire me to try and take my playing to the next level.”

The quartet features former Herbie Hancock and Jamie Cullum drummer, Sebastiaan de Krom, the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year 2012, pianist Peter Johnstone, and Scottish National Jazz Orchestra bassist Calum Gourlay and released its first album, Embodying the Light, to rave reviews in July.

In concert they play without amplification, an approach that Smith has long favoured in his well-established duo with pianist Brian Kellock and one he prefers to follow whenever possible.

“I’ve nothing against amplified music,” he says,

“but it feels more natural to play acoustically. It makes us listen to each other more carefully and the audience gets to hear the true sounds of the instruments and the band – we sound the way we are.”

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Apr 012017

With thanks to Julia Heys, Marketing Executive, VisitAberdeenshire.

Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy 2010 © Kathy Mansfield

Aberdeen Festivals has announced the addition of the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in Portsoy to further strengthen its portfolio of local member festivals.

Aberdeen Festivals, set up in 2014 to collectively promote festivals, develop audiences and strengthen the cultural sector, has welcomed the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival to its ranks.

The renowned festival, which takes place from 24-25 June 2017, will join 10 existing and diverse festivals including; SPECTRA, Aberdeen Jazz Festival, Look Again, May Festival, Aberdeen International Youth Festival, TechFest, True North, North East Open Studios, DanceLive and sound.

Roger Goodyear, co-chairman of Scottish Traditional Boat Festival commented:

“Joining Aberdeen Festivals has been on the festival’s horizons since the collective was formed in early 2014. We have since watched the success of Aberdeen Festivals through its facilitation of collective marketing and collaborative efforts to profile the cultural offering of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.”

In its 24 year history, the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival has become well known locally and internationally as it uniquely showcases the local marine and cultural heritage of North-east Scotland. The annual festival reports on average 16,000 visitors each year with a high proportion of international attendees.

Roger continued:

“We already have a well-established audience and brand but, of course, there is always room for growth and we are looking forward to the various cross-collaborations with other festivals as well as taking part in the extensive and successful Aberdeen Festivals marketing campaign.”

Festivals in the Aberdeen Festivals group have consistently reported significant increases in audiences and ticket sales. In February this year, SPECTRA welcomed 63,000 visits, up by 28,000 on 2016 whilst Aberdeen Jazz Festival, which took place earlier this month, has already reported a 100% increase in ticket sales.

Steve Harris, chair of Aberdeen Festivals commented:

“Aberdeen Festivals has made substantial strides in its three years of existence. This has been recognised with continued local and private funding, audience and sales increases for each festival and numerous prestigious award shortlisting’s. The addition of the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival to the collective, with its well-connected, high profile festival and large international audience, will bolster this success of Aberdeen Festivals further in profiling the North-east as a top cultural tourism destination.”

Aberdeen Festivals has to date secured private sponsorship from energy company, Nexen, major funding from VisitScotland’s Growth Fund along with ongoing support from VisitAberdeenshire, Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council. The group recently secured an E Award, organised by EventIt, for its excellence in digital marketing.

For more information about Aberdeen Festivals, please visit www.aberdeenfestivals.com.

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Dec 062016

With thanks to Julia Heys, Marketing Executive, VisitAberdeenshire.

In light of its continued collaborative work, a group of 10 major North-east festivals has again announced its shortlisting for a national art award.

Aberdeen Festivals, a group formed to bolster the festival product on offer in the region, has been shortlisted for an award at the upcoming Arts & Business Awards 2017.

The shortlist recognises the group’s collective work with local destination management organisation (DMO), VisitAberdeenshire, in positioning the region as an exciting, culturally diverse, place to visit.

The valuable relationship is in the shortlist to win the ‘Placemaking Award’.

Angela Michael, Festivals & Culture Director at VisitAberdeenshire commented;

“We are delighted to have our hard work recognised on such a high-profile scale. The shortlisting reinforces the work this group has undertaken to promote Aberdeen as a culturally distinctive place.”

She continued;

“The successes of this campaign have shown through each of our festivals significantly increased profile and many have reported considerable audience growth. Aberdeen Jazz Festival saw an audience increase of 40% whilst 35,000 people attended Spectra in 2016, compared to the 10,000 that visited in 2015. VisitAberdeenshire’s support, expertise as well as market entry has been pivotal to this.”

The partnership between Aberdeen Festivals and VisitAberdeenshire saw, for the first time, Aberdeen being promoted as a cultural destination. The group, with the DMO’s support, collectively undertook substantial marketing campaigns locally, nationally – across Scotland, as well as London and Newcastle, and internationally – predominantly in Norway.

Steve Harris (pictured), CEO of VisitAberdeenshire and Chair of Aberdeen Festivals added;

“Our collaborative work with Aberdeen Festivals is going a long way towards profiling this region for something other than industry. One of our core goals is to reposition Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire in the minds of our audiences as a creative place, whilst marketing it as a region of cultural prominence. We have already seen great success in profiling the region as a cultural destination and we look forward to continuing this wonderful partnership over the coming years.”

The Arts & Business Scotland award ceremony, which celebrate the most creative and innovative partnerships, will take place on Thursday 23 March 2017, in Glasgow.

Aberdeen Festivals is a cultural initiative representing 10 member festivals and is sponsored by Statoil, and supported by VisitAberdeenshire and Aberdeen City Council. For more information visit www.aberdeenfestivals.com. VisitAberdeenshire is the destination marketing organisation for the region of Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire, further information can be found at www.visitabdn.com.

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Nov 172016

With thanks to Rob Adams.

louisdurra033-originalLouis Durra had a ready-made response when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last month. The Berlin-based Californian pianist, who brings his trio to the Blue Lamp on Thursday, November 24, has a very cool, groovy take on Tangled Up in Blue, one of the stand-out songs from Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album.

So he was able to slot it into his live set instantly as a dedication to the new Nobel laureate.

The opening track on Durra’s 2012 release, The Best of All Possible Worlds, Tangled Up in Blue contributed to the pianist’s unlikely elevation to American college radio sensation. In a way reminiscent of Ramsey Lewis in the 1960s, Durra’s jazz piano trio versions of Dylan, Bob Marley, Alanis Morisette and Radiohead songs took a trick with deejays and became part of the soundtrack to student life across the U.S..

A follow-up, Rocket Science, released later the same year, made similar waves with its explorations of the Beatles, White Stripes, KT Tunstall and traditional Mexican and French Canadian material.

Durra is by no means the first jazz musician to explore Radiohead’s repertoire, for example, or the first to cover pop hits of the day. That’s an idea as old as jazz itself. Durra, however, takes it further than most, even finding jazz piano trio repertoire and inspiration in Scottish electronica band Boards of Canada.

“I’m not on a ‘say no to the mainstream jazz repertoire’ soapbox,” says Durra.

“I’m just as likely to play music by Cedar Walton, Hank Jones, Joe Henderson, Annie Ross or Brad Mehldau as, say, Snoop Dog. Jazz was once described as the sound of surprise and it’s my aim to make each piece have something unexpected about it, in the nicest possible way.”

Durra’s investigation of the wider popular music canon – his most recent album, Chromakey, has a typically understated exploration of country-noir singer Gillian Welch’s Orphan Girl – stemmed from his accepting a three-nights-a-week residency in a Los Angeles restaurant.

After years of playing an accompanying role, mostly in theatre, and having made a couple of jazz albums that sold disappointingly, Durra was in danger of losing interest. His residency, which presently expanded to four nights a week, allowed him to rediscover the hunger that had led to him turning onto jazz in his teens.

With four to five hours a night to fill he determined that he, his rhythm section and the bar staff and clientele alike wouldn’t get bored with the same tunes being played on rotation. So he worked up a repertoire of some two hundred items, ranging from jazz standards to songs by the Ting Tings, Radiohead and songwriter-rapper Ke$ha.

The restaurant’s customers liked what Durra calls his oddball pop covers. So he recorded a selection of them, gave the album to a publicist and found himself with a hit on his hands. When he then decided to investigate another market, he booked himself onto the Edinburgh Fringe and promptly won an award, a Herald Angel, one of the much coveted statuettes that Glasgow-based newspaper The Herald awards for performing excellence during Edinburgh’s festival season.

On his way back to California after his second Edinburgh Fringe run Durra stopped off in Berlin, loved the feel of the city and decided to move there. Wanderlust and the lure of the Parisian jazz scene will see him relocate to the French capital in the not too distant future but his raison d’etre as a musician remains as it was during his restaurant residency

“I want to connect with the public,” he says.

“And the best way to do that, the best way to draw them into my way of playing is to give them something they recognise every now and then. Just because you’re playing pop tunes doesn’t mean that you can’t make them artistic and expressive. Besides, there’s poetry in Bob Dylan’s music – it’s official.”

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Oct 272016

wiszniewski-and-stevenson-featWith thanks to Rob Adams.

It’s a varied life on the road for saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and pianist Euan Stevenson who bring their acclaimed New Focus Quartet to the Blue Lamp on Thursday, November 3. 

Already this autumn Wiszniewski and Stevenson’s touring schedule has taken them to a blues club in Cupar and churches in Edinburgh and Falkirk as well as the former seamen’s mission down by Eyemouth harbour.

“Blues and church music are two of the main ingredients in jazz,” says Wiszniewski, who is also one of the stars of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s saxophone section.  

“Jazz musicians improvise on blues scales and a lot of jazz, especially the soul-jazz style that came out of the 1950s and 1960s, draws on gospel music, so we felt at home in both types of venue and particularly enjoyed the acoustics in Craiglockhart church in Edinburgh.

“We thought it made an ideal jazz venue – and the minister agreed!”

Wiszniewski and Stevenson have been touring to promote their new album, New Focus on Song, the second release by a group that grew out of an Edinburgh Jazz Festival tribute they paid to the great saxophonist Stan Getz. In 1961, Getz recorded a trailblazing orchestral album, Focus, and in 2011 Wiszniewski and Stevenson were commissioned by the festival to recreate the music on the album to mark its fiftieth anniversary.

They so enjoyed working with the ensemble that performed Focus, a nine-piece featuring jazz quartet, string quartet and concert harp, that they turned it into their main outlet, although for economic reasons gigs with the string quartet and harp tend to be quite rare at the moment.

“Although we don’t actually sing, the music on the new album is really songlike in style,” says Wiszniewski.

“The idea was that the compositions would be roughly the same length as a pop single because people’s time is so precious these days and we wanted to try and capture their attention quickly with strong melodies, although we stretch out a bit more in live performances than we did on the album.”

Atmosphere plays a strong role in the music, too, and there’s also quite a prominent Scottish element.

“The Scottish folk influence is something that came quite naturally, just through living and working here,” says the Glasgow-based Wiszniewski, who in addition to various jazz projects has toured with award-winning folk fusion band the Peatbog Faeries and with fiddle player Aidan O’Rourke, from Lau.

“We toured with the American saxophonist Ravi Coltrane’s group last year and his musicians were very complimentary about how we were playing jazz that reflected our own culture rather than theirs, so we feel we must be doing something right.”

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Dec 032015

With thanks to Cindy Douglas.

Cindy Douglas Snowfall2Aberdeenshire based Jazz vocalist Cindy Douglas has just released a seasonal EP entitled Snow Falls. The EP sensitively captures the bitter sweetness of the festive season.

One of the emerging talents on the UK jazz scene, vocalist and songwriter Cindy Douglas has carved a niche for herself with her broad repertoire, charming conversational style and engaging personality.

Her collaborations with such lauded musicians as Konrad Wiszniewski (New Focus, Brass Jaw, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra) and Tim Richards (Great Spirit, Hextet), have further enhanced and strengthened her reputation as a creative and ‘in demand’ jazz musician.

This latest project has Cindy joining forces once again with the musicians that featured on her critically acclaimed debut release My New Jive, namely: Tim Richards (piano), Dominic Howles (bass) and Jeff Lardner on (drums).

Cindy’s songwriting features on two tracks on the album.  The title track, a gentle bossa nova tune and the traditional carol Holst and Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter, here titled Bleak Midwinter has been updated with a soulful and bluesy additional verse from Cindy.

Another favourite and familiar tune Christmas Time Is Here is given an up-tempo treatment which perfectly suits Cindy’s interpretation of the song as representative of a happy and childlike anticipation of Christmas. The original version from Charlie Brown’s Christmas can be heard on The Peanuts Movie, out in cinemas on 21st December.

The closing track is a lesser-known yet very beautiful Hoagy Carmichael song Winter Moon a tune whose atmospheric melody and lyric showcases Cindy’s vocal range and interpretive skills.

The EP will be available via Cindy’s website www.cindydouglas.com, and via iTunes and Amazon later in December. Individual tracks will also be available for purchase.

The original cover artwork was designed by Morven Douglas, Cindy’s 17 year old niece and is available as a free download with any purchase.

Cindy commented:

“Like many, the festivities over winter bring a mixture of emotions and memories. From the inner child’s wonderment at the magic in the air when waking up to snow, to the melancholy and sadness when thinking of longed for loved ones. These thoughts were very much in mind when putting this EP together.”

Track listing:

Snow Falls – Cindy Douglas/Tim Richards
Bleak Midwinter – Holst/Christina Rossetti
Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi/Lee Mendelson
Winter Moon – Hoagy Carmichael.

Nov 162015

Jyotsna Studio Mahesh Padmanabhanagar 2010 (53)

Jyotsna Srikanth will be appearing at the Blue Lamp on Thursday Nov 19

With thanks to Rob Adams.

Jyotsna Srikanth has become used to people telling her that she makes her instrument sing.

It’s a compliment that the violinist from Bangalore appreciates for sure but as she points out, it’s actually just confirmation that she’s doing her job properly.

“In the Carnatic tradition that I trained in everything is based on the voice,” she says.

“To play any phrase, whether your instrument is a melody instrument or a drum, you have to be able to sing it. So it’s always lovely to hear someone say I make the violin sing but if I wasn’t doing that, back home I wouldn’t be considered very good!”

Srikanth’s first experience of violin music, at a concert in Bangalore at the age of five, was life-changing. So taken was she by the instrument that when she got home she ran to the kitchen cupboard, dragged out two brooms and started scraping them together to try and recreate the sound she’d just heard.

“My mother thought I’d gone mad,” says the now London-based violinist who brings her Bangalore Dreams group to the Blue Lamp on Thursday, November 19.

“But I was desperate to hear that sound again.”

Srikanth’s mother, a respected singer in Indian music, had already begun training her to follow in her footsteps with six hours of daily practice. So it took a lot of pleading from Srikanth to persuade her mother to buy her a violin.

Even then, Srikanth’s mother used her motherly wiles to ensure that practice schedules were maintained. There was a bakery next door and by four in the afternoon the aromas of fresh baking would waft into their house.

“I’d get promised a bun or something else tempting if I worked on the exercises I’d been given,” says Srikanth.

“And the bribery worked!”

She made her concert debut at the age of nine and then in her mid-teens she started her training in Western techniques at Bangalore School of Music, going on to gain her grades from the Royal School of Music in London before studying to become a pathologist.

“Playing music for a living is a precarious lifestyle and I was unsure about turning fully professional until my husband got the chance of a job in London in 2004,” she says.

LIAF launch-Jyotsna playing4_12Jul12Combining pathology with music didn’t hinder her playing time, however, and she worked on some 250 Bollywood film soundtracks as well as playing concerts, eventually establishing a reputation that has now seen her regarded as the leading Indian violinist in Europe.

With Bangalore Dreams, where she’s joined by keyboardist-pianist Shadrach Solomon and drummer Manjunath NS, she ventures into jazz and rock rhythms while still using the techniques and expression she’s developed through her Carnatic music training.

“It’s a lot of fun to play with these musicians,” she says.

“They’re very serious about their music but they’re always looking to try new ideas and to bring modern ways of playing together with traditional values. Manjunath NS is brilliant. People will love what he does especially as he can play Indian percussion, is a fantastic, swinging kit drummer and he has the skill of vocalising what he’s playing, so what you get in Bangalore Dreams is strong melodies, a lot of improvisation and rhythmical vocals that are the equivalent of Carnatic beatboxing.”

Jyotsna Srikanth
Blue Lamp, 121 Gallowgate.
Thurs Nov 19, 8pm
£12 admission.
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Oct 222015

Philip Clouts Jazz Quartet_©Lucas Aliaga-Hurt-1With thanks to Rob Adams.

Pianist Philip Clouts’ quartet plays the Blue Lamp in Gallowgate on Thursday, October 29 as part of a UK tour to mark the release of a new album, Umoya, one of the first releases on the new jazz imprint of American classical label Odradek.

It’s an album that confirms the Cape Town-born Clouts’ ongoing love affair with South African music as well as encompassing rhythms and melodies from around the world.

“Jazz and world music have been important to me throughout my musical life,” says Clouts, who grew up in London.

“I’m inspired by both the freedom of jazz and the rootedness of world music with its sense of dance, community and spirituality. Listening to both genres always suggests a variety of rhythmical, harmonic and melodic approaches.”

Although he came over to the UK from Cape Town with his family as a young child in the early 1960s, Clouts grew up hearing the music of his homeland thanks to his parents having brought their favourite records with them.

After his two older brothers began taking piano lessons, he impressed the family by picking up what his siblings were playing by ear. His own piano lessons didn’t go so well initially but hearing the great British pianist Stan Tracey on a television programme when he was twelve attracted him to jazz and made him take the instrument more seriously.

He later formed the band Zubop and toured all over the UK, playing jazz with a definite South African flavour, before he moved to his current home in Dorset where he put together a quartet that continues the African connection and embraces his other musical influences. Sufi music, Nigerian dance rhythms and folk music from Romania and Southern Italy, as well as gospel music, all figure in his latest compositions.

His quartet currently features saxophonist Samuel Eagles, bass guitarist Alex Keen and the Yamaha Jazz Scholarship-winning drummer Dave Ingamells, all players who have, says Clouts, taken to the multi-cultural mix of his music with real enthusiasm.

“Umoya is the Zulu word for ‘life force’. It can also be translated as ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ and I’m really pleased with the way Sam, Alex and Dave bring out these aspects out of the music,” says Clouts.

“We played at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen about a year ago, with a slightly different line-up, and we’ve heard a lot about the Blue Lamp being the best jazz venue in Scotland. So we’re really looking forward to being back up there.”

May 012015

Benzie 2 With thanks to Rob Adams.

He became a star student at one of America’s most prestigious music schools but Alan Benzie, who returns to the Blue Lamp on Thursday, May 7, was in demand as a jazz pianist while he was still at school here in Scotland.

Now twenty-five, Benzie was a pupil at St Mary’s music school in Edinburgh, where he originally studied violin, when the owner of the Jazz Bar in the capital, Bill Kyle, used to phone him, sometimes at the last minute, to come over and play with some of the best musicians on the touring circuit.

“I remember once getting a call just after I’d gone to bed,” says Benzie.

“It was Bill, phoning to say that the pianist he’d booked hadn’t turned up and asking if I could deputise. So I got up, had a quick shower, got dressed, dashed over to Chambers Street, and played the gig.”

His experiences at the award-winning venue were not always quite so impromptu. As a teenager who had shown considerable promise, he had been asked to play the Saturday afternoon slot regularly and he would later go on to play residencies at the club with musicians including the Russian trumpeter Valery Ponomarev and American vibes player Joe Locke.

Once he arrived at Berklee, after winning the inaugural Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year competition in 2007, Benzie played with other notable musicians including saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi and Joshua Redman. He also won the college’s Jazz Performance Award in 2008, the Alex Ulanowski Award for outstanding composition in 2009 and 2010, and the Billboard Magazine Endowed Scholarship, which is given to the year’s outstanding student, in 2010.

Such achievements couldn’t have been further from Benzie’s mind when he began studying violin at St Mary’s. He enjoyed playing the instrument and sat in on the school’s monthly jazz classes but when he heard Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson, whose trio EST enjoyed huge worldwide popularity in the early 2000s, he decided he had to become a pianist.

Svensson, who died in a diving accident aged forty-four in 2008, became a mentor to Benzie as the pair had long conversations about music on EST’s frequent visits to Scotland.

Now Benzie is leading his own trio, featuring Edinburgh-born, London-based Andrew Robb (bass) and Hungarian drummer Marton Juhasz, and releases his first album, Traveller’s Tales, this month. It features music inspired by his own travels.

“I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in different places and this has had a big impact on the way I look at the world and how I write music. I also love a good yarn,” he says.

“All of the tunes on the album have a story behind them, some of longer ones being like diary entries and the shorter ones more like capturing an image.”

And although his travels have taken him to play at some of the world’s best known venues and festivals, he still has a soft spot for the Blue Lamp, where he last appeared two years ago.

“Speak to musicians in London and from places further afield and if they discover you’re from Scotland, they almost inevitably mention the Lampie, as everyone seems to know it,” he says.

“It’s a great room with a special atmosphere and I’m really looking forward to being back there.”