I started with an archlute in 1994 (coming from a classical guitar background) and was immediately called upon to play in many ensembles, the first being The Scottish Early Music Consort, who asked me to join them for a short tour of England, Ireland and Scotland, performing excerpts from Monteverdi operas. I had to learn figured bass reading in a week (!) before the first concert in Belfast, and also master the instrument. Well, I never did master the archlute, but managed to do reasonably well in the continuo department. In retrospect, figured-bass reading formed the best musical education I ever had.
I soon started work on the solo Scottish lute repertoire from the Rowallan and Straloch manuscripts, and formed a duo with early harp specialist, William Taylor, called the Rowallan Consort – every group had to be called “consort” in those days! I started doing solo concerts, and recorded my first solo album, called Flowers of the Forest..and here it is:
To my great surprise, that went to the Number One position in the Scottish Classical Music Chart [The Scotsman]! With some financial help from the Scottish Arts Council and the Russell Trust, I managed to amass a few instruments: a 10c lute by Dallas Sutherland, a mandour by Peter Forrester, and an 18th-century wire-strung “guittar”.
I found myself being in demand for a while, with concerts and radio broadcasts, and was also granted a Churchill Fellowship to study music I knew nothing about. I soon found myself in Istanbul studying Turkish classical music with a Turkish oud, and in Morocco studying their style of oud playing – until 9/11 happened, bringing a sharp end to my studies there.
My second album was called The Healing, and included not only more selections from the Scottish lute manuscripts, but also some new compositions. And here it is:
The final track, The Healing, was my reaction to the 9/11 attacks.
In those days I was not too focussed on complete lute authenticity. I used nylon trebles and copper-wound basses, and my technique was just what came natural to me, but I did play without nails. The recordings were also done in a modern “rock band” type studio, with close mic-ing and digital reverb.
More recordings followed of Scottish music, including the complete “Twelve Divertimentis for Guittar” by James Oswald, which along with the first two solo albums became my third Number One album in Scotland. But, I was not happy with the music scene and also my own playing. I gave up performing and teaching – I had been Lecturer in Lute and Guitar at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and also at Napier University – and took some time out earning a living in a library, and being a father.
Meanwhile the world was changing, and it became possible to make recordings and videos from home. I preferred this much more, and to date have about 300 YouTube videos and a good few hours of SoundCloud sound files.
I now feel a new lease of life to record music from the baroque period, with gut strings on appropriate instruments. A house sale has released some money for two or three instruments, and I have started with a French théorbe de pièces by Adrian and Lawrence Dodd, more on that later. I have commissioned a 12c lute from Dodd Lutherie, and also something-to-be-decided from Jiri Cepelak. I’m tempted by a six-string gallichon with a string length of a mere 92cms! It’s the only continuo lute which can play chromatic bass lines as written.
My intention is to discuss the background to these instruments, upload sound files and videos, and also discuss aspects of interpretation. Your comments and questions will always be welcome. I also teach via Zoom.