Tuesday 14 November 2023

Creageivity Podcast - featuring Old Man Thompson

Hello again, 

this is a short entry to bookmark the day I was interviewed by the makers of 'Creageivity' podcast, Adrienne Thomas and Harlan Cockburn. They quizzed me about all sorts of aspects of my creative life and I had to answer everything straight off-the-cuff. For a while I was really worried that I may have made no sense at all as I contemplated the erratic scope of my life's ramblings. However, the edited version brought forth the key points with aplomb and actually, I was pleasantly surprised by what I had to say on the matter! 

It's not often I enjoy hearing the sound of my own voice but on this occassion it was actually alright - something must've happened to my self-perception over the last few years. Maybe it's got something to do with turning 60 this year - the twilight years beckon!

So if you are interested in the mechanisms of perpetuating creativity into the later years of ones life then I can heartily recommend all the episodes of this podcast as a source of inspiration. I was also delighted to discover that the previous episode to mine had featured my former art school mentor Steve McDade who really was an inspiration to all of us fine art students at Chichester University. 

Enjoy the Cast :)


All episodes at Creageivity Podcast homepage on Buzzsprout.

Saturday 9 September 2023

Souterrain Sounds - A Song Recording Archive


My partner Rebecca Sharp and I started a small imprint for the various hard copy publications that we were generating - mini plays, collaborative arts books, poetry and the odd cassette release. It's called Souterrain Press and lives over here. It occurred to me that I also had a vast archive of recorded material with no physical manifestation and that some of this stuff should really be 'out there'. It's a familiar story I'm sure, literally millions of songs recorded and left on hard drives all over the world. Much of this music and spoken word gets a platform on Bandcamp and other streaming services but a lot of it never sees the light of day. Although there are millions of songs everywhere you look these days, I feel a curated collection is a good place to find new music - at least you then have some sort of human interjection.

All of the music on Souterrain Sounds is curated by myself and represents a really grassroots collection of recordings made by musicians and poets that I've had the pleasure to work with over the years. These days I find myself far more interested in these sort of DIY musical recordings and mostly end up listening to very underground stuff whilst driving around to my piano tuning day jobs. Being a fanatical archivist it gives me a lot of pleasure to assemble and publish the artistic pursuits of unknown musicians recorded over the decades. I don't know that it serves any real great purpose given the niche aspect of it and the overwhelming number of songs already streaming online, but I do like to think that maybe one day, some future generations might find a little 'enchantment' being able to listen to the compositions of their distant ancestors and have a laugh at grandad's attempts at songwriting. 

Sometimes I actually have a hard time persuading songwriters to let me include their stuff on Souterrain Sounds as they can be a bit unsure of letting the public hear what they've made but I reckon much more music will be added as it is unearthed from the souterrain repository and not forgetting, of course, any 'new' things may cross my path along the way.

Anyway, head over to the site and have a look around, see what you can find.

Here's a few samples to whet your appetite:

Thursday 17 November 2022

Old Man Thompson - Tales from the Arbour


Old Man Thompson was a prolific songwriter based in Scotland. Although he moved around the world and lived in many locations, he eventually came to rest in the great Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. The family home at Gable's End is now the location of the song archive that houses Old Man Thompson's entire recorded output - mainly on old tapes and cassettes.

From time to time his estate release newly digitised copies of his songs, posting them online for friends an family to enjoy. You will see from these initial releases that OMT was always at pains to reflect the natural environment in his songs and music, drawing in particular, on the time spent in his latter years at his beloved Gable's End with his partner Gretchen Blunt.

Here is an example track, visit the Old Man Thompson Bandcamp page for more recordings and info.


Front Lines - an album of original songs by veterans

2022 Sees the end of a nine month long song writing project with Stand Easy Productions.
Beginning way back in January, I made contact with Stand Easy participants across Scotland to write and produce an album's worth of new songs. The song ideas and lyrics were written by the group and an eclectic mix of styles and genres resulted from the musical tastes of the writers themselves. This album has everything from folk ballads to full on wig-out guitar rock and gentle spoken word poetry and prose. For my part I did a great deal of driving to the homes of veterans based everywhere from Glasgow and Falkirk up to Kirriemuir, Dunkeld and Carnoustie.

It took quite some time for the songs to take shape and there was a fair bit of back-and-forth relaying of recordings and lyrical ideas. This operation took almost nine months to complete along with the recording and post production sections but I'm extremely pleased with the results. It never ceases to amaze me how non-songwriters can, with a little guidance, produce such great and original works. Some of the songs are based on personal experiences and are very moving whilst others are written purely to accommodate the style of music we were aiming for - but the sentiments are always powerful and relevant.

All songs are produced by myself and the following participants:

Iain Kinloch, Alf Megson, Susan Dunham, Billy McWilliams,Caron Benecke,
Gary McQuade, Stephen Watt, Colin Carrol.

You can find out more about Stand Easy Productions and the work they do here

Here's a link to the Bandcamp album playlist, have a listen and I hope you enjoy!

Friday 18 December 2020

Songwriting with Ex Forces Veterans

2020 has been a very strange year, but despite its challenges I still managed to produce some great music with 'Stand Easy Productions'. Stand Easy are a live performance organisation setup with the intention of supporting sick and traumatised war veterans through engagement with live theatre arts. This year however, due to the restrictions of the lockdown, a new approach was pioneered using video production as a vehicle for theatrical and musical expression.

It was a great pleasure to be asked to contribute to this project in the capacity of musical director. Over the course of an intensive four week period we worked together in a carefully monitored bubble, doing our best to stay healthy and safe. It was a real challenge to compose songs and produce video while masked and socially distanced. There were some tense and difficult moments when the material brought up intense feelings for some of the participants but everyone held-fast and we managed to get through the process and produce some great songs and video pieces along the way.

Here's a few lines from the Stand Easy Productions website outlining their mission statement:

Stand Easy works with Wounded, Injured and Sick Ex-Forces participants, using drama activities to help their recovery. Most of our Ex-Forces are with us because of mental health issues and the majority of these are Post Traumatic Stress related.  We already work with one blind participant, and would encourage others with sight impairment to join us; we also work with Ex-Forces who suffer from isolation and have withdrawn from usual social contact.

We don’t expect participants to have previous experience of drama, nor do we aim to create actors – this is about the re-engaging of skills already possessed, including:  courage, teamwork, communication skills, a sense of humour, concentration, self-discipline, etc.  Stand Easy aims to add creativity and imagination to that list and to reduce stress and anxiety. 

Stand Easy Productions are an amazing group of directors, producers and filmmakers who strive to engage with ex-army veterans to explore emotional healing through drama, music, and the arts. 
Here's a link to their website: http://standeasyproductions.org 

At the foot of this page is a video made for one of the songs. This song, 'The Heron' was composed by myself and Billy McWilliams. Billy loves music but had never dabbled with songwriting before. He was very taken by the presence of a heron standing in the river outside the community centre and it occurred to us both that the quiet solitude of the heron was a fitting metaphor for so much of what was going on for people this year.

I'm really pleased with the mellow vibe of this track which includes a lovely bit of clarsach (Scots lever harp) accompaniment provided by Rebecca Sharp. 

Thursday 4 June 2020

Songwriting Workshop at Falkland

A very cold and frosty Sunday in December 2018 saw a group of shivering songwriting talents arrive at the workshop space in Falkland's Centre for Stewardship. It was truly chilly outside but we soon had a roaring fire going and things began to warm up in no time. 

After the obligatory round of coffee, welcomes and introductions I presented the group with a bespoke PowerPoint presentation on songwriters and their words of wisdom covering everyone from Jimmy Webb to Carol King and beyond.

Next, I introduced the 'seven stories' concept and some of the basic ideas behind narrative songwriting techniques. To demonstrate this I showed how I had come to create the Dundee Back Stories Songbook using a year of local newspaper headlines and I went into some detail on the the creation of one of the resulting songs - Deadline Carriageway the terrifying tale of an errant gritter wagon at rush hour!

After lunch everyone proceeded to find a quiet(ish) space to hone or write their own songs and some very worthy collaborations took root at that point. Amazingly, in the space of one day everyone was able to present an original song at the showcase event that evening. Mulled wine and mince pies were served to the frozen arrivals who duly took to their seats for the evening's entertainment. 

I have to say I think everyone rose spectacularly to the occasion and I was deeply impressed by the songs I heard - not to mention the bravery and goodwill that was present in that room. To the audience, performers and staff at the centre,


We are hosting another event in March 2019 at the Centre for Stewardship and this time I'll be focusing on site specific songwriting, looking at some classic examples and then setting out on some song crafting of our own - can't wait!

Tuesday 1 January 2019

Dighty Times Songbook

Songs rooted in the local, this time Dundee's Dighty burn. Over a period of 2 months I worked with a group of 12 adults at Fintry community centre to create a suite of songs based on memories and reflections of growing up and living near the Dighty. Once a working tributary running through the heart of the city it was the lifeblood to industry, agriculture and community life.

Using a variety of songwriting and creative writing techniques the group gradually produced a series of songs acknowledging personal reflections on life near the Dighty water. Amazingly, most of the group had no songwriting experience and very little instrumental expertise.

During this process, I was able to use my own musical and songwriting abilities to suggest and provide musical ideas upon which to hang and structure the incredible lyrical ideas that the group produced. Perhaps the most rewarding part of the process was to witness the individuals actually perform their own songs in front of a microphone and be recorded. This was not something that I had initially imagined would happen and it was a wonderful surprise.

Here's what some of the participants said:

  • "This song writing group is a great community, it makes developing ideas and playing a lot eaisier for me."

  • "I have been inspired by the whole group; I shall continue to write songs, laugh and strum my guitar - most enjoyable, thanks everyone!"
  • "I feel like part of a worthwhile project and have learned more in the past few weeks than I have in almost 30 years experience of playing folk music."

Towards the end of the project we recorded the songs very quickly and spontaneously into a small portable recorder and there was a time restraint which hastened this rough and ready approach. The resulting recordings embody a refreshing and unselfconscious honesty - a DIY spirit of musicality.

Following on from the concept of the Backstories newspaper songbook which was hand screenprinted, this songbook was commercially produced by the Newspaper Club as a tabloid publication.

Please have a listen to the songs of the Dighty water on Bandcamp or just use the embedded player below. The free collection download also includes a PDF of the finished songbook, enjoy!

(You can also snag a PDF of the songbook on its own by clicking here)

Sunday 13 September 2015

Back Stories Online

The launch of the 'Back Stories' songbook at the Duncan of Jordanstone masters show in Dundee was a great success and I was fortunate to be invited to perform songs from the collection every lunchtime at the Dundee City Commons Festival hosted at Roseangle Arts Cafe. It was a great opportunity to be able to perform the songs to the public in a live setting. It also gave me a chance to explain the origins and context of the work and to distribute copies of the songbook - nice to see people reading the lyrics and sometimes actually singing along as I performed the songs.

Since graduating I've been documenting and archiving my work and part of this has involved creating an online presence for some of the projects, so here is a link to the Back Stories Songbook site where you can read about the project listen to the tunes and see the manuscripts and newspaper articles that inspired the songs. Enjoy.

You can also download a PDF of the song book here.

Monday 7 September 2015

The P.P. Bell Archive

P.P. Bell

My great grandfather Patrick (P.P.) Bell was a well known entertainer in Dundee between 1895 and 1943.The recent discovery of a songbook compiled by his son Hugh Wilson Bell sparked a trail of research and discovery into the life and times of my musical ancestor and resulted in an extensive archive project which contributed to the overall research base of my masters degree at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design here in Dundee.

Having recently completed my masters degree I have begun the task of archiving my research on the web and presenting my findings to the public. This project informed and propelled much of the work I have since done on local and vernacular creativity and especially the role of context sensitive song and poetry in relation to cultural and historical commentary. It in turn led on to the creation of my own 'Back Stories' Dundee songbook in 2015...(more on that to follow).

The P.P. Bell Archive site can be found here


Thursday 27 August 2015

Back Stories Songbook

2015 sees the completion of my masters degree at Duncan of Jordanstone here in Dundee. It has been heartening to see my 'Back Stories' songbook project return full circle to its source - The Dundee Courier and Advertiser.

They've published a very nice article that gives the whole whole project a lovely cyclical sense of completion. Here's a wee video they shot of me sitting on Broughty Ferry sea front singing the song 'Victoria' that I wrote about the new V&A building in Dundee. Thanks Courier.

Read the full Courier article here.

Visit the Back Stories Songbook website here

Friday 14 August 2015

Songs Of The City - Update

My 'Songs of the City' poetry/art project was featured recently on a short local television news article by STV here in Dundee. It was a Monday morning when they filmed this....say no more.

Visit Songs of the City website here.

(Many thanks are due to Jag Betty for bringing it to the awareness of the media. Jag also has a page about his local exploration activities here : https://www.facebook.com/strangeplacesinscotland/timeline)

Monday 1 September 2014

A Baxter Park Of The Mind

Last week I participated in a 'micro' residency in Dundee's Baxter Park as part of 'May Meet In Mutual' organised by Emma & Katie Reid. Charged with the task of creating a site responsive work I spent two days in collaboration with Pauline M. Hynd an artist who grew up in Eden Street right opposite the main park gates. It was a great chance for me to take my current practice and apply it to a new situation. As you may be aware I am very much engaged with notions surrounding local cultural value and the connection between creativity and sense of place. Baxter Park having been a kind of hub for generations of Stobswell residents served as a rich canvas upon which we could deposit stories and poems that sprang up from Pauline's memory.

As we accumulated our materials in the form of photographs, texts and audio recordings it occured to me that my modus operandi has become very much like a vessel into which I can pour any site specific content and then connect that content to the place through the combined use of a website and the lithographic plate technique of physical intervention into the landscape - the same method I employed in 'Songs Of The City'. Finding a plate attached to a building or bench is an open invitation for the casual pedestrian to make a direct cognitive connection between the actual physical landscape and the unseen inspirational landscape of the mind. It's a way of celebrating the spirit of the place and acknowledging its influence upon the character and nature of the creativity that flows out from there.

'Father Time' - litho plate in situ on Daisy Hill where Pauline went sledging as a child.
It seems at the outset that some of the residents have been moved by the articulation of these memories and that this work really resonates with people who know the area well. It is also interesting to note that there was for some of the locals a sense of anxiety about embracing the idea of an artistic practice and we later found out that several of them who knew about the project were too afraid to attend the presentation, as if it were somehow an alien or threatening space, perhaps the sight of us strange arty types through the glass walls of the rangers centre put them off a bit?

Pauline's texts and spoken word stories portray a local vernacular landscape rich in the Dundee tongue and also evoke a strong sense of her early years through a period when the park became very run down and neglected in the 1980's - 'Pivvy Wa' is a great example of this.

This project has extended the reach of my work and proved that this methodology can be transposed onto many scenarios. The addition of audio recordings is an exciting development and one that adds an extra layer of richness to the experience. Two days is not much time in which to gather, collate and assemble a website and to fabricate and situate several lithographic plates let alone write all the material, grade all the photographs and do a presentation! It was an exhausting stint but one which left us feeling inspired and delighted by our achievements. Here's to the next one!

A Baxter Park Of The Mind

Tuesday 5 August 2014

The North Uist Solargraph Experiment

Back in March of this year (2014) I took a 4-pack of Guinness, a box of 5 x 7 photographic paper, a pin, some gaffer tape and a few sheets of black card out to the Isle of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
The trip itself was something quite amazing during which some rather nasty weather caused a whole series of wonderful events to unfold. Our intended itinerary had to be thrown out as we became stranded on the Isle of Skye waiting for the Uig to Loch Maddy ferry to sail. After two rather wonderful and unexpected days of being holed up in a hostel in Portree, the storm finally broke and we were able to get over to Uist.

Uist seemed to me to be what I would describe as a 'thin' place. A place where the veil between life and death is quite ..well - thin. It is a place where nature encroaches a great deal into the life of the place, a place where ferocious storms can rip your home to pieces and where the mighty Atlantic Ocean can flood into fields and destroy agriculture for years. It is also a place where the power goes off and entire families and flocks of sheep are washed out to sea. It seems to be about 50% water with a road and a few pieces of boggy land leading up to modest mountains dotted with neolithic stones and barrows here and there. But it is also a magical place where the tenuous thread of existence can be seen for what it is.

And so it was that our group sat around playing music, drinking and fashioning 4 pinhole cameras or should I say 'solargraph machines' according to the technique prescribed by Justin Quinnell on his wonderfully informative pinholephotography.org website. These cameras are designed to stay outside for 6 months or more and the images they etch onto the photo paper require no chemical development, you just take them out and scan them - no dark rooms or safelights required for any part of this process.

When my friend Laura who lives on Uist returned them to me in August I found that many of the cans were crushed and deformed, and also leaking with water in them. They had, after all been thrashed by the elements for nearly half a year as they hung bravely on - tethered as they were to various fence posts and boulders.

And so it was with some trepidation that I opened the tins and pulled the sodden photo paper out and onto the scanner. Amazingly there were images there! Ghostly dreamlike things that brought back memories of that strange and magical trip.

Suspension bridge leading to North Uist's very own camera obscura.

Mysterious poly-tunnel appeared sometime after this camera was mounted

Really messed up but I like the little angel lights at the top of this one.

See how the trace of the sun climbs daily higher in the sky during the onset of summer.