Andy has for some years now been one of Scotland’s busiest musicians, covering just about every musical genre imaginable (and a few that weren’t, until he got his hands on them). Having worked the circuit from classical to country, jazz to folk, easy listening to rock’n’roll, on both sides of the Atlantic, he has latterly carved out a niche as one of the most skilful, versatile and sought-after pianists on the contemporary Celtic scene.
In addition to playing with bands such as Babelfish, Blazin’ Fiddles (Best Live Act, 2004 Scots Trad Music Award), The Loveboat Big Band, and The Ghillies, Andy has emerged in recent years as a composer of increasing note, whether writing traditional-style tunes, extended ensemble works, or music for theatre and dance productions. He has served as musical director on a string of high-profile projects; juggles numerous teaching commitments in schools, colleges and youth music festivals; is increasingly in demand as a creative manuscript typesetter, and advises the government on music curriculum development in schools
In 1999, having been awarded a prestigious New Voices commission by the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Andy premiered the widely acclaimed Tuath gu Deas, a choral work for twelve voices, written in Scots, Gaelic, English and Latin. Other major projects include Highland Wedding in 2000, featuring 250 Scottish schoolchildren and performed in London’s Millennium Dome, of which Andy was musical director. Gluaseachd an Chuain Siar saw him in the same role, working with seven top Gaelic singers to create the opening concert of the 2003 Hebridean Celtic Festival, on the isle of Lewis, while The Song of Wick was another grand-scale community production, staged in Caithness.
It was during this last show that Andy stumbled across the Steinway grand he plays on Piano. It’s housed at Ackergill Tower, a 15th century clifftop castle perched precipitously on Scotland’s northeast coast, which is also home to a private musical society.
“It’s a particularly nice piano,” he says, “and perfect for one of the things I wanted to do with the album, which was really to capture that live sound and texture of the hammer hitting the string – and then all the different things that a piano can do with that basic mechanism. There’s a real atmosphere at Ackergill, too: all sorts of horrible things happened there hundreds of years ago, when the local clans were fighting each other. We recorded there in December, too, when it was all dark and stormy, so it really got quite spooky sometimes.”
The material on Piano has been drawn from a variety of sources. Several pieces were originally composed for theatre or dance productions, including the much-loved “Marni Swanson of the Grey Coast”, which is fast becoming a contemporary folk standard. There are melodies lifted from both Highland Wedding and The Song of Wick; others penned in tribute to a person or favourite landscape, between them ranging widely in style from lively dance tunes to lyrical slow airs.
“A lot of them are tunes that had somehow taken on a life of their own, often through other artists having played them,” Andy says. “The way it’s worked out, too, there’s roughly one tune from each of the last ten years, so that feels quite apt, and satisfying. I’m not one for making great statements, but to me the album feels like an expression of where I am today as a musician, and how I’ve got here.”