📷 Photo by Dougie Cunningham (Leading Lines Photography)

Well, I’m sure we can all say that it’s been a bit of a journey over the past couple of years. My experience of this journey began when I moved away from Glasgow, back to the Highlands and to the area of Ross-shire, fairly close to where I grew up in Inverness-Shire. It’s a rural setting with a mixture of landscapes; mountains, firths, lochs, villages… and not too far from the City of Inverness. Not long after moving home, we found ourselves in lockdown. I had just relocated and rebuilt my home studio and had no way to proceed with any projects or album recording with other musicians and bands due to the restrictions.

I realised that this was both a curse and a blessing and so I decided to use my studio for myself and just be creative. It’s the first time I’ve been able to freely create music in what felt like a long time. I would compose chord patterns, sequence arpeggios on synthesizers and process them through various effects pedals, create rhythms and beats using found sounds, use software to make evolving drone sounds using recordings of my voice. I had no particular goal other than to create something that was expressive in some way and made me feel good. The release of this creativity really helped me get through what were some pretty grim times… it was escapism and I loved it.

After a number of months and when restrictions eased, I was able to venture out into the nearby rural areas and explore. These small journeys into the woods or up to the local foothills and lochs really helped me through it all… and also brought me lots of inspiration.

I started taking my portable recorder and a couple of microphones with me on these journeys so that I could capture the sounds I was hearing. There was definitely a reduction in noise polution around that time, with fewer cars out on the roads and pretty much no air traffic either. It made for a great opportunity to capture quiet recordings with relative ease… I say ease… it was still tricky! You have to be super quiet and keep still for a number of minutes at a time… I found that I could just start a recording and then sit a small distance away from the device and take in the surroundings… It’s a hugely mindful experience.

Photo by Abi Lightbody

Back at my home studio ‘Rose Croft Studio’, I was able to select my favourite recordings and use them as soundbeds and as inspiration for new tracks. I could also cut out individual sounds from the recordings and make virtual instruments using drum pads, then create composed rhythms using these organic sounds. Many of the drum sounds on the title track ‘Breathing Space’ were made using recordings of my local woods, like twigs snapping or chunks of wood dropped on the forest floor. All of this contributed to my own unique sound palette and music that I feel strongly connected to.

After developing lots of ideas using the found sounds, synthesizers and chord sequences, I could see that patterns had developed in the music and that actually, perhaps, a potential album was emerging.

So, with the help of Creative Scotland, I was able put serious plans in place to make this my own album. Something that I’ve not done before, despite having made many albums as a guitarist and all of the many albums I’ve made for other musicians as an engineer and a producer.

I decided that I wanted to develop all of my ideas by writing melodies that could be played on traditional instruments like flute and fiddle. Normally the tune writing would be the first part of my process, but here I was writing to fit already constructed chord sequences and arrangment forms… this felt unusual, but the results were really pleasing and felt unique. Some tunes have parts that are longer than what would be deemed normal, or others have dropped bars, like 12 bars rather than 16.

Being a guitarist, you would think that I would be putting guitar on my album, however for a long while I wasn’t sure if I was going to have any guitar at all. I didn’t think it needed it… and I was enjoying the different direction I was going in. However after writing the melodies, I realised that three of them felt great to play and it contributed to a nice instrument balance overall on the album. For the fiddle and flute tunes, I was able to call upon the expertise of some musician friends to bring these melodies to life, people who I’ve performed with in the past or recorded albums with; Lauren MacColl, Hamish Napier, Laura Wilkie, Innes Watson and Ali Hutton.

The album was starting to take shape and I needed to think about the aesthetics. So I called upon the talents of photogragher, designer and long time friend Somhairle MacDonald. We spent a couple of days revisiting all the places that I had been collecting all my sound recordings; The Beauly Firth, Spittal Wood, the foothills of Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Orrin. Somhairle managed to photograph these places in wide panoramic format and really captured the concept I was going for and the title of the album ‘Breathing Space’. So much so that I had to go for a wider CD design than originally planned in order to accomodate the stunning landscape shots! It was worth it as these photos really pull together the inspiration for the album with the resulting music. A wee note on the design – the pink circles on the album cover and the read streak on the inside cover were created using a headtorch which I was swinging about in the air in long exposure photos… a lot of fun!

Now back to the music. Once all the instruments had been recorded, I was able to move on to the final creative stages of post production and make sure all the desired finishing touches were in place. I mixed the album at Rose Croft Studio and then sent it off for mastering and CD manufacture. The album ‘Breathing Space’ was ready to be released and I could breathe a sigh of relief! I had created my own album from start to finish and had done so in a way that felt hugely personal to me but also greatly reflected my experiences over the last couple of years.