Playing Gigs to Make Money to Buy Strings to Do More Gigs to Break More Strings – by Luc McNally


My name is Luc, I play the guitar and bouzouki, and the guitar-bouzouki, as well as singing. I grew up in Dipton, an ex-industrial village in County Durham, and lived in Newcastle for a year but I’ve been in Glasgow for 6 years now. I really, really love music.

I’m writing this from the back of a van on the Autobahn. I’m 6 gigs into a 19-long stretch in Germany with the ‘Young Scots Trad Awards Winner Tour’ (disclaimer: I haven’t ever won a Trad Award) with Paddy Callaghan, Charlie Stewart and Iona Fyfe; which is a pretty lovely band to be put into!

Celtic Connections, which was pretty full on as always, finished a day before this tour began so my guitar and I are both weary in body but fairly invigorated in general. I’ll be turning 25 tomorrow (the 13th), and so far, my life as a musician has mostly resembled this situation, albeit with different combinations of people and not usually for such a long stretch of time!

I’ll start by describing the nature of these gigs. Here’s a rundown of the format:

Charlie (15 mins)

We had a setlist at the beginning but that soon got discarded. Charlie and I have played together so much over the last 5/6 years that we can practically throw together a set on the spot, consisting of some tunes and songs as set pieces, mostly held together by some improvised bits and pieces and general messing about. We’re not too good at hiding our slight dishevelment and disorganisation but quite often audiences seem to enjoy this.

Iona (15 mins)

Iona has an incredible voice. Again, I’m very comfortable with her material because of the last 2/3 years of gigging so for this segment I get to close my eyes and attempt to complement some poetic and sweet ‘sangs’. Sometimes I forget I’m meant to sing backing vocals too and have to scrabble around for my vocal mic when I come out of the trance.

Paddy (15 mins)

Polkas, slides, a hymn, loads of reels. In other words, mega fun. As well as being an incredible button box player (I used to try to play this instrument, but Paddy tends to put my knowledge of it into STARK RELIEF) he builds the best rapport with any audience, tailoring his patter to the situation and never failing to get a laugh. Him, with Adam Brown on the guitar, playing tunes was one of my first memorable Glasgow experiences so this segment of the show is a buzz for me!


A mixture of the above, also very good craic. I am exhausted by the end and my guitar is too. <Internal monologue> I hope Charlie and I sold enough CDs to pay for the pack of strings I just destroyed.

All in all, doing what we love for decent pay. The other 21 hours of the day are spent in the aforementioned van, in various bars, and in whatever room I end up in, trying to write music. I think I suit this way of life alright, but I do miss being able to go walking about whenever I want, so I do that whenever I can.

Aside from what I’m doing at this very moment, I thought I’d give you an impression of what my day-to-day looks like as well. I do lots of playing when I’m at home, as well as locking myself in my room with various instruments, mics and a laptop and pretending I know what I’m doing with recording and mixing. That’s a work in progress.

My bread and butter, though, is sessions. I tend to host 3-5 of them a week and if I’m bored or sleepless – happens a lot – I’ll go to others to listen or join in. You’re spoilt for choice in Glasgow, with some of the best tune players and backers out and about all the time. A text around or a glance at social media tends to reveal who is where and what they’re playing. And if there’s any pints left on the drinks tab. This, more than anything, has been my education in music; it feels a bit like the coalface for new tunes and songs. The ones that people don’t get sick of stick around and become part of the tradition. That’s the thing that sets trad music apart from other forms of it to me. Running concurrently with the trad sessions is a thriving jazz scene, which for me is fascinating having no education or ability with that discipline. If the trad session is full or you’re a bit sick of tunes, or like me you want to learn something, you can go to a ton of different places to hear some of the best young improvisers absolutely blowing the mind of anyone who’ll listen. What a place Glasgow is man.

I don’t really know what I was trying to say with this blog. I don’t really have any complaints about how it’s all going, and maybe I’ve just described a segment of my life, but I hope some of it was interesting to you anyway. I’m always up for meeting and playing with new people so if anyone wants a tune or a pint or a general chat, I’m around. Maybe in one of the sessions or a park. Cheers to Tina Rees for asking me to write this – it’s helped pass a fairly interminable car journey.

I’m not very savvy with formatting but I’ve included a link to my Facebook and Instagram pages, where I tend to put up videos of music stuff as regularly as I can as well as news about gigs and that. Well done if you made it this far down the page. Love yas.