THE DAWNING – by Graham Mackenzie

📷 by Somhairle Macdonald

January 2020 and rehearsals had begun for my second studio album ‘The Dawning’ in the living room of my Glasgow flat. The music was coming together nicely, the studio was booked and I had finally cracked the availability code of five extremely busy musicians. And then we know what happened… Fast forward 18 months and I gave the album another push after waiting on restrictions to be lifted. However, during that time I was able to reflect on my initial ideas, develop them and try to envisage the final product a little more. I’m delighted that the outcome has been extremely rewarding for me musically.

It’s now six years since I released my debut album ‘Crossing Borders’ which was originally written for the New Voices series at Celtic Connections 2015. I had a clear vision for the project drawing on my influences from both classical and folk music worlds. Looking back, I have learnt a lot from the writing and recording process which has helped me to direct this new project.

Crossing Borders was essentially a concept album, drawing on my influences of the Scottish, Irish and Cape Breton fiddle traditions and weaving them in amongst my own compositions and arrangements. The Dawning was built on repertoire I’ve been playing over the past ten years as well as recent compositions I’ve written mainly inspired by the Scottish landscape. This is the format I would have liked for my debut album, however it just so happened with the timing of the New Voices opportunity that that was going to be my first release.

The Dawning features an incredible line up of musicians I’ve admired throughout my career. Jim Molyneux (piano, keyboards) and Innes Watson (guitar) worked with me on my debut album. Both of them are extremely versatile and bring so much flair and creativity to my music. James Lindsay (double bass, bass guitar) is in high demand as a session musician as well as member of Breabach and was a great addition to the creative process. Having not had a producer for Crossing Borders, I knew that was going a role I would benefit from this time around. I had approached Mike McGoldrick to play on the album as well as act as producer. Mike has inspired me for many years whether it be his playing or his compositions. Having his knowledge and expertise was essential in the album process.

I had never envisaged adding brass to my arrangements at the very beginning however it was something myself and Mike talked about once the tracks were beginning to form. Neil Yates, who has recorded on Mike’s albums, ‘Wired’ and ‘Aurora’ in particular, was an obvious choice to have on the album. Neil worked on four of the tracks and completely changed the direction with his innovative arranging. After hearing this new sound take shape, I asked saxophonist Matt Carmichael to join on one of the sets to add some brass melody.

The majority of the album was recorded at Gorbals Sound with Kevin Burleigh. In 2019, I was recording music for the ITV period drama, Sanditon in Gorbals and I knew then I would like to work with him and record my album in the studio. Kevin is not only a fantastic sound engineer with extremely good ears but he is easy to work with and has a real calming presence during the recording process. After the initial recording we spent the best part of 10 months on and off editing and mixing the tracks. It was then mastered by Jim DeMain in Nashville, an engineer who has worked with the music industry’s top performers including Dolly Parton and Robert Plant.

I feel I have a vision when it comes to the music side but when it comes to artwork for an album I don’t know where to start! Artist and photographer, Somhairle Macdonald and I travelled up to Loch Ard, an area I was familiar with having spent some of lockdown cycling around, to take photos for the front cover, with the title ‘The Dawning’ in mind. I think we have captured it well even if it did mean leaving Glasgow at 5.30am!

Birnam CD and Innes and Campbell Communciations helped with the production and PR for the album, two very important parts to any CD release.

I would like to thank both Creative Scotland and Friends of Highland Music for their financial support as this album would not have been possible without them. With their help, I was able to add so many layers to the recording and go into great detail to make sure it was an album I was proud of. The launch at Celtic Connections in the New Auditorium a few weeks ago with the full line up will be one of my career highlights that I’ll never forget!


Album artwork by Somhairle Macdonald