From the Inner Hebrides to the global stage, Skerryvore’s light continues to shine
By Gill Sherry
Look at the titles of some of Skerryvore’s previous albums and you’ll have a good idea of the influences and inspirations for their music. ‘West Coast Life’, ‘On the Road’ and ‘Chasing the Sun’ all evoke a sense of time or place that offer insight into the band’s journey from a fledgling four-piece formed on the Isle of Tiree, to the globally successful eight-piece that exists today.
So what’s the story behind the title of their latest album, ‘Tempus’?
“We just wanted something that represented time in general,” Craig Espie, the band’s fiddler, tells me. “The album is about time and space and the places that we’ve been. Coming out of the pandemic, time felt like quite a poignant thing. We wanted something that expressed that but not quite in such a literal sense, so we just went with the Latin which sounded like a cool word.”
Indeed it does and it has an equally cool cover. It’s also the first album Skerryvore has released on Cooking Vinyl, the others (six studio albums, one live album and one celebrating their tenth anniversary) all being independently produced.
Drummer, Fraser West, tells me more about their latest offering.
“It’s a combination of instrumental and songs. We always like to keep the instrumental stuff in because it is a big part of what we do live, so it would be very strange to have an album that was solely just songs and didn’t have an instrumental part to it. In terms of material… there is perhaps a bit more of a pop element in some of the songs.”
The band’s genre is considered by many as Celtic Rock but categorising their style isn’t easy, as Craig readily admits.
“We tend to call it Celtic Pop or Scottish Pop. It’s always been a very difficult one to describe. It’s certainly not rock in the true sense of it. It’s not heavy… and it’s obviously got the traditional roots in it as well. It’s a difficult one because Celtic Rock has got different connotations. In Europe they see Celtic Rock as being more like peopled dressed as something from Lord of the Rings!”
They settle on Scottish traditionally influenced pop music. It’s a sound that has developed naturally rather than something they have strived to achieve. Martin Gillespie, one of the band’s original founding members, tells me more.
“It’s really just a blend of instruments in the band that give the sound that we have. The influences of everybody in the band are quite different.”
Alec Dalglish is, I’m told, the principal song writer although any one of them could be involved in writing the instrumental sets. This includes Martin (pipes and whistle), Daniel Gillespie (accordion), Scott Wood (pipes and fiddle), Jodie Bremaneson (bass guitar), Alan Scobie (keyboard) in addition to Craig and Fraser.
As well as a new album, the band is touring during 2023 with dates in the UK, Europe and the United States.
“It’s a big tour, there’s a lot coming up.” Craig admits. “It will be good to do some of the Scottish venues and areas that we haven’t been to for a while.”
“It’s going to be great,” adds Fraser, “getting to play some of the new stuff to people. We’ve lived with the album now for quite a long time, it was essentially finished in July last year. We’ve been in rehearsals recently to work on the stuff to play live… you need to anticipate how the crowd might react, so that’s quite exciting.”
The pandemic obviously put a stop to live music resulting in cancelled gigs and delayed recordings. It even prevented the band from celebrating its 15-year anniversary, as Craig points out.
“It should’ve been 2020… at Inveraray Castle. We were going to do a big show there but that got kiboshed.”
Surprisingly, however, there was something good to come out of lockdown as far as Skerryvore was concerned. Within hours of being released, the band’s NHS charity single ‘Everyday Heroes’ went straight to number one in the iTunes charts and also reached the top of the official Scottish charts.
“Martin wrote that and we recorded it in isolation,” Craig continues. “Everyone had to do their own bits in their own houses and we got guests involved. In some ways it was good for us, it was arguably one of our most successful periods in terms of creating awareness. A lot of people were sitting at their computers and on their phones… that helped with audience numbers globally.”
During that time, the first two singles from the band’s upcoming album were also included on BBC Radio 2’s playlist, providing Skerryvore with another silver lining to the Covid cloud. In fact, as Martin tells me, they considered this a major coup.
“It’s quite a big process and there’s a lot of big acts in there with major labels behind them. It was a big achievement for us in the sense that we did it independently off our own label, that’s pretty unheard of for anybody to do that. And then to stay on as long as we did, six weeks, was pretty good.”
That said, the guys are also grateful for the coverage on local radio stations.
“There’s 39 BBC regional stations,” Fraser tells me. “We’re being played on all of them which is really good. Radio 2 is great and it’s massive but there’s all these regional stations… a lot of people listen to them so it’s just about getting to an audience that we don’t already have. Our fans will listen to our stuff and that’s great but you need to get new fans. It’s that constant playing and plugging.”
Talking of fans, I ask if they have plans to play at Tiree. It is, after all, the place where it all began. The band is even named after the lighthouse off the coast of the island.
“We’ll play at the festival this year during the summer,” Fraser confirms.
I imagine that must be music to the ears of the residents of Tiree (and the rest of Scotland!) but, as Craig tells me, it’s not just their fans that are excited about this year’s festival.
“It’s definitely one of the highlights of the year. It’s a home crowd gig… I always look forward to it.”
After the disappointment of their cancelled 15-year Inveraray gig, the band can also start looking forward to their 20th anniversary. It may be two years away, but with so much planned for those two years, 2025 will be here before they know it.
“We’ve actually been talking about it for the last few weeks,” Martin admits. “It’s in the mind at the moment, we’ll have something up our sleeve.”
Can’t wait! In the meantime, Skerryvore’s new album ‘Tempus’ is released on 28th April and is available to pre-order at www.skerryvore.com.