The Scottish Pop Band with Folk Roots
Tide Lines (two words) is a Scottish four-piece folk/pop band, not to be confused with Tidelines (one word), the annual Book Festival held in North Ayrshire.
I’m chatting by Zoom to guitarist and vocalist, Robert Robertson, and drummer, Fergus (Gus) Munro. The first thing I do is congratulate them on their sell-out gig in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in March.
“Yeah… that’s a nice boost ahead of the tour,” Robert says.
The tour consists of 15 concerts, all in the month of March and includes dates in Kilmarnock, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
“We didn’t really have a proper chance to tour with the last album when it was fresh because it came out in May 2020,” Gus explains. “You want to get out there when the album comes out, get people when they’re really excited about it.”
The band’s third, self-produced album is titled ‘An Ocean Full of Islands’ and is set for release in February. I ask what led them down the self-produced route.
“It just felt natural to us,” Gus tells me. “We’re lucky, we’ve got Ross in the band… he studied music technology and he’s got that kind of leadership voice in the studio. We all put our opinions forward, Robert comes in with the songs… but it’s having the one person who can take all that… and bring it to something that sounds complete at the end of the day.”
“I think we enjoy the freedom that producing it ourselves allows,” adds Robert. “The four of us can jump back and forth with ideas. It’s good for us to do that and to choose the path that we want to go down.”
What about the title, where did that come from?
“The album was put together on the Isle of Mull,” Robert tells me. “As a title, it encapsulates where we were physically but also, if you listen to the lyrics, it summarises it in quite a lot of different ways in terms of what an ocean full of islands could be.”
The four lads (Robert, Gus, Ross Wilson and Alasdair Turner) met in Glasgow where they were all living, working and studying at the time. Their roots, however, are spread far and wide. In fact, Robert is talking to me from his home in Fort William while Gus is zooming in from Glasgow. Ross (keyboard) originates from Mull, and Alasdair (electric guitar and bagpipes) was born in Easter Ross in the Highlands.
“We met through the Glasgow music scene,” Robert continues. “We’d all had musical careers to some level before. We were lucky in that when we started Tide Lines… we had a few connections who really believed in the band and supported us right from the start.”
In fact, Tiree Musical Festival was the band’s first ever gig. A crowd of two and a half thousand people is not a bad place to start!
“Yeah, but after that,” says Robert, “we went around the Western Isles. We did a couple of pub gigs in Lewis, Harris, Mull and built it up from there. But we had a wee head start in terms of platforms.”
That said, they only really had one song (‘Far Side of the World’) so the sets proved to be slightly challenging and included mainly cover songs. By the time they released their second album, they had a better strategy.
“We wanted to chart it,” says Robert, referring to ‘Eye of the Storm’ which did actually chart at number 12 in the UK in the first week and made it to number one in Scotland.
“That was a real boost for us moving forward but it came at a strange time… because it was during Covid and we couldn’t take full advantage of its success in terms of turning that into something tangible.”
The third album, however, is already causing a buzz among fans both old and new, aided by BBC Radio 2 who included the single ‘Written in the Scars’ on its playlist.
“That was magic!” says Robert. “We got some really nice prime time plays on Radio 2 which is really great. We’ve had good radio play from across the board and long may that continue. We’ll have another single coming out in the new year… so hopefully that can be the same.”
For those unfamiliar with Tide Lines’ music, this is how Robert describes the new album:
“A collection of pop songs that are catchy… built around the idea that people can relate to them straight away, sing along with them and would be good live. It’s at times reflective, at times uplifting, but it’s pretty upbeat throughout. That’s always been the aim of it.”
It was, he says, a natural next step for the band, although, the bagpipes appear slightly less than on the previous albums.
“There’s less Gaelic and pipes but it’s still very much the heart of what we do. But certainly, in a live set, the bagpipes have his huge effect. In Scotland it goes down well, but when we go down to England it goes down an absolute storm!”
When it comes to describing the specific genre of the band’s music, Gus admits it’s not that easy.
“We struggle to define it,” he confesses. “But folk/pop… yeah, more than happy with that. It’s something we’ve never really had an answer for. The listeners seem to have their own impressions of what we sound like. We’ve certainly got folk roots and I think our trajectory probably at the moment is more pop with a bit of rock thrown in.”
Inspiration is, apparently, another tricky topic for the band with Robert admitting he always struggles to answer questions about influences.
“Obviously, there’s a bit of life experience in the lyrics, but there’s definitely a bit of fiction in the songs as well where I just try to use my imagination and put myself in other situations. Some of it relates to where I’ve been brought up, some of it to what I’m doing at the time, some of it to Glasgow… or the people… or to the experiences we’re having. And then, there’s a bit of storytelling as well.”
As the band’s principal songwriter, Robert writes the lyrics and the melody, adds some simple guitar chords, and then leaves it to his band mates to build up the tracks into what the audience will ultimately hear.
That audience, Robert confirms, is multi-generational and includes everything from 16-year-olds to 85-year-olds.
“It’s good,” he says, referring to their live gigs. “We bridge that gap. It’s always a lively crowd. We definitely have a young following but it’s not like we’ve left behind the older generation, they can be part of it as well. It feels like a pretty inclusive experience when you see our audience, which is nice. I don’t think you’d find anyone that would feel out of place.”
The band’s 2023 tour is, Gus tells me, their most extensive UK tour so far. Understandably, they’re all looking forward – with nervous anticipation – to getting started.
“I’m excited to see how it goes. It will be nice to get out there and drop the new songs. It’s the first chance we’ve had with the band more established to give people more material and see how excited they are about it.”
In the meantime, while Robert is listening to Bruce Springsteen up in Fort William, Gus will no doubt be playing his drums in Glasgow.
“I’m absolutely fascinated by drums,” he says, unashamedly. “I don’t really do golfing or cycling… or archery. To be honest, I just play drums.”
Does he have a favourite drummer?
“Most of the drummers that I like are actually songwriters like Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, or Prince or Stevie Wonder. I think the hardest thing to do is to approach the drums from the mindset of a songwriter. When you hear a songwriter playing drums to their own songs… it’s obviously the perfect drum part for the song because it’s coming from the same mind as the person who wrote the chords and the lyrics. I always try and be more inspired by that and not by the guys with the biggest drum kits and the most cymbals.”
It’s the kind of level-headed answer I would expect. These guys have developed and mastered their own unique sound and they’ve done it on their own terms. With ‘An Ocean Full of Islands’ being released at the end of February and two new songs (‘Rivers in the Light’ and ‘Written in the Scars’) already causing a stir, something tells me it will be third time lucky for Tide Lines (two words).
To pre-order their new album or to buy tickets for any of their March gigs, visit www.tidelinesband.com.