credit: Mike Guest Photography
Sometimes a song wafts into your consciousness with such alluring freshness that it lingers like a fragrance you can almost touch. So it is with the invigorating 'Dream,' by fast-rising Scottish artist C. Macleod. The best news of all is that there's plenty more where that came from, because this is the flagship song from Bloodlines, overseen by the esteemed producer who has become a valued friend, the great Ethan Johns.
Colin Macleod's music has the understated but sensual feeling of the great outdoors of his heritage. He's a proud son of Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. For all his travels, including a period living in Glasgow and time shared between the Highlands and London, Colin's proud of the fact that Stornoway remains his base, anchor and inspiration for some remarkable songs.
Anyone trying to fool you that it's grim up north clearly hasn't caught the scent of the gorgeous songs and rich textures that Macleod has conjured with Johns' encouragement. The album that's emerged has come to life in the most natural way: it has the spirit of a modern-day folk record, but one that's entirely at home in the indie guitar world, and the American groups Colin admires such as My Morning Jacket, The National and The War On Drugs.
“All the songs are stories from the island,” says Colin. “I made a conscious decision to collect stories and talk to people. I spent quite a lot of time with my old next door neighbour before he died, just listening to what he had to say about the island. It was a very straightforward and matter-of-fact, but completely steeped in fantasy.
“It was like, 'Here's a story about a ghost, it's absolutely real but completely implausible.' Or 'Don't go down that part of the cliffs, because the ghosts will push you in while you're fishing.' All these little quirky things, but from really straight, salt of the earth people who've lived through hard times but still have this romanticism and poetry.” Don't say you're not intrigued already.
Adding to the atmosphere is Macleod's own deliberately low profile, born of a desire to create a band ethic and let the music do the talking. The wisdom of that approach is now being underlined by his live work with a tight band of soulmates, who recently played winning shows at Glasgow's famed King Tuts and London's The Islington, the latter with Johns sitting in.
“You actually have to try really hard to be under the radar now,” laughs Colin of our digital environment. “It used to be easy. But with me, it's a lot to do with the visuals and videos. I really got into film-making in the last few years. My friend's a surf filmmaker and with music videos, there's so many cool things you can do other than just having a picture of your face for three minutes.”
Macleod lived in Glasgow for a while at the end of his teens, but has spent two-thirds of his life back home on the farm. As he got into music, the Stornoway scene proved to be rich home turf.
“We had a little collective in school, a gang all into music, and because we were quite isolated, we also had a little insular scene,” he explains. At 15, he and his pals did their debut gig in the village hall, playing Limp Bizkit covers to a seething audience of 15.
“There were two venues, and there was a guy who worked for the local haulage company who decided to start a label. It was like a little music industry in miniature. You'd press up 50 CDs, do a gig for 50 people, sell our 50 CDs and do it again, learning about DIY. So it was a good apprenticeship, and when we left, even though we were a bit overawed by the scale of things, you still had an idea what you wanted to do.”
Relationships formed there have lasted all the road miles since, thanks in large measure to Macleod's instinct to let the music lead the way. “When I left school, I did that thing of saying I'd put university off for a year.' I'm still on my gap year, 12 years later or whatever.
“So from really early on, I made a decision to go on tour in the winter, work in the summer, and did that for years, playing bars, doing EPs, playing in bands, breaking up bands, doing other things until I was about 22, and signed my first deal and did an album. It's never really been a pre-planned thing, I've never been too rigid about what it is or what it can be.”
Macleod and Johns met when the producer-artist came up for a Highlands tour in 2013. “I played a few shows with him and showed him around a little bit,” explains Colin. “We became pals, and started chatting about writing songs and hanging, then he came up for a week's holiday.
“It just seemed really natural, and he was really interested in the concept of the songs as well, and of course he has an amazing depth of music history and knowledge. It's pretty instant: hear a story, sit in your bedroom, write a song, record it. Eth' is a real 'snapshot' producer, so these are real moments in time.”
Bloodlines is an album that will undoubtedly take C. Macleod's music far an