Back of the Moon has come a long way in a short time. Members Gillian Frame (fiddle and vocals), Findlay Napier (guitar and vocals), Simon McKerrell (pipes and vocals) and Hamish Napier (piano and vocals) each bring unique talents to the group. Formed in 2000, they were finalists in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards. The group released their debut album in 2001, the same year that Gillian won the Young Scottish Traditional Musician award at Celtic Connections. Just last month saw the release of their second album “Fortune’s Road” (the launch event was covered here at RR by Hugh), and Back of the Moon was also recently nominated in the first-ever Scots Trad Music Awards for the category Best Up and Coming Artist/Band, to be held in September.
The group kindly took time out of their five-week tour of Canada to chat with Roots Review…
RR: It says on your website that you all met at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. How did you get started playing together?
FIN: Only Simon, Gillian and myself were at the academy. Gillian wanted to put a band together for the BBC2 Young Folk Awards but hadn’t come up with a band yet. When the RSAMD went on their Highland Tour in June 2000 Hamish (who had just finished school) and myself (who’d just finished at the RSAMD) gate-crashed the tour. It was there that Simon, Hamish and Gillian decided to get the band together. However it wasn’t untill February 2001 that I was invited to join the band.
GILL: Findlay, Gillian and Simon studied together at the Academy so they started playing together there. The band really started to form on an Academy tour of the Highlands. Hamish and Findlay were not officially on the tour but came along for some tunes. We played together loads in sessions during that week. Originally the band was just a three piece, Gillian, Hamish and Simon, (at this point Findlay played in a band called ‘The Loop’). As a three piece the band entered the Radio Two Young Folk Awards and reached the finals. Findlay joined the band shortly after this.
SIMON: I agree with the above, and would like to add that musically, we are all going in roughly the same direction, which is why the band will stick together.
HAMISH: Aye, same as Gill and Fin, except i’ll add that I recon Gillian wanted me for the competition band because we had one of the best sessions just her and I in Cherrygrove (the Napier house) one evening in summer 2000 while she was visiting fin.
RR: The reel “Back of the Moon” by Archie Kenneth is the last track on your first CD. How did you come to choose this name for the band?
FIN: Simon suggested it at an early rehearsal. We’d been looking at loads of other names but none of them seemed to stick.
GILL: As usual we were really struggling for a name and didn’t want anything too cheesy. We started going through our sets and songs looking for something fairly original and came up with Back of the Moon.
SIMON: Archie Kenneth wrote some cracking tunes, and was also an influencial Piobaireachd player, I find his compositions very musical.
RR: What can you tell us about the new CD “Fortune’s Road”? Which tracks are your favorites?
FIN: The tracks I like best are Nine Pint Coggie as it’s the first time we’ve experimented with breaks between tunes and it’s got my Birthday Tune in it! I really like Maybe I’ll Be Married, Duncan Lyall’s bass is great and the track just grooves along- I suspect this will be the one that gets most airplay.
GILL: We are all very happy with the new CD and feel it gives a really good representation of our current sound. It is really hard for me to pick a favourite track. I particularly like the sets Nine Pint Coggie and Thomas Andrew Takes the Train as they include some of our own compositions.
SIMON: My favourites; Baron of Brackley, I think it really shows off the sound we’re trying to create, and, Thomas Andrew, because it includes more of our own tunes, hopefully the band can begin to record more original material.
HAMISH: There’s a georgeous wee guitar chord progression solo in the middle of the skye air (just fin and Gill) – and the best songs are heilan laddie and laddies bedside.
RR: Most of the songs on your first CD and “Fortune’s Road” are traditional tunes, but some were your own works. Do you have any plans to record more of your compositions?
FIN: The plan eventually would be to release a CD entirely consisting of our own compositions. I’ve not had much luck with writing folk songs but Hamish seems to be coming up with a few ideas.
GILL: We are very keen to include as much original material as possible in our repertoire. However we also really enjoyed creating our own versions of Traditional music.
HAMISH: Sometimes I have one day when I play and listen to music all day (instead of studying for my physics degree) and I write bits of songs and tunes and come up with new chordal accompaniment stuff. The work on these days often can end up somewhere in the set and after several practices and gigs they mould into place. I hope to have our first totally original song off by next year (both Melody AND lyrics)
RR: The group is currently off on an extended Canadian tour. What else do you guys have in the works? Is there any place you’d like to tour that you haven’t been yet?
FIN: We’ve not even toured properly in Scotland yet. I’d like to do a good tour of Britain because I think to build a fan base back here is very important than, it seems to give artists longevity that will sustain a career later in life. Obviously I’d like to follow Fine Friday’s example and spend a couple of months in Austraillia.
GILL: On return from Canada we will be playing at Cambridge Festival and from there going straight to Brittany to the Lorient Festival. We would like to do work in the States but until we find an agent that will go on the back burner and we are going to concentrate on Europe for next summer. There is a possible tour in Switzerland which may come off in September and we are also looking into some work in Australia.
SIMON: anywhere that the crowd is actually interested in traditional music, because that’s what we do best.
HAMISH: I’ve always been desperate to go to Ireland to play, there’s a fair amount of irish tunes (also the uillean pipes) in the band and it would be interesting to see how they go down there. Most of the trad music that we love listening to is Irish (Matt molloy, Lunasa, paul brady, solas)
RR: The pieces on your first CD came from several sources – from other artists to Findlay and Hamish’s Dad! What are the major influences and sources of inspiration in your work? What other kinds of music do you enjoy?
FIN: I have to confess that I don’t really listen to that much folk music although I listen to a lot of music. As much as I enjoy playing tunes, I’m foremost a singer and a lot of ‘tunes only’ albums turn me off. My major influences would be more like John Martyn, Derek and the Dominos, Jim Hunter, Led Zepplin, J J Cale, Tom Waits, Dick Gaughan, Jackson Browne, Brian McNeill I also listen to a lot of country music I’ve been getting right into Emmy Lou Harris, Hank WIlliams, Steve Earle, Dolly Parton (her bluegrass stuff)- although it I imagine it could be a bit difficult to see all of these folks influences in Back of the Moon.
GILL: I come from a very musical family so much of my influences come form there. Obviously I was inspired by all of my tutors at the Academy and the musicians I play in sessions with around Glasgow. I listen to mostly folk music but also enjoy an interesting selection of other genres. Some of my favourite artists are… Jackson Browne, Joan Osborne, Tracy Chapman, Linda Thompson, Lunasa, Archie McAllister, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, early Iron Horse……. and so on……
SIMON: I enjoy any good music, mainly involving classical, bluegrass, traditional. I also enjoy really good piping,Irish or Scottish and particularly the Brown/Nicol school of Piobaireachd.
HAMISH: tune stuff: Mike McGoldrick, Flook, Lunasa, singer stuff: nic jones, Paul Brady, del amitri, james taylor, don maclean, karen casey, dolly!, and sheryl crow.
RR: What other interests do you have outside of music? I know that Hamish is working on an astrophysics degree (this sounds complicated!) and that several of you are involved in teaching. Any other surprises?
FIN: I teach a few different classes a week. I teach singing to 4-6 year olds on a Monday afternoon and guitar to adults at the Glasgow Fiddle Workshop on a Monday night. I’m also involved with a project in Lanarkshire that is getting secondary age school children playing together in folk bands.
GILL: Not really any more. Since doing my degree in music it has pretty much become my life!! When I have time I enjoy the outdoors.. walking and cycling, but I have to confess that doesn’t happen much these days!
SIMON: I am studying full-time on a research degree at the RSAMD and St. Andrews University into how top-flight pipers concieve and perform their music, I also teach now occasionaly, and I have enjoyed doing little bits of recording session work for others.
HAMISH: It’s just straight physics now and I passed 3rd year so next year will be my honours year (4th) – i hope to do a one-year physics and maths school teaching qualification in glasgow after that and then get stuck right into performing and learning music. I love going for a swim aswell, my flatmate recons I swim so much in the pool that one day I’ll just turn into a length!
RR: You’ve worked in the past – both individually and as a group – with several other well-known artists, Margaret Bennett and Finlay MacDonald, among others. What other artists/groups would you like to work with in the future, given the opportunity?
FIN: See the above lists of influences. Though I’m pretty sure all the band would love to work with Dolly Parton- we’re all big dolly fans!!
GILL: Last January in the Celtic Connections festival I was involved in a number of interesting projects. One was ‘The Unusual Suspects’ which was a piece by Corrina Hewat and Dave Milligan, it featured around 60 of Scotland’s traditional musicians all on the one stage. It was amazing and I would love to have the chance to perform in this again. Also was ‘The Young Tradition’ concert series, directed by Findlay Napier. I particularly enjoyed the @Young Female Singers’ concert. There were six of us involved and it was a real success. We all would like to take this further and possibly tour it some time.
Also I would like to work with composer/arranger Dave Heath and look at arranging some of my compositions for big ensembles, possibly even an orchestra.
SIMON: I am keen to work with good calibre musicians and develop the role of the pipes, in any type of ensemble, without stepping outside of the ‘traditional’. Also I would like to get my banjo playing up to scratch! (5-string).
HAMISH: I have to go to Cape Breton where they play mean piano accompaniment, but i love playing the whistle/flute more than the piano or singing. I’d really like to play a few gigs with another whistle/flautist playing mostly Scottish stuff (strathspeys, marches, highland pipe reels etc.) This would be a bit like the instrumental band ‘FLOOK’ (they’re more irish based sort-of) because i love FLOOK’s set up (bodhran, one harmony instrument, another of the same melody instrument to harmonise with, lots of improvisation and jazz grooves) . Not that i’m dissatisfied with BOTM’s set up: We seem to have a very diverse set to offer with more than just a few dynamics i.e. female vocal, multiple male vocal harmonies, scottish and irish pipe sounds, fiddle tunes, i’ve started to play flute sometimes in the band, Gill’s buying a mandola and simon’s learning the 5-string bluegrass banjo!!!!!