K: Hi Calum, we were talking earlier and you were saying that you’ve just done a tour with Sandi Thom. What was that like?
C: Yeah, I just got back from Scandinavia.
K: How was she received over there?
C: Great! It was awesome! We played the Alta Soul & Blues Festival away up in the mountains and she went down a storm! We did 3 gigs in the one day and each one had a bigger audience than the last.
K: How long were you away for?
C: About a month here and there, around Scandinavia, Scotland and the UK. We’re going on a bigger tour in November/December
K: What else is going on with you at the moment?
C: I’m working on a lot of my own stuff at the moment but there’s a few other projects on the go as well.
K: How would you describe your own stuff?
C: Mmmm…. I guess it’s a Blues, Folk, Rock style. I sing and play the Cello and the core is just me and a drummer most of the time but I like to add other instruments now and again so sometimes there’s a violinist or a saxophone player. A couple of weeks ago we headlined the acoustic stage at the Wickerman Festival and the line up was cello, lap steel guitar and drums and that went down really well.
I guess I put some folk elements and some American Bluegrass elements into my music as well. I lived in New York for 5 years and did the trad and Bluegrass stuff while I was there. There was a big scene of that in the city. It’s pretty hard to describe how it sounds when it’s all put together.
K: Ok, sometimes when you try and describe your own music by referencing the music of other people it can dilute your own originality…I’ll have a listen.
C: Yeah, have a listen man, I should have brought the album…there’s a real mix between wailing electric cello solos and soft strumming and loads of other styles. It was mastered by Gene Paul by who is the son of Les Paul and I got really close with the family during that time which was really cool.
K: I must admit I’ve always loved a cello playing the blues ever since I heard the Culture Clash album by Sacred Spirit. You ever heard it? Check out the title track “Culture Clash” featuring the voice of John Lee Hooker.
C: Cool, I’ll have a listen.
K: It’s a great instrument to mix things up with. The sound is so rich.
C: Yeah, it’s really versatile. It has such a range and you can get very rhythmic with it, you can strum it, you can bow it, you can do so much.
K: People tend to pigeon hole certain instruments against certain genres but it’s great to see you taking it out there. Was the cello the first instrument you ever played?:
C: Yeah, it was the only instrument that I gravitated towards when I was younger, it was a strange thing. I started playing when I was 9 and I still don’t understand why I chose the cello. I just remember asking to play it, not knowing exactly why. Maybe I saw it in a colouring book when I was really young. It might have just been because it was soooo big (laughs) . The first time I held the first rented cello my mom and dad got me it just felt so right! It felt like the coolest thing that had ever happened to me!
K: At that time did you have any idea what kind of music you wanted to play? Did you go down the classical route at first?
C: You know, it’s a funny thing, both my parents are such huge Blues fans so I always knew, growing up that this was good music so after being taught the classical stuff at school I would come back and start trying to unpick all these Blues tunes.
K: That’s interesting because if you give someone a guitar and get them to listen to music played on a guitar then you’re starting on a level playing field. There are books, there are videos, there’s YouTube and there are guitar teachers that have done it all before and can teach you how to do it. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t ever remember seeing a “Blues for Cello” video. You must have really had to make it up as you went along?
C: Yeah, I think that’s cool though. I think that’s why I enjoyed the music so much…I didn’t have those restrictions. I was attacking this with a totally open mind.
K: Are there any other Blues cellists out there that you know of?
C: Yeah, I think the cello is becoming so much more fashionable these days, especially in the States. There’s not anyone that’s really pushing the gritty blues thing but there are a couple of guys…Rushad Eggleston, who played with a band called Crooked Still. There’s another guy called Ben Sollee from Kentucky, you should check him out. There’s actually group in the States called the New Directions Cello Association. That’s really cool and brings together all of these people that are working as cellists and doing cool new things together for whole weekend festivals and some of these guys are doing really wild things. The society was started by a couple of guys in the 80’s who just wanted to try different things out on the cello and it’s really grown since then. That’s out of New York so I’ve done that a couple of times and it’s a great little family that comes together and tries to spread techniques and things that you can do on a cello that are a bit different. It’s really cool.
K: I think there are a couple of things that are making people look at the cello in a different light recently. The materials that are being used are changing and the designs are adapting to make the instrument more accessible, lighter, less bulky and in some cases almost unrecognisable. Tell me a bit about the instruments you’ve brought along with you this evening.
C: Well this one here has a shoulder strap so I can stand up and play it.
K: It looks almost like a guitar. I guess most people looking at this for the first time would have no idea what it was?
C: Yeah but that’s cool. I wan’t people to wonder “What is that thing that’s strapped to that guy!” (laughs)
K: What about the other one?
C: This is my main instrument at the moment. It’s made totally out of carbon fibre. It’s made out of one sheet of carbon fibre that gets hardened and the bridge and other bits and pieces get put on later but it’s a super-light cello and great for touring because it’s super hard-core. You can bash it around and it can take it. The other thing is that it sounds so big! The sound surrounds you when you’re playing. It’s a really cool experience. I remember the first time I played it, it was a little intimidating because it was so loud. But that’s kind of cool as well because you can be more expressive with it acoustically. It’s a little sleeker as well, it’s closer to your body.
K: What about the bow? Is it carbon fibre as well?
C: Yeah (laughs) I’ve got a carbon fibre bow as well! I’ve got another bow which I got from this company that approached me. They wanted me to try out this new kind of “hair”. Traditionally the bow is made from horse hair but this is made of a type of plastic. Apparently you put it on and you never need to re-hair the bow again and it still sounds like horse hair! It’s amazing!! It’s really, really cool! I was talking to them and was asking if it would stretch over time and apparently, they are saying that it won’t. So…we’ll soon find out.
K: I think I know that answer already but that’s quite a unique looking cello case. What’s that made of?
C: Yeah it looks like kitchen tiles (laughs)…and yeah…it’s made out of carbon fibre.
K: What’s the image on the cello case there?
C: That’s the cover of my first album “Making It Possible”. I made it after my time in the Jazz School in New York. It was about me being there, about being “out of your element”. I was actually the first cellist that was ever entered into the programme so they never really knew exactly what to do with me but they thought what I was doing was cool so they were very open minded. I kind of had to create my own programme. The school was called the “New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music”
It was a bit intimidating because I was there with all of these hard core Jazz guys, but it was great. It was awesome!! The great thing about that school was that all of these teachers were pretty heavy dudes. There was one teacher that used to play with Miles Davies in the 80’s, and Adam Holzman , keyboard player and Reggie Workman, he used to play with Miles as well. All these guys were there because they wanted to teach. They could really play but they wanted to teach as well.
K: And where did it go from there?
C: After that, I came back to Glasgow for a bit and worked as a session player but I still stayed in touch with the New York scene through writing music for theatre productions over there. And then I met Sandi and it all kind of… went somewhere…
K: So where do you want it to go from here? What’s the dream?
C: Mmmm…it’s such a huge question, but I guess I just want to be doing what I’m doing for the rest of my life, and do it successfully. So yeah, actually, just to be playing music for a living for the rest of my life. If I can do that then I’ll be happy.
I don’t know if this is part of the same question but I do have one big goal that I want to achieve and that is play this really huge festival in Japan called the Fuji Rock Festival The stage looks out right past the audience on to the Mount Fuji and it’s the most gorgeous thing! That’s one of my main aspirations.
K: Is there a single event that sticks out in your memory so far?
C: Yeah, when I was 21 I opened up the show for Jack Bruce in Edinburgh.
C: Pretty cool right? (laughs)
K: Yep. How did that happen?
C: My Mom helps me out on the management side and she was hounding the festival to try and get me a slot. I was going back and forth to New York at that time and she was contacting them all the time over a 2 month period and a week before the festival they came back to us and said “How about this?”
K: Did you get to meet Jack?
C: Yeah I got to meet him for a wee bit and he shook my hand after the gig and had a conversation. It was the coolest thing.
K: So was this a solo gig?
C: Yeah, just me singing and playing the cello. It’s a funny thing, he actually used to play cello as well, before he played bass. He was actually starting to do different things on the cello before anyone else was. Actually there’s a story around that. He was telling me he went to study at the Royal Conservatoire in the old RSAMD to learn the cello and he basically really wanted to start doing Jazz on it and he was told that he couldn’t do that. He got such a hard time for trying to do that, that he picked up the bass.
K: Can you imagine what might have happened if they’d given him a chance on the cello?
C: Yeah, I know! Isn’t that wild!?!
K: How would Cream have sounded man?
C: Yeah…rockin out on the cello….WITH CREAM!!!! (laughs)
K: I can’t think of better point to leave it Calum. It’s been fantastic talking to you and best of luck with all your future ventures. Keep me posted and keep in touch.
C: Definitely. Thank you so much.
K: Well the location we’d planned is closed so let’s go and cruise for a new location. I’ve got somewhere in mind from when I was scouting locations earlier in the year that will set that jacket off nicely (laughs)
C: Let’s do it…….
We had originally planned to do the shoot in Tontine Lane which is a fairly new place with a great retro feel in the Merchant City but the gates were closed. Always good to have a Plan B…
Glasgow Tobacco Warehouse, James Watt Street, Glasgow
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 24-120 f/4
Focal length: 30mm
Exposure: 1/60 sec at f/5.6
Time of day: 18:59
Lighting: 2 bare speedlights directed at 45 degree angles to converge in centre of doors. Main light 2 full stops brighter on left. Right hand speedlight to pop the colour of the doors. The original plan was to light the subject with a softbox but the wind was too high and the stand kept blowing over. At this point I knew that there would be shadows so I moved the speedlights even further back about 12 feet from the doors to accentuate the shadows, use them as a feature and get a very hard edge to add more drama.
the Old Tobacco Warehouse