Influences: Jaco Pastorius/Pino Paladino/James Jamerson
K: The first time I saw you was in Hubbards with Alan Nimmo on drums, Deke McGee on Sax and I think it might have been both Stevie Nimmo and Gary Miller on guitar and it was absolutely phenomenal. That was my first introduction to Glasgow Blues. It must’ve been about ‘96 or ‘97. What had you been doing up until then?
S: Well, I’ve been playing bass since I was 13. I’m from Fife originally and there was a local Jazz orchestra that my 2 brothers were in. One played trumpet and the other played Sax and at the time, all I was playing was Cello at the school and I kept wondering how I could get into this Jazz orchestra that looked so much fun. It was my Dad that made the suggestion to try the bass as it was quite similar to the Cello so that’s what I did.
K: Yeah, much the same as Jack Bruce.
S: Yeah, you’re right. So, my whole thing growing up was all around Jazz. I moved to Glasgow to study at Glasgow University and started looking at the “Musicians Wanted” adverts in Sound Control (Glasgow music shop) and that is how I met up with Alan Nimmo.
There was a band I ended up playing with called Globe which were a Funk Rock band. So they got in touch and said that they were rehearsing in Stuffhouse Studios in Maryhill, and asked if I knew where that was, which I didn’t so they offered to pick me up on the way. So there I was standing outside Kelvinbridge Tube Station and this scabby old white Transit van with Alan in it and the drummer, who was an absolute nutcase with a strong Dumbarton accent and the singer and they were shouting “Get in! Get in!” and I was thinking “What am I getting myself into here?”. So we headed into Maryhill and the studio was in this courtyard surrounded by tenement flats and it was in the Winter so it was very dark. So we drive up this wee narrow lane and it’s pitch black and I remember thinking “Either these guys are completely legit or I’ve lost my bass and I’m going to have make a run for it!” Thankfully it was the first.
So everything turned out ok and while we were rehearsing Alan was asking me questions like “Can you play a walking bass line?” which I could and then he started a shuffle which I played along with and then after the rehearsal he took me aside and said “I’ve got a Blues band. Would you be interested in coming down and having a jam and seeing if it clicks?”
So the next thing was I went down to The State on a Tuesday night with Stevie and Alan and got up to do a couple of numbers and at the time I thought I did ok. I thought I’d held my own pretty well. The next time I talked to Alan he asked if I wanted to join the band and that they had a festival over in Dublin coming up. So I was into that and said yes.
Stevie and Alan then sat down with me and went through what I’d played at The State and advised that I hadn’t been playing what was required for a Blues bass player and then took me through two whole sets of material and basically every style of Blues song and it was a real education.
They also helped me to understand more about understanding the Blues. I remember Stevie saying “You’re playing like a music student at the moment, rather than “feeling” the music.”
It’s those guys I have to thank for turning me into a musician that actually feels what they’re playing rather than someone who just executes the notes.
That band changed line-ups and became “The Nimmo Brothers” and I played with them for about 3 years and played on the first 2 albums.
The reason I have a connection with this place(The Clutha) is we used to play in here as one of the residencies we had. There was Hubbards which I think was once or twice a month but we used the play The Clutha every Wednesday night for a year and it was a real musical education for me. It gave me a real feel for jamming and allowed me develop a real rapport with all of these guys.
K: This place and The Scotia across the road have a real live music history going way back and I’m glad that the Clutha has opened up again. There will always be a memory of what happened here and it’s good to see things starting to move on.
You’ve done a bit of touring in Europe, what was that like?
S: I loved playing across in Europe, you just get treated so much better and the fans that come along are a bit more fanatical and interested in the whole band. When I played there I could see people studying what I was doing on the bass. It was a bit unnerving actually, I wasn’t used to that (laughs)
K: I’ve talked to some people who have said that the job of a bass player is to keep time and that the drummer is there to compliment that. What’s your thoughts on that?
S: For me, when I grew up, I listened to a lot of Motown stuff because that’s what my Mum was into and I would always lock into the groove of the song. I guess most people listen to the lyrics but I’ve always been into the foundation of the sound, you know, what’s going on underneath? So I’m into the groove primarily and how the drums and bass link together.
K: What’s the thing that makes that link really work?
S: I like playing with drummers that have technical ability but it’s more important for me, to have a drummer that can sit in a groove and not feel the urge to put in a fill every 2,3 or 4 bars just because they have the ability to do so. I guess, I prefer someone who is more interested in establishing the groove first and getting that right and then as the song develops we can start to loosen up.
K: I guess you can apply that to every member of the band
S: Absolutely. As more people start playing more throughout the song I find that I have to play less and less as I try to hold it all down. I end up just playing very basic stuff sometimes while I try and just root the song somewhere. If a drummer stays solid then I can start to expand what I’m playing because I’m not worrying about the song not being pinned down.
K: Are there any bands out there that you look at as having the definitive drum and bass formula?
S: There’s a John Mayer live album out there with Pino Palladino on bass and Steve Jordan on drums and when you listen to them on that album they just know who to lock a song down. There’s a slow Blues on that album and Steve Jordan just holds the beat down and there is so much time between the one and the snare on the back beat that you think he’s going to be late and then he’s JUST there and the feel is phenomenal! To me, that’s more effective sometimes.
K: Are there any other bands that you’re playing with at the moment.
S: Yes I play in a band in Edinburgh called Das Contras. It’s more of a mix of Latin, Reggae and Funk and it’s all original material, but we don’t do any gigs in Glasgow because there isn’t an appetite for it in terms of venues that want to put that kind of stuff on. It’s bass, guitar, keys, trumpet, trombone, saxophone vocals and acoustic and it is so much fun. We’ve already got 2 albums and we’re recording another next month.
There’s the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh which is a great place for taking in all kinds of music 7 days a week. They do the serious Jazz in there but they also do Blues, Soul, whatever and there’s 3 gigs in there every day. I just wish they would open somewhere like that in Glasgow.
I’m also playing with the Deke McGee band in Glasgow which is going well.
There’s a function band that I play with as well which is good to keep playing different material and helps me work on technique and stamina and it’s good fun as well.
K: Has there been one gig that sticks out in your mind as being the the number one gig you’ve ever played?
S: Yes definitely. It was a Nimmos Brothers gig in 1999 I think. It was a big festival in Antwerp in a huge city square. Walter Trout was on after us and there were about 6,000 people in the square and it was such a great atmosphere, such a buzz. Everyone in the band were enjoying it and we played really well and the reaction was really good.
K: Great memories that nobody can take away and I’m sure there’s plenty more to come. Thanks for taking the time to meet up today and all the best with your ventures in the future.
The Clutha Bar, Glasgow
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 24-120
Focal length: 120mm
Exposure: 1/320 sec at f/4
Time of day: 17:56
Conditions: Even cloud cover
Lighting: Fill flash at 45 degrees 24″ softbox
The challenge with this location was that the bar area was very compact, it was very busy and there was a band setting up so an interior shot was impossible. I opted for the wall murel on the outside of the building even though I knew from previous shoots that this kind of backdrop could be very distracting and can overpower the main subject. I tried to work around this by going for a low aperture at full zoom on the lens to throw it as much out of focus as possible. I combined this with standing at as close to the wall as possible to throw the faces in the murel into as abstract a shape as possible while still allowing the viewer to recognise what it was. The last compositional step was to make sure that the dark jacket and Bass head were against a lighter patch of the wall for definition.
the clutha vaults