Stevie has been a regular artist playing in Oran Mor both with his solo work and with his brother Alan in “The Nimmo Brothers” for many years
I first saw Stevie Nimmo playing the Black Water Blues Band in a bar called Hubbards on Great Western Road in Glasgow. Many years have passed and many miles have been travelled since then. I met up with Stevie in Oran Mor in Glasgow during his current UK Tour, part of which he is doing on his bike. A BMW R1150 RT.
It may by May…but this is Scotland and there are still hail stones the size of frozen peas skelping off the ground up here but biking is one of Stevie’s great loves and when asked about the cold I’m told that there are hand dryers in most bars which seem to be able to warm the parts that need warmed the most.
The current tour is a double headline format and sharing the bill is Ben Poole, a fantastically talented guitarist and singer and rising star of the British Blues scene.
I’d arranged a portrait shoot and interview on the night of the gig and had an “Access All Areas” pass so started looking around the venue while the guys were sound-checking. Oran Mor is a great live music venue with a fantastic stage area and PA. The name “Oran Mor” is Gaelic and can be translated to “The Great Song”.
It’s converted church and a huge place with the live music venue in the basement area and bars and restaurant on the upper floors. This was a Friday night and the place was very busy. Glasgow’s West End has a thriving night life and this is one of the most popular spots, especially in the warmer months as there is a large outside area where you can eat, drink and watch the world go by.
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K: Back to that first gig I mentioned earlier in Hubbards Stevie. That must’ve been about 20 years ago?
S: Yeah that was about ’97. That was when we didn’t have a regular touring band so we decided just to go and have a laugh.
Sky Won’t Fall by Stevie Nimmo
K: I’ve been following the reviews of the latest album “Sky Won’t Fall” and it’s getting some amazing plaudits from the industry. I’ve seen your career progress through from the Hideaways, The Nimmo Brothers and your solo work. You’ve traveled far and wide and recorded an album over in Austin, Texas. You’re married with a beautiful wife and daughter and living in France. Looking back at those days 20 years ago could you have imagined that any of this would have happened?
S: No way man. Twenty years ago I’d already done the UK stuff but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that we started looking at “the continent” as we called it back then. We did our first run in Holland in ’99. That was a real eye-opener. We came from this little island and then suddenly there were a hundred bands all doing the same kind of thing. There was a massive scene over there. And we thought “Hang on a minute. This is great! We can spread out from here.”
K: You’re now living in France?
S: Yeah and funnily enough, I remember dropping out from learning French at school when I was about 14. I remember my teacher asking why, because she said I was actually quite good at it. I remember to this day saying… “When will I ever need French…EVER…in my life?” (laughs). It just shows you. You just never know!
I’d started playing in the band with my brother in ’95 as “The Black Water Blues Band” and for the next 2 years we were quite relentless. We were playing between 250 and 275 gigs a year and it was the pub circuit so sometimes it was 3 gigs a day over the weekend. I was only about 25 then and although it was relentless I was up for it. We spread out a bit as far as gigs were concerned but then the drummer we had moved away and we found it tough to find someone else that fitted right. We lost the “essence” of the band that we had been. This was a real band and nobody in it ever played with anyone else. It was the old meaning of “a band”. We were mates, we played together and that was it. We found it hard to get that “brotherhood” thing back again so that’s when we changed the name of the band to “The Nimmo Brothers”. We were changing drummers and bass players quite a lot at that time.
Then, in about ’98, we got another line-up sorted and off we went. We started playing again, relentlessly till about 2002/2003 and I got absolutely fed up with the whole game. I got fed up with everything. The travel, the gigs, I wasn’t enjoying the music. We were in beautiful countries and I couldn’t care less.
I always quote the same thing. At the end I was standing on a stage in Belgium in front of 10,000 people, with big screens at the side of the stage, with the crowd absolutely lapping it up and me and my brother were leaning in to each other and I remember asking him if we had Sky Sports on the telly in the hotel tonight and him replying “I don’t know” and this conversation was going on right there in the middle of the stage while we were playing.
I thought about it and realised that this wasn’t right. This was not right! This is what I call cheating the audience. I was just up there going through the motions so I made the decision to stop in 2003. We honoured the gigs we had and then I stopped. Ironically, that’s when I said to Alan…”You need to get your own project going”. And that turned into “King King” (laughs). But all things happen for a reason, you know?
I then went to Glasgow University just to try something else. Something else completely different. Within 2 years, part of the course was to go to France. I enjoyed it so much I did another spell there…and then moved over and I’ve been there ever since.
I stopped playing for 2 years. I never touched a guitar for 2 whole years. Never played any music, never wrote anything, never sang anything…nothing. I just listened to the radio. Then a few good friends started asking why I wasn’t playing any more and Ian, who you met earlier, said this…
“You know what big man, see that auto-pilot that you talk about? I’ve been playing guitar for over 20 years and I couldn’t get close to that. You need to understand that your auto-pilot is something that I would love to achieve”
I’d never thought of it like that, so something clicked and that comment made sense. Shortly after that I was showing someone else some stuff on the guitar and I said…”You know what? See that joy that your feeling about playing the guitar? I’m starting to feel that again.” And that was it. I came back and I wrote another album with my brother called “Picking Up The Pieces”. I’m really proud of that album. There were some great songs on it but it never got any kind of push. Then I went out to Austin and did my own.
K: How did you get over to Austin? How did that come about?
S: The record company set all that up. They’d had dealings with the studio over there through a lot of American musicians that were on the label. It actually worked out just as cheap for them to send me over there and use local musicians as it would be to do it over here and bring a band in. I sent them the demos and they said “We know exactly the guys you need”.
I went over there with my songs and on the 1st day I recorded each and every one of them acoustically, doing them on my own. The band came in the next day and asked me to play the tunes a couple of times. We would then try it and every single track on that album was done on either the 2nd or 3rd take. Every single time. The standard of the musicianship was incredible. There were no airs or graces about them. They just got on with it. The guys that played on that album I have since discovered, have played with artists like Robert Plant, The Dixie Chicks, The Black Crowes. They’re big hitters, you know? And the guy that played lap steel and banjo? He’s got a Grammy for best producer and album and all of that kind of stuff. But they came across just like normal guys. They didn’t know me from anyone, but they treated my with the same respect as they would Eric Clapton. It felt like they just looked as me as a musician and they were there to do a job for me and that was it. It was brilliant! It was another eye-opener. The speed at which they worked was incredible!
K: How did that make you feel as a musician? Did you feel comfortable or did you feel like there was another level that you had to get to?
S: I always felt comfortable. I’m not an arrogant person at all. I’m very aware of my own capabilities. Nobody needs to tell me how good or bad I am and that’s something I’ve always been aware of. I know how good I can be and I also know what I need to be to be better. I’ve also been a believer that I will never be the finished article because there is always other stuff to learn. So I was comfortable around them but it also made me say exactly that…”There’s another level here that I need to hit!”
K: A good experience?
S: It was very good for me as an experience. Another thing that impressed me was this guy that was playing guitar on the album. He walked into the studio, came in to the recording room, plugged all of his stuff in and never played a note. He came out the room, shut the door, plugged his guitar in…Bang! The sound was the “Perfect Holy Grail Sound”. He just knew his stuff. There was none of this “tweak this…tweak that…fannying about” it was just perfect.
K: So back to the “Sky Won’t Fall” album, how’s that charting at the moment Stevie?
S: Well funnily enough, the record company were in touch recently and advised that they had seriously underestimated the demand and that a lot of the outlets had run out of copies. They had no idea that they were going to shift that many units. It’s a good problem to have! (laughs) They’re doing their job. They’ve got their PR machine working on it.
K: I’ve noticed that you’ve got your own PR machine working as well now that you come to mention it. You seem to have embraced the whole social media platform and are keeping your fans right up to date with what’s happening on the tour and also on a more personal level as well?
S: Yes. I am. I’ve never been a great fan and I sometimes don’t like what a lot of people do on it but I do like to have a bit of fun and show people another side of me. When I was starting out, I’d have liked to have known what bands did when they weren’t on stage. That’s what I would be interested in. You can always find out what kind of guitar or pedals people use but I think it’s interesting to find out what people do when they’re maybe just a bit bored! (laughs) Do you go out on the bike? Do you go swimming? What do you do? So that’s how I tend to use the social media.
K: How do you manage that Work/Life Balance when you are out on the road?
S: I tend to plan my tours pretty well. I’ll go away on tour for 4 weeks…never more than that. I’ll go home and stay for a while and then I’ll go out again for a little while and then go back again. I try and limit it to a month in the Spring, some festivals in the Summer and then a month in the Autumn and then I’m home. The idea is to earn enough money to keep me through those months when I’m not playing. That’s the goal. It doesn’t always work out but in an ideal world that’s how I like to work it. I’ve done the whole thing where you are playing every week but you miss everything else that is going on in your life. Everything just passes you by. I’ve been there. I didn’t enjoy it back then and I don’t enjoy it now. There’s other things to life.
As you know, I’m trying to learn how to take a photograph at the moment. I’ll never be the best at that but you know what? I don’t need to be the best at anything. I just enjoy doing it. I enjoy learning from guys like yourself and other photographers I know. I just love gathering all of these little bits of information that add to the big pot of knowledge.
K: It seems like “learning” is a big driver for you Stevie. You went back to University, you’re always learning on the guitar, you’re picking up photography. Is that active pursuit of knowledge, new things, new experiences….is that part of your make up? Is that what drives you?
S: Aye, it probably is. For example, with the French language, some people would ask “How do you say…..”
I ask “How do you form that grammar so that I can say that and other things like it?” I would rather know the workings of it rather than just the words that you say.
Funnily enough though, in music, I have no musical theory and I have no desire to have any. I really don’t know how to read music and I don’t want to. I think it would stifle me. It has to be off-the-cuff for me.
K: Any plans of the future?
S: At the moment I’m enjoying doing this but the moment I stop enjoying it I’m going to stop doing it again. I’m a real believer in doing this right and doing it with passion and feeling and if I’m up there pretending then how on earth can I expect someone else to enjoy the show.
K: Well I’m staying for the show..so I’ll let you know how it comes across (laughs)
S: (Laughs) Cheers mate. Let me know. All the best. I’d better go and make a noise!
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 24-120 f/4
Focal length: 40mm
Exposure: 1/125 sec at f/4
Time of day: 19:48
Conditions: Even cloud cover