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In Conversation with Fergus McCreadie

From being shortlisted for a Mercury Prize to winning the Scottish Album of the year, Fergus McCreadie’s career so far has only gone from strength to strength. Producing some of the ‘most beautiful music in jazz at the moment’ (WrittenInMusic), Fergus now teams up with Manchester Collective for an intimate and spell-binding show that highlights the pure magic of music capable of transcending genre. Ahead of their concert here at St George’s Bristol on Wednesday 13 March, we caught up with him to find out more.

Your 2024 has kicked off to a busy start! How is your year going so far?

It’s been really good! It’s good to be busy. January and February tend to be quite quiet months for musicians and I think there has been some of that space, too, but there’s always stuff to do, stuff to practice and lots to write for upcoming performances such as the upcoming tour with Manchester Collective. I’m also preparing for the upcoming album and have enjoyed some great gigs at Celtic Connection and in Glasgow. But just sitting and having some time with the piano before the madness starts has been really good.

Going back to your beginnings, how did you first discover your love for music and develop the sound you wanted to create?

I started playing the piano when I was six or seven—I just had lessons that were provided by the school. I always liked to play around and fiddle on the

piano but I don’t think the grade system did that much for me really—if anything it killed the appeal just a little bit. Then I discovered jazz when I was about twelve or thirteen and seeing a jazz pianist play and hearing him talk about how much he loved jazz—how passionate and how fun it can be—originally alerted me to it. But my only priority when I was young was playing the music that I liked and in the end I think that’s the only way anyone really develops their sound. It’s not a conscious thing and it’s still developing I think and I’m still going through that process. Everyone’s different and everyone likes different things and that, over time leads to the creation of your own sound.

You’re quoted to saying how jazz and folk hold a similar place for you. Can you elaborate on this a little and how does this affect your approach to each?

I think I’ve definitely spent more time in jazz—definitely gigs-wise that’s what I’ve done more of and what I studied at college. But Glasgow is to folk music what New York is to jazz music—there are so many good musicians and there’s so much good music to go and see. And even the improvised sessions in pubs are world-class, with world-class playing and performers. If you like folk music and you interact with this world regularly, as I did, it’s hard not to be inspired by it. So I think I was seeing a lot of trad. music and playing a lot of jazz music and slowly it felt more natural to combine them both in a way. I do feel like jazz is what I’m more comfortable playing but more and more these days, I’m trying to make that not the case. But I think both of them represent that freedom and that improvisatory quality. I also like the feeling of history that both genres have—both are very oral and have been passed down through a long lineage of people picking stuff up by ear and I really love the feeling that gives to the music.

From your award-winning album Forest Floor to The Unfurrowed Field, your music often has very strong connections with nature. How does our connection with nature influence your artistic direction and sound choices?

I think there’s this perception that you go for a walk in nature and get inspired to go home and write but I don’t think it really works that way. I love both. I might spend more time making music because it’s my job but when I can I get outdoors because I think they both exist together, in a way—they’re harmonious. Nature can also just make me more creatively fresh and it might be months down the line that I actually connect that tune to a place that I’ve been. I think they say that your favourite music is the music that you associate with certain memories, whether you know that or not, so I try to wait for the music to have an association with a particular memory that suits it and more often than not, that often comes down to the nature aspect of it.

In March, you’ll be performing alongside Manchester Collective. What can our audiences expect from The Unfurrowed Field?

They can expect a really varied programme—with some new music from myself and Donald Grant’s—but also some older works. There’s a huge variety of music reflecting a lot of different cultures. I just think it’s going to be a really interesting, diverse programme and I can’t wait.

What else is on the horizon this year?

Well, this year I have another album coming out which is dominating my thoughts—that’ll be coming out on 3 May—which is really exciting and it’ll be the fourth album I’ve recorded with the same line-up. I think it’s really

interesting to have the same band on multiple albums and see how it develops. I’ll also have a tour to accompany that so it’ll just be really interesting to see how that album does.

If you could choose a desert island record or recommend one track for our audiences to listen to, what would it be?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the fiddle player Martin Hayes in Edinburgh and I’ve been such a big fan for such a long time. In terms of the musicians who influence you, there are the jazz pianists I know and love and Martin Hayes is sitting right there. I just really love the way he plays—it’s so expressive and so beautiful—and seeing that reignited the love I have for his ‘Live In Seattle’ album. There’s this one track on it—it’s very long for a track actually—that’s a huge medley of loads of tunes and I’ve listened to it hundreds of times but still get excited by it. It’s got everything that you could want from music—it’s really delicate at points and then really driving so I’d recommend that.

Book tickets now to see Fergus McCreadie live in concert with Manchester Collective.

Words: Louise Goodger