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Paul McGeechan on Starless

Paul McGeechan 

Starless is the brainchild of Love and Money keyboard player Paul McGeechan. A lushly orchestrated album featuring a host of illustrious collaborators including Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile), Karen Matheson (Capercaillie), Julie Fowlis and Chris Thomson (The Bathers), and recorded with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Since its release at the end of May the album has been picking up airplay across BBC Radio 2, Radio Scotland, 6 Music and others, along with a host of glowing reviews. 

We were lucky enough to find out more about this hugely ambitious and beautifully realised project from Paul McGeechan himself, and are delighted to premiere the music video for Whispered Reason No.2 from the album.

Where did the idea for Starless come from? 

I had the initial idea around seven or so years ago, but the real impetus for the project was when Love and Money reformed for a Celtic Connections concert in 2011. Due to an accident I hadn’t played music in years, so I had to go back to the start - buying myself a keyboard and learning how to play again. It was this process, and playing the six or so shows that got me interested in writing again.

My career had gone from performer to engineer and producer, and revisiting performing sparked new ideas. I started getting in touch with artists I’d worked with and artists I’d always wanted to work with to gauge their interest in the project.

It was also at this point I started looking into the possibility of getting funding from Creative Scotland, and that my application was successful allowed me to take the project where I wanted it to go.

How did you involve the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra?

I’d previously worked with them on a Love and Money project, and I knew they would be empathetic to what I was trying to achieve with Starless. I think this comes from the fact that they are so used to doing film and popular culture music, as opposed to just straight classical music. So the attraction was not only in their huge ability, but also knowing they’d understand the ambitions I had for the project. And I think it’s vital that the album was arranged with the orchestra in mind from the ground-up, not just as an add-on at the end.

The orchestra also gives a sense of unity to the album, appearing on nine out of the ten tracks. I think as the songs cross over many different influences and elements, with stylistic differences too, they could’ve ended up sounding quite disparate. But the orchestra, and the use of incidentals throughout, link the songs and unite them as a whole body of work.

Starless album artwork

Starless features two Gaelic collaborations, with Karen Matheson on The Surge of the Sea and Julie Fowlis on Duthaic Mhicaoidh, what’s your connection with Gaelic music?

It was certainly never my background as a performer, but as a producer I ended up working quite extensively on traditional albums. This gave me the opportunity to hear a lot of different singers and voices I might not have been exposed to before, so even though I didn’t understand the language I found it very poetic and full of emotion. I’d mixed a lot for Capercaillie over the years, so had known Karen Matheson a long time and knew she was the person for The Surge of the Sea. Similarly I’ve worked with Julie Fowlis throughout her career, so having that relationship in place makes a huge difference to the recording process.

Those songs add to a sense of other-worldliness I think is sustained throughout the album. There’s been some references to The Cocteau Twins, I actually had tried to get Elizabeth Fraser involved but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out this time.

There’s another collaboration that’s garnered a lot of attention, the first vocal performance from Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile in a long time on title track Starless. How did this come about?

Through tenacity! I remember the first time I heard The Blue Nile’s music and just being absolutely blown away. When their first album came out it was so unusual because it was soundscapes, and so unlike anything else at that time. And Paul Buchanan’s voice was central to that.

With the track Starless I had tried it with two other female vocalists, and it just didn’t quite suit and I felt it needed a male vocal. So I thought in an ideal world “who would I have singing that track?”, and it was obvious to me that it was Paul. I reached out to him, and then heard nothing back for three months. Then through coincidence, Paul actually got in touch with me as I’d been recommended to record the album he’s working on. So he apologised about the lack of contact and agreed to do the song, if he liked what he heard! Thankfully he did, and he came out to the studio and we recorded it. I think that song and his voice are just perfectly matched.

Alongside the well established collaborations, there are also some newer artists on the album…

Yes, there’s sort of a hidden track within album closer Jura that goes into some ambience and comes back in with acoustic guitar, and that’s played by Finn LeMarinel. Finn was a graduate of the Commercial Music course I teach at the University of West of Scotland and I remember the first time seeing him perform just thinking he was incredible. He’s also worked with RM Hubbert, and now has his own album out and he’s just exceptionally talented. The University of the West of Scotland actually played a really important collaborative role across the project with many talented staff and students involved

Also on the album is Marie Claire Lee, a singer I met years ago who I hadn’t been in touch with in a while. She sings Whispered Reason No. 2 and Solitude, and her voice is just fantastic. She has her own EP coming out soon too.

My son also plays guitar on the album, he’s in his own band Amatrart.

Watch the premiere of the video for Whispered Reason No.2 

Are there any plans to play the album live?

In short, hopefully! I’ve been in conversations with Celtic Connections and with the University of the West of Scotland about a few different options so it would be great to see something happen. Most of the artists on the album have said they’d be up for it, the hardest thing would just be balancing everyone’s schedules. But it’s absolutely something I’d like to see happen.

After so many years work, how does it feel to hear the album as a finished piece? 

It was such an intensive and encompassing project, I think I must have driven my family mad while working on it! So I’m finally at a point where I can hear it and not think too much about the processes behind it. But I feel very privileged to have had some really fantastic and supportive responses from press and radio which you just you can’t anticipate.

It felt like it was timely in my career to record Starless, and I’m excited to see what happens next with it.

Starless is out now on Marina Records.

Paul McGeechan received funding from the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

This article was published on 21 Jul 2016