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A chat with Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, Joe Williamson

Square One in the studio - guitarist

It's been a busy year for guitarist Joe Williamson - one of the most active members of Glasgow’s vibrant jazz scene, he's also been on the road and in the studio with US sax veteran Andy Middleton. Recently crowned Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, we caught up with Joe as his band prepares to launch their second album...

Best known for leading quartet Square One (winners of the prestigious Peter Whittingham Jazz Award), Joe is also a member of fast-rising group Graham Costello’s Strata, and new jazz-rock quartet Animal Society. A versatile musician, he's well versed in the jazz tradition, but also draws on influences from all kinds of contemporary guitar music, from Audioslave to Ben Monder. Since graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2016, Joe has performed at Scotland’s top jazz festivals, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, toured internationally with Square One, and performed live on BBC Radio Scotland.

Firstly, congrats on being Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year! How did it feel to win?

It was a real honour! A little strange, as the other finalists were great friends of mine, and incredibly talented players - but there was a really great supportive atmosphere in the competition. It means a lot to hold this title, as previous winners are musicians I really look up to and have gone on to do great things.

Square One released their debut album in 2016 - talk us through the journey you've been on since?

The release of 'In Motion' back in 2016 was a great boost for us - we had our first UK tour, and had a couple of trips to Poland to perform in some great clubs and a festival over there. We played some great concerts in Scotland and continued to reach new audiences - we were delighted that 'In Motion' was nominated for 'Best Album' at the 2017 Scottish Jazz Awards, and Square One 'Best Band' at the 2018 Scottish Jazz Awards, that was a nice boost!

We knew we wanted to do something different for our next album, so we were delighted with the opportunity to collaborate with Andy Middleton!

Andy Middleton in recording studio

Andy is something of a legend on the New York jazz scene - how did this collaboration come about?

I met Andy when he came to give a masterclass at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland when I was in my 4th year of study there. I had a private lesson with him, and he helped me shape some of the music which would appear on Square One's first album.

Andy had lots of nuggets of wisdom which really helped take the music and performance to the next level - it was also very inspiring to play alongside him, he's a real creative force!- Joe Williamson

Completely by chance, we than ran into each other (almost literally) at the Silesian Jazz Festival in Poland later that year, where we were performing, and Andy was judging a composition competition. He came to see us play, and we hung out afterwards. We stayed in touch, and Andy proposed that we collaborate.

Several hundred emails and a Creative Scotland grant later, we had Andy over to Scotland for the tour and recording back in March!

Square One in the studio

What did the collaboration mean to your music and the recording process?

Andy is a gifted composer as well as improvisor, so half the material we performed and recorded was his, and half was from Square One. His compositions are very sophisticated, and really fun! It was a great challenge for me to compose music that fits the Square One style whilst adding an extra musician.

Whilst on tour and in the studio, Andy had lots of nuggets of wisdom which really helped take the music and performance to the next level - it was also very inspiring to play alongside him, he's a real creative force!

Square One and Andy Middleton

You toured with Andy back in March 2018 – how did that go? Any highlights?

It was a great week! We had concerts in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, New Galloway, Greenock and Tobermory. It was a week of non-stop rehearsing, performing, and recording.

In those circumstances, the music always reaches a really special point where it's almost second nature as it's so familiar - so much of the music is based around improvisation, it means the musicians really explore the music and take it to new places every night!

We were lucky enough to play in a wide range of venues - major arts centres such as the Tolbooth and the Beacon, beautifully situated rural venues, such as the Catstrand in New Galloway and An Tobar on the Isle of Mull, and some really great inner city venues, such as Glasgow's Hug and Pint and the institution that is the Edinburgh Jazz Bar - so a really great circuit of Scottish venues!

A particular highlight was performing at An Tobar in Tobermory. It's a beautiful drive up there, and the island is so peaceful. The venue staff and audience were so warm and welcoming, and the show was wonderful. Gordon Maclean (one of the directors there, who was also doing sound) was good enough to record our gig. The last track on the album is a live take of Andy's tune 'City of Spies' from that concert!

Square One in recording studio

What can audiences expect from the new album and Saturday’s launch concert?

The album features some really great compositions which bring together a wide range of influences - rock, folk, fusion and ethnic sounds (Track 2, Into The Orient, is a riot - composed by pianist Peter Johnstone) come together with a solid foundation of contemporary jazz. It's really fun music, and Andy is an incredible soloist - not to mention the other guys in Square One! There are some really wonderful moments on the album.

Saturday's launch concert will feature all nine tracks from the album. I'm really looking forward to revisiting this music in front of an audience, it's going to be a blast.

Square One's second album, ‘Double Bind’, will be launched at a concert at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 24 November 2018.

Square One were supported by National Lottery funding through our Open Project Fund.

This article was published on 22 Nov 2018