Love of jazz informs Scott Wood’s debut album

Scott Wood and his band. Picture: Contributed
Scott Wood and his band. Picture: Contributed
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WHEN you listen to the glorious jig-time rant that opens the Scott Wood Band’s appositely titled new album, Upsurge, as pipes, fiddle, guitars, bass and drums whip up a perfect storm, spare a thought for the 1st Erskine Boys Brigade, for it was there that it all began.

The band’s leader, piper Scott Wood, may just be 21, but he can boast a wealth of experience which takes in such top-level bands as Strathclyde Police and the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland and his recent graduation from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It was, however, with the BB band in his hometown of Erskine that he started learning the pipes.

He moved on to Johnstone Pipe Band and by the time he was 15 he was playing in Grade One band competitions, “so I was always hanging out with an older generation,” he recalls. “I had to keep on my toes.”

Originally formed as a trio, the band’s core of Wood on pipes and whistles, Mhairi Mackinnon on fiddle and Ron Jappy on guitar has been bolstered by the addition of Angus Tikka on bass guitar and Mark Scobbie on drums, while on the album they’re augmented by electric guitarist Davie Dunsmuir and string players Graham Mackenzie, Liam Brolly and Alice Allen.

For the album, Wood explains, “we wanted something that, as soon as you put it in your CD player, it would sound like it was just three of us, then out of nowhere would come the drums and bass to give everyone a bit of a shock.”

Listening to Upsurge (Oak Ridge Records) and its opening track, Spice of Life, it’s hard to disagree, but what makes this band interesting is how it reflects the way in which once strictly delineated borders between genres have dissolved on the Scottish music scene. Wood is a former finalist in the BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition, while drummer Scobbie was also a finalist, but in its Young Jazz Musician counterpart. Wood, whose playing credits outwith pipe band duties have included Mànran, Skippinish and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, is a self-confessed jazz fan, and both Scobbie and Tikka also play with the Glasgow-based folk-jazz big band Fat Suit.

Unsurprisingly, given the line-up, tunes such as Allan MacDonald’s Dr Alasdair Mackenzie and Martyn Bennett’s drolly titled Sheep Running About emerge in splendidly high-powered form, but it’s not all thunder, with a gentle handling of Mike Vass’s air Looking Through and the haunting calling of guitar and whistle in a brief interlude titled Breath.

The track which most strikingly encapsulates the band’s multifariousness, however, is McCready’s, written by Wood for his piping tutor, in which a traditional sounding 2/4 pipe march is underscored by plangent strings before giving way to a wonderfully rugged electric guitar excursion from Dunsmuir. “We wanted a solo on this track,” says Wood, “but something a bit different from the folk thing to bring in the jazz background, so we thought there was no-one better than Davie to do it. He came into the studio and absolutely blew us away.”

Lending a helpful ear in co-producing the album with Wood was a well known figure in the folk and piping worlds, Calum Macrimmon of Breabach, whose Big Music Society piobaireachd project recently enlisted Wood’s fiddler, Mhairi Mackinnon, into its string section. “Calum was a really important factor in the album,” says Wood. “He helped us make it a bit more diverse and helped with the tension, and it was great to have someone with so much experience.”

Another vital contribution came from the album’s mixing by Michigan-based musician and “sonic mastermind” Tyler Duncan, known for his work with Celtic fusion bands The Olllam and Millish as well as the electronic dance pop of Ella Riot. Wood flew out to Duncan’s home in Ann Arbor and stayed a week during the mixing – “one of the best weeks in my life,” he reckons.

Now out of the Conservatoire and into the big bad world, Wood is far from idle. He does a bit of studio mixing himself, and is in the process of forming another band with singer Hannah Rarity. He’s also planning to launch his own design of bellows-blown Border pipes in the autumn. In the meantime, next month sees the Scott Wood Band embark on a Highland tour which kicks off in Plockton Village Hall on 6 October, eventually finishing in the Mash House, Edinburgh on the 22nd.

• For further details see www.scottwoodband.com