Photographer Scott Morris spent years documenting the East Neuk of Fife’s vibrant music scene. Now his work is to be remembered in a memorial exhibition, and with a collection of new songs written and recorded by the musicians he pictured for posterity. Billy Briggs reports
It’s early on a Sunday evening and a musician opens his set in an Anstruther pub. The old inn is jammed to its rafters and ale flows as a Mancunian called Mike Bowden plays the blues. He plucks hard on the strings of a guitar and sings a song called Be Still, while punters join in with the chorus.
Among the crowd is a photographer called Scott Morris and as the open mic continues he stands quietly in the background, capturing moments with his camera. For several years Morris documented one of Scotland’s most vibrant music scenes with black and white images, but in April 2018 he died suddenly from an aggressive brain tumour, aged just 59.
Morris’s premature death stunned people in the East Neuk town where he had lived much of his life. He was well liked, his photography widely admired, and as a tribute next week the musicians he pictured for posterity will launch a new album at the opening of a memorial exhibition of Morris’s photography in Pittenweem, organised by local artist Tim Fitzpatrick.
The new album is called George Street Sessions Volume 2, a follow-up to George Street Sessions Volume 1, which was produced in 2017 by a classically-trained musician called Clive Gray. Both compilations are named after a street in Cellardyke and feature musicians, both amateur and professional, who have played live in local pubs over the past few years. The first album was a compilation of covers and originals while the new CD is comprised solely of songs people have written themselves.
Gray – who recorded more than 50 albums while working as a producer in the German city of Bremen – recorded the first album in the front room of a former shop in George Street, Cellardyke, the coastal village where he lives. George Street Sessions 2 was recorded in the garden house of another home in the same street, and as well as songs it includes a poem read by actor Clive Russell, who also lives in Cellardyke. Russell is a well known face on television, famous for many roles including playing Blackfish in the global blockbuster, Game of Thrones. The CD has been mastered by Scots record producer Callum Malcolm who has worked with Mark Knopfler, Simple Minds, Big Country and The Blue Nile, among many others.
Having been involved in the East Neuk music scene since 2014 – a place that’s home to acclaimed artists such as King Creosote and James Yorkston – Gray wanted to record musicians after being greatly impressed by local talent and live performances. “As a producer in Germany I recorded over 50 albums with musicians and made many music films, mostly classical,” he says, “so when I came to the East Neuk in 2014 I was very surprised to find such an active music community playing at such a high level. This led to the idea of recording the first George Street Sessions album in 2017.”
The second album, Gray explains, was difficult in that he felt it must be different from the first while at the same time retaining its the elements that made the original a success. Almost half the tracks of George Street Sessions One were original songs, which Gray thought was special. “So why not have all songs being original compositions? It was also a way to push the bar higher.”
When he lived in Bremen, Gray had his own studio so musicians came to him, often travelling long distances to record for lengthy spells in what he dubbed his “underground cavern.” In the East Neuk, however, he has no studio so he often does the travelling, meeting musicians in their comfort zones to record what he calls “pop up studies.”
In 2018, for example, he recorded an album in the living room of a unique musician and composer called Jim Tribble, who plays medieval music on arcane instruments such as the hurdy gurdy, often performing at Edinburgh Castle. Other artists who have recorded with Gray include Neil Fraser, Scruff and Jeff, Saskia Griffiths and Ricky Rooney. His next project is a four-track EP with a singer-songwriter called Chris Peebles. These past few years have been special for Gray and he is grateful to Morris who, he says, had a unique eye and ability to capture the atmosphere of live gigs at pubs such as The Boathouse in Anstruther, which hosts the open mic Sunday Social, and The Haven, which overlooks Cellardyke harbour. Both venues promote live music regularly, as do most of the pubs and hotels in Anstruther, Crail and Pittenweem, providing the East Neuk with an abundance of gigs.
“To have an event documented is to make it real and accessible to others,” says Gray. “Scott’s photos were more than that. He captured moments that we otherwise might not be aware of. He was the visual expression of the musical experience that we partook in every Sunday.”
Gray helped choose photographs – with the help of his stepfather, Iain Gray – for a new edition of Morris’s work entitled The Boathouse Sessions, which will go on sale when the memorial photography exhibition opens at the art@47 gallery in Pittenweem on 11 October. Gray also liaised on the book with Lali Grifell, who says that Morris, her late partner, liked to “detach himself from conventionality” both in his life and his photography.
“He favoured mostly old analogue photography techniques although he occasionally enjoyed digital photography as well,” says Grifell. “He described himself as a visual artist rather than as a photographer, as he not only experimented with alternative photography techniques but also wanted to create something visually very unique and meaningful. “He had a rather unique way of seeing the world around him and a rather dry sense of humour as well. His photography is just meant to reflect life as it is, beautiful in both its imperfection and impermanence.”
The Scott Morris Memorial Exhibition will be displayed at art@47 in Pittenweem from 11 October until 26 October. For more information about George Street Sessions Volumes 1 & 2, and to order, visit www.georgestreetsessions.com