Pianist Fergus McCreadie on his new album and the challenges facing the Scottish jazz scene

With a Scottish Album of the Year Award and a Mercury Prize shortlisting under his belt, Fergus McCreadie is one of the stars of Scotland exciting new jazz generation. At the same time, however, jazz venues are disappearing at an alarming rate. The recent loss of Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar was ‘a reminder of how fragile things are’, he tells Jim Gilchrist

The opening track of Fergus McCreadie’s newly released album, Stream, pretty well encapsulates what the pianist’s mercurial, Scots-accented, landscape-inspired jazz is about. Entitled Storm, its dramatic, cymbal-shushing prelude is followed by delicate keyboard musings that that become suitably tempestuous. The whole album shapeshifts between folky, pastoral melodies, moments of reflection and turbulent cross-currents.

McCreadie’s last album, Forest Floor, was the first jazz recording to be voted Scottish Album of the year and was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. Stream, his third album on the prestigious Edition label and fourth since his 2018 debut, Turas, sees his trio with bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson, always an impressively cohesive outfit, even more co-responsive. “We’re a lot more tight,” he agrees, “and for my part, between these two albums, I’ve done a lot more practising, although it’s always an ongoing process and there are many things I want to be better at.

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“Playing-wise, however, I do think it’s the strongest album,” he adds. It’s also different from previous releases, he says, in that its narrative arc is fairly linear, flowing from turbulent darkness into light: “It’s a sort of cloudy skies to sunnier skies journey. And it’s more exploratory. There’s a risk element in some of the longer tracks that spend a while in exploring different things.”

Fergus McCreadieFergus McCreadie
Fergus McCreadie

The pensive closing number, Coastline, has a quiet sense of... arrival perhaps? McCreadie agrees, but adds, “Even though I’ve laid out exactly how the journey is, I’d still like it if people had their own sense of what the music is, leaving filling in the gaps to their own imagination.”

The trio launched the album last month with an enthusiastically received concert at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall and are currently busy touring England, with European interludes. Intriguingly one of their English gigs is at Cecil Sharpe House, sanctum of the English Folk Dance and Song Society: “It’ll be nice to play somewhere that’s legendary in that way; also I love playing in nice big rooms that have a lot to give back acoustically.”

Then there’s one of his favourite venues, the beautiful Mackintosh Church, on 21 June during Glasgow Jazz Festival.

Discussion of venues, however, introduces a gloomy note to the conversation. The jazz community in Scotland and beyond was aghast at last month’s announcement that the award-winning Jazz Bar, with its musician-sustaining nightly programmes, had closed its doors for good, blaming the cost-of-living crisis and “operational challenges”.

“That was such a shock, I couldn’t believe it,” says McCreadie. “It’s hard to see anything good coming of it, but it would be as a reminder of how fragile things are, a wake-up call as to how much we need these venues.

“I feel really confused,” he continues, “as to why, when Scottish jazz is as strong as it’s ever been, we’re losing a lot of the things that are important.” And he cites not only the Jazz Bar but also Glasgow’s popular Blue Arrow Club closing two years ago as well as BBC Radio Scotland’s scrapping last year of its sole jazz programme. “And something we didn’t really notice that much, but the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland have almost completely axed their jazz profile. They’ve just replaced it with a weekend summer camp on improvising but it’s not jazz-specific.”

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The irony is that such losses come at a time when Scottish jazz is thriving, a hot-bed of emerging talent. “Now is the time to support jazz, because it could become potentially one of Scotland’s big exports.”

McCreadie himself keeps busy, quite apart from his trio. He was due to play with Glasgow drummer Graham Costello’s prog-jazz outfit, STRATA, the day of our interview. “Then there’s a couple of interesting things coming up later in the year. Stephen Henderson’s releasing his first album so I’ll be touring with that and I’ll be touring with corto.alto as well... just playing as much piano as possible.”