The Scotsman Sessions #288: Andrew J Brooks

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts sector still impacted by the pandemic, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, from his Concrete Block Gallery in Edinburgh’s Tollcross, saxophonist and composer Andrew J Brooks performs his song Phases

The pandemic brought about substantial changes in Andrew J Brooks’ life, as it did for many others. In his case the summer of 2020 meant a move from Bristol to Dunbar in East Lothian, and this year has seen the musician, visual artist, sometime professional architect and current lecturer at the University of Edinburgh release EAST, his first album.

“It’s is a curation of existing and new pieces,” says Brooks, a saxophone player and electronic composer. “There are a lot of field recordings on the album, of the sea, the trees, the birds. That’s where the name EAST came from, it’s a direct reference to East Lothian. I definitely wouldn’t have made the same album while I was living in Bristol or Edinburgh, that’s for sure.”

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Born and raised in the Lake District, Brooks studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art. He was in the city for eight years before he moved to New Zealand, then London and finally Bristol, where he was office lead and associate at an architectural practice. He specialised in work on science and research buildings, for clients including the University of Oxford and the Royal Agricultural University.

Andrew J Brooks

Scotland, he says, has always felt like home, particularly since he and his wife returned last summer. “I’m a surfer and we’re both free divers, and the connection to the sea is really important to us,” he says. “We moved to Dunbar to be closer to my family in the Lake District and to be close enough to Edinburgh to have professional jobs. We’re not going to move anywhere else – we’ve moved a lot, and this is where we’ll stay.”

His music emphasises this sense of place. “Through the field recordings I made last December, I’ve tried to capture the things I really love,” he says. “Diving and surfing, being underwater, being close to the sea, the sound of that really chimes with where I feel happy. Then East Lothian, the landscape, the Muir Hills behind, the coastal pine forests, the dunes… Belhaven beach is a really important one. The spoken word parts (read by Hazel Johnson, one of the organisers of Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival) on the album – “this is what I came for, this is why I’m here” – that’s really the heart of what I feel about here.”

Brooks’ gorgeous-looking and sounding Scotsman Session version of his song Phases was recorded at his Concrete Block Gallery in Tollcross, where he completed a durational artwork about Covid deaths in the UK named TOLL earlier this year. The gallery also played a part in this summer’s Architecture Fringe, and he hopes to use it to welcome other artists and stage more public shows in future.

“There’s a projection from behind me and one from above in the performance, which are reflected by mirrors,” he explains. “It’s underwater footage shot off Belhaven beach at super-slo-mo speed, then slowed down again, of dusk sunlight shining down through the ripples in the water. This performance of Phases is a much cleaner version of the song – on the album it’s got some drum machine and heavy delay. It’s really trying to get the feeling of being underwater and of this music swelling up and enveloping you, and that’s what I’m trying to convey with this projection – the feeling of being immersed in the sea.”

Andrew J Brooks’ debut album EAST is out now and available at www.andrewjbrooks.bandcamp.com. For more about his music, his art and events at Concrete Block Gallery in Edinburgh, see www.ajb-art.com

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