The Scotsman Sessions #411: Dan Abrahams and Steven Feast

Welcome to the Scotsman Sessions, a series of short video performances from artists all around the country introduced by our critics. This week, Edinburgh-based composer Dan Abrahams performs his new composition Newport ’58 with Steven Feast

Musically, Dan Abrahams is a self-declared free spirit. As a youngster growing up in Sheffield, ska, punk and rock first tickled his fancy. Delving into his dad’s record collection soon awakened him to the shadowy depths of jazz and soul. Moving to Edinburgh for university he discovered traditional music, performing regularly in folk sessions and ceilidh bands.

“Nowadays I have a number of bands and they’re all very different,” says the freewheeling composer/performer, whose latest musical exploit has resulted in his first classical composition, Hope in the Dark, written for members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under its Soundbox mentoring programme and soon to be premiered at Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy (15 June) and St Luke’s Glasgow (16 June). “I’m always writing music, and mould every seed of an idea to whatever project provides the closest fit.”

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Since leaving university that has meant anything from funk or soul with The Foo Birds, jazz with the Bonzai Quartet or Rianna Walcott Band, to old-time folk with Wayward Jane or prog-folk with Dowally. “At Edinburgh University I even wrote stuff for the Composers Orchestra,” he recalls. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just putting dots on a page, they played it, and it was okay.” More recently he’s added film soundtracks to his burgeoning canon.

Dan Abrahams and Steven FeastDan Abrahams and Steven Feast
Dan Abrahams and Steven Feast

Yet Abrahams was never an actual music student. “I didn't have formal music training. I played in bands at school, didn’t go to a conservatoire, but studied engineering, then worked in renewable energy for many years. But I’ve always kept the music going, gradually doing more and more to the point where I’m now basically full-time.”

Right now he’s riding high. “I’m at a stage in my career where I’m happy in the knowledge I’ve produced work that is entirely true to myself. That’s really all you can do. If people like it, that’s great.”

Newport ’58, recorded here for the Scotsman Sessions, reflects that modest self-confidence and nostalgic love of jazz, having started life as free improvisation for Abrahams and his close friend Steven Feast. “The inspiration came from The River and The Train by American saxophonist/composer Jimmy Giuffre,” he explains, “especially its legendary performance by the Jimmy Giuffre Trio at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, which also features in the 1959 concert film Jazz on a Summer’s Day.”

The connection is quirkily captured in the languid harmonies and quick-fire persistence of Abrahams’ arch guitar coupled with the earthy counterpoint of Feast’s beguiling tárogató, a Hungarian folk instrument similar to the soprano saxophone and clarinet. Also in on the act is Feast’s new guide dog Midas, whose impromptu walkabout comes close to a wilful act of sabotage.

Might this informal performing duo ever be added to Abrahams’ professional portfolio? He doesn’t rule it out. “Me and Steve are just two old friends playing music for the joy of it, but we’d like to record some music soon, even perhaps with some chamber music input inspired by my new friends at the SCO.”

The SCO perform Dan Abrahams’ Hope in the Dark as part of their Soundbox Un:Titled concerts at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, 15 June and St Luke’s, Glasgow, 16 June, www.sco.org.uk

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