Check ‘Em Out: Iain Morrison

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Image courtesy of BBC Scotland

Filling in for our resident Check-‘Em-Out-er Eden Jinks (we need to give him a better title…), Music Editor Chris Irvine takes a dive into the deep blue of Iain Morrison, a Scottish singer songwriter hailing from the Outer Hebrides.

If you were to ask my dad how he became a fan of Iain Morrison, he would claim that he just so happened to see him as the support at a local gig and bought his album as a result; he would say that he immediately thought he was talented and wanted to hear more of his work.

Yeah – my old man’s a liar, folks, and I’m going to make it public record right here, right now: I was the one who saw the potential in that bedraggled guitar player who sat nervously up on stage while a couple of hundred audience members stared him down. I should also point out that my dad dismissively used the phrase “he’s crap” in a rather reactionary manner at the end of Morrison’s set. Yeah. Real fan attitude, pops.

But I genuinely didn’t think that he was crap – on the contrary: I thought he was great.

He played a song called ‘Omu Prin’s Lament’ from his album Trust The Sea To Guide Me and (though I admit that the inclusion of spoken word elements initially turned me off) I thought it was wonderful. The chorus melody is beautiful, enhancing the tragedy of the lyrics as they tell the story of an old man yearning for his lost love: “She whispers my name as the song falls away; / she whispers my name each day.” After that, I knew that I needed him on my iPod.

After a bit of time my dad became equally impressed with him, evolving further into quite the avid follower, electing to buy Morrison’s entire back catalogue of music. Put it this way: I don’t remember complaining.

He has produced some fantastic albums – including Haunted Bird and To The Horizon, Sir – but perhaps his most popular track can be found on the album Skimming Stones… Sinking Boats, and it is called ‘Broken Off Car Door’. Morrison explained his inspiration for the track:

“It’s kind of about a friend of mine who was destined to be a doctor, but then he chose to not go into medicine and instead he became a professional clown. He was really happy doing what he was doing, you know, and he was great at it, but he had a sadness in his life because his parents never quite accepted who he was.”

Now, I had heard the song before I found this contextual explanation online, and I certainly had not expected the whole clown bit (I mean that was pretty out of left field, I hope you’ll all agree), but Morrison certainly captured the desperate sadness of the song’s protagonist in his lyrics, the chorus going as follows: “And for my next trick / I’ll jump from the seventh floor / and sail the Atlantic / on a broken off car door. / And I hope you can get it; / if not, there’s no more. / No more…” It simply conveys that feeling of being lost and alone in your own little world, supported by no one, creating a genuinely touching yet sadly evocative musical experience – however it is also darned catchy, so I do recommend that you bear the emotional brunt to enjoy the gorgeous melody that flows from Morrison like water from a clinically depressed faucet.

‘Trust the Sea to Guide Me’ (from the album of the same name) is a track that acts as a classic example to what I find to be so special about Iain Morrison: many would relegate him to the genre of folk, and he certainly does imbue his music with traditional elements and arrangements, but he does not shy away from the alternative and indie vibes that shimmer out from the folky heart of his tunes. ‘Trust the Sea to Guide Me’ has an upbeat acoustic guitar jangling away while surrounded by dancing notes from an electric guitar, the drone and wavering of a string arrangement fleshing out the musical landscape in aid of creating an illusion of swaying seas – it is as though you are on a boat in the middle of a choppy bay, and you’re allowing yourself to be slid from side-to-side as the waves lap at the wooden edges of your vessel. It’s a stunning composition, due to its simplicity and the obvious calibre of musicianship and production.

Morrison is not a total unknown, having worked with big names in the folk world as well as playing at the prestigious ‘Celtic Connections’ annual festival in Glasgow, but his online following is fairly small. He regularly plays small venues throughout the UK and tends to fill them to capacity, selling plenty of general merchandise and spreading his music amidst a fairly dedicated crowd of fans, but whenever I see him I always feel that he could fill a larger venue; that he’s worthy of one. The moment he walks on stage Morrison is shy and introverted, managing to crack the odd joke or two into the microphone, a clear sign of gradual acclimatisation to live performing through years of touring. Gigs are not his natural habitat, that much is clear, but he wants to entertain and he loves playing music, so when the nerves vanish and the band kick in behind him he’s off, because Iain Morrison is without a doubt one of the most emotionally energetic performers I have ever seen.

Having acted as lead singer and songwriter for his indie band Crash My Model Car (who are well worth a look too) throughout his career he’s grown accustomed to the musical support, and you can see it when he’s got backing musicians filling the empty stage to his rear during solo tours; he is much more relaxed and allows himself to be engulfed by the sounds. He becomes one with the music, and it’s all there in his absent-minded smile. It continues to be humbling, though, if you ever get the chance to see him perform on his own – the song and performance quality is consistently strong, but you can also always see the fear shrouding his down-turned eyes, and there’s something haunting about that.

Discover Iain Morrison through his Facebook (www.facebook.com/iainmorrisonpeatfire), his SoundCloud (www.soundcloud.com/iain-morrison) or his official website (www.iainmorrisonmusic.com), because he’s truly one of the best Scotland has to offer, so check ‘em out.