GLASGOW LIVING EXCLUSIVE: In the studio with Gareth Malone and Finlay MacDonald
The nation’s favourite choirmaster, Gareth Malone, was in Glasgow last week recording a song with piper Finlay MacDonald at The Piping Centre for his new album, A Great British Christmas. Glasgow Living were invited along and Gareth was kind enough to have a chat with us, after only five hours of sleep and a long drive up from London!
During a three week journey around the UK, Gareth will be joined by a variety of musicians and groups from local communities as he records a Christmas album. Gareth started in Belfast and has went on to Cornwall where he recorded with Perranarworthal Handbell Ringers.
Gareth also visited the Coed Eva Primary School in Wales, that was burnt down in an arson attack. Speaking about it, he said: “They are back on their feet now and this was a nice thing for them to do, sort of part of the recovery process.” He then went on to tell us about recording with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, which he described as a “massive honour”. Gareth explained that they were the band that played on Terry Wogan’s 1970’s track, ‘The Floral Dance’. “They had a number two hit, beaten actually by a track with bagpipes on – Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre, that was the last time they had a hit record!”
When researching for this interview, we discovered that Gareth’s father grew up in Glasgow, which Gareth confirmed and said he has been to Glasgow several times. “I was here as a kid, I used to come and stay with relatives in East Kilbride, in the 1980’s. My Dad is from the East End of Glasgow, so we used to go and visit people there, in Tollcross and Parkhead. Then I’ve been up for work, I’m here a lot. I love it up here, a few years ago I came on holiday and done the Trossachs and stayed in Drymen, it’s beautiful, I love it!”
The single Gareth is working on today is ‘Brothers in Arms’ by Dire Straits, and is working with Finlay MacDonald who will be playing the Chanter on the track.
“The idea for this track came quite early on, because I wanted to represent the military community. We wanted to do ‘Brothers in Arms’, so it’s a slightly more reflective moment on the album. I’ve got the Invictus Choir on it and a fantastic young soloist called George McCarthy.”
“I think there is something very haunting (about the chanter). The song is set on a hillside and there’s this guy who’s at the end of his life, he is talking about his brothers in arms. It’s kind of about the futility of war. At Christmas time there are a lot of people who aren’t together as families, and this song has a touch of that in it. I just felt on the original, the electric guitar doesn’t really sum that up.”
That’s when inspiration struck for Gareth. “One of the (piper) albums I really loved was the Spirit of the Glen. There are some great tracks on there, some great playing. That’s the sound world I had in mind. So I’ve come all the way to Glasgow to record the pipes, as one would!”
“There is something so mysterious and ancient and timeless about the chanter. So I then had to rewrite the whole song to get the right key, as it plays in a very specific style of notes. And I’m just about to find out whether that’s going to work!”
Before heading upstairs to hear Finlay play, I had to ask about ‘the most wonderful time of the year’! Gareth has several reasons he wanted to make a Christmas album, one being: “I love Christmas, but hate Christmas music.”
He then adds, “Well hate is a strong word, but I think we are all a bit tired of the ‘chintzyness’ of Christmas. I wanted to do something that was a bit more of a grown up Christmas album.”
Gareth explains he wanted to capture the sound of a British Christmas, including carol singing and brass bands, “all those kind of community sounds and merge it with my professional choir. So it has that shine and quality.”
Finally, we asked Gareth what for him makes for a Great British Christmas. “For me, fundamentally it’s not about the gifts, it’s about being together, it’s about community, it’s about people and it’s about walking down the street and seeing your neighbour and wishing them ‘Happy Christmas’ and getting cards from people and just the spirit and the generosity.”
The first ‘taste of Christmas’ Gareth explains is generally through music, “often Slade and Wizard, which are wonderful songs, but I’ve heard nothing else for the past 30 years… So in a way I wanted a slight antidote to that, there are upbeat moments, but this is a little more reflective.”
A Great British Christmas will be released on 2nd December.