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Iain Sutherland inteview

RNR magazine


A new Iain Sutherland album release, Back To The Sea, was something of a surprise to long-time fans, since little has been heard from him since previous solo recordings Mixed Emotions (1983) and Learning To Dance (1985). The last collaboration with brother, Gavin, a duo by then, the Quiver suffix superfluous, was When The Night Comes Down, released in 1979.

Back To The Sea is a splendid return, with Iain on top form. His songs are as melodic and meaningful as ever, with a fine maturity further flavouring his distinctive vocal delivery.

Iain takes up the story. “At the end of last year, I was in a bit of a dark place. My father had recently died, and one way of dealing with things seemed to be to write. I’d already started the idea of an album, responding to being asked over the years if I still wrote and if so, when was I going to record again. Once I started recording, it triggered a creative flow and I really got into layering guitar, keyboard and vocal tracks, with my son Jamie`s help on the technological side.

I made a conscious effort to try to keep the lyrics positive rather than jumping into that well of melancholia that`s always there for most writers, although at my age I think I`m entitled to get a little reflective sometimes. I also bought a new shed with a 20 year guarantee, so how positive is that?!

The album’s finishing touches were added at ARC Studios in Aberdeenshire, with Jim Hunter, brother Gavin and others. It was important for Iain to return to his early home territory to complete it.

Musically and instrumentally I definitely looked back to the accordion and fiddle sounds that were so familiar in my youth on the coast of North East Scotland. My father`s big influences were Jimmy Shand`s reels and Stephane Grappelli`s jazz violin. I also think there is such a thing as a ‘Scottish feel’ rhythmically, and it felt very natural to go back to Aberdeenshire to finish and mix the tracks.

Strong nautical themes abound in Back To The Sea. Is this an important part of Iain’s early Buchan heritage surfacing? “Watching the waves is good for the soul and is always an inspiration for me. The idea of Back to the Sea is that everything comes from, and returns to the sea. A bit of ‘cod philosophy’, if you like. The sea and its moods have always been used metaphorically by writers. My song - don`t always believe what it says on the tin - ‘Sailing’, is spiritual rather being literally about boats, in the same way as ‘When The Train Comes’ wasn`t actually about railway engines!

My early songs, like ‘The Pie’ and ‘Arms of Mary’ were about the angst of young love. Obviously my perspective has changed, but the basic themes, despite being cliché, remain the same. The trick as a songwriter is to find new ways of expressing the same simple things. I feel I’ll always continue to write and record, whatever happens, though I hope there will be enough interest in this collection of songs to justify releasing another.

Whilst news of live shows would be warmly welcomed by those who still treasure the cache of fine songs Iain and Gavin have written and performed for over forty years, he remains non-committal. “I’ve no plans for any gigs at the moment. I have a few radio and press interviews lined up, so we`ll see what the response is.”

He didn’t say “no”. Fingers crossed, then.

David Innes
Date added: Dec 13, 2019

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