All posts by Jeff Merrifield

Lisa Ward: Tracks of my life

Lisa Ward is a Shetland girl through and through. She went to primary school in Hamnavoe and formed an interest in music there. That passion to be a singer songwriter has stayed with her all her life. A horrendous injury whilst exercising resulted in a broken back and saw her laid up for sixteen weeks, with time to think and write songs. Her recently recorded album “27”, with her XYY band, was launched at a gig in the Legion on 1st April. She is back living in Hamnavoe now and Jeff Merrifield caught up with her in her new house.

People have asked about the title of the opening song on the new album 27 Slices of Pi. It actually came from a joke I made to Craig Birnie (my partner and bass player in the band) just after I broke my back. I was extremely lucky as the CT and X-ray showed that the break was stable and the spinal cord safe – no surgery required – but I was in a hospital bed for several days while they made me a back brace, then when the brace was fitted there were lots of limited yet painful movements to get the blood flowing and optimise the healing.

Basically, I was 27 at the time it happened and I wanted to make light of the situation a bit, so I said to Craig, “Well I’m clearly not rock and roll enough for the 27 Club, but the universe took a little swipe, so I must at least have a bit of rock and roll in me!” This was a reference to the famous ‘27 Club’ of rock stars who sadly died at that age. It got me thinking about the number 27. I’m a bit of a numbers person and a big believer in the idea that mathematics is the language used by the universe to tell us about itself. As I was recovering, I did a fair bit musing on the beauty of mathematical constants and got to thinking about Pi, then I started contemplating how people talk of ‘wanting their slice of the pie’, which led to a myriad of cultural meanings behind pies and thoughts of Pi as a good metaphor for the universe or life itself. So, in combination with the idea of getting your ‘slice of the pie’, my 27 slices of Pi is the 27 years I’d been lucky enough to get to so far. 27 Slices of Pi is kind of a celebration.

XYY band has been together a couple of years. We put an earlier EP out of my own songs, as I didn’t want to be defined by twenty seconds of a cover version in The Voice. The process of being on that programme was interesting. Some BBC agents came to Shetland to listen to a few singers. I was one of a small group of singer-songwriters. I was asked to go to Glasgow for others to hear me, but I said I couldn’t afford the fare. But soon after, one of my doggies had something wrong with her and had to go to a special hospital in Glasgow. I got in touch with The Voice people and they arranged an audition while I was there. Some further time later, I had to go to London for another audition, but that time expenses were met. So, it was a long-ish journey, but I made the programme. I picked Tom Jones to work with and he turned out to be a really nice, level-headed person, for someone who has worked in a crazy industry as long as he has. He was very helpful to me, very relaxed and chilled, balanced.

What tracks did Lisa choose? You’ll need to buy the magazine to find out!

Tracks of My Life: Davie Gardner

Of all the people associated with the music scene in Shetland, none is more significant than Davie Gardner, the busiest promoter on the isles. He was keen to do this interview, but finding a slot in his packed schedule of things proved difficult. However, Jeff Merrifield eventually caught up with him, sat him down in the Bop Shop and fired off some questions, before he had to rush off to his next meeting. As was to be expected, Davie’s tastes in music have grown with the years and he is as enigmatic now as he has ever been. You’ll be sure to enjoy his choices.

I was born in Lerwick, so I’m born and bred a Shetlander. My parents lived in Bressay and I lived there. I got married in 1980 and I was working for Shell. A couple of years later, I got the chance of a supervisor’s job, but had to move to Lerwick to do it; and I’ve lived here ever since.

As far as music is concerned, my mam and dad had one of those old-fashioned radios, and I can always mind turning the dial on that radio looking for music. This would have been about 1962, the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I’d be about six at the time. There was no TV then, so there was no access to music there, so what we heard was on the radio. My father was a big Scottish dance music fan, Andy Stewart, Calum Kennedy, Kenneth McKellar, that style of thing. Later on, I once sat on the next table to Calum Kennedy at some do or other and I got him to sign the programme for my old man. Quite an incredible moment. Back then, though, it was the music that there was. I kinda liked it, but there was nothing else.

One day, my old man came home with a pile of 78s, the old records, and among them were a couple by Hank Williams. This would have been about 1965/66 and I was just absolutely blown away. It was something I had never heard before, great voice, and there was something that resonated with me about the country music. There was something about the words that I loved, even though I was only 10 at the time. This was great music. I only found out later how troubled Hank Williams was, but I ken that, even then, at 10, I thought that this was a guy with a problem. It was there in his voice, his style of singing.

Now, that kind of left me wanting to explore for musical things on my own. I came across Johnny Cash and loved him. And at that time, listening to the pop music that was around, you were beginning to hear The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I really liked the Rolling Stones, but then I didna really care much for The Beatles. That changed, later, but it was very much veered towards country music in the early days. I remember the first time of hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival and seeing this as a way of moving from liking country music into liking rock.
Simultaneously, there was rock’n’roll. I had a fantastic love of rock’n’roll. There was a tremendous programme on the radio on Sunday afternoons, for a few months, I think maybe on the Light Programme, called The History of Rock’n’Roll, and I came to that and first heard Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry. Immediately, I thought this music is what I want. And my father kinda liked it as well. It was the music I was bringing to him and it wasn’t a million miles different from country music. He’d been listening to Jim Reeves and Hank Williams, and liked that. I brought Johnny Cash to him and he thought that was, okay.

When I went to the Lerwick School, in 1968, and that was a sort of eye-opener. I was meeting people who talked about music and stuff. Up until then, I’d just been on Bressay and my friends didna listen to much music and certainly didna talk about it. And you didna have the money to buy it, you were too young to buy it. But then Radio One came along, we had telly by then and there was Top of the Pops, and suddenly you were hearing new things. The two things that changed things for me were hearing Cream for the first time.

I didna know what it was, and I didna care too much for it, but then I heard Sunshine of Your Love, which really made me sit up. There always seems to be a track that gets me into something, and that was it, for me. And then, of course, you go back to everything else and find what you were missing. And the other thing, the really seismic shift, came when I heard Jimi Hendrix on Top of the Pops and thinking, what the hell is this? He was playing Hey Joe, his first single, and it was so alien. I can’t say I really liked it, when I first heard it, but I liked the look of him and I wanted to like it, I was determined to understand it. And I did, eventually. Soon after Voodoo Child became one of my favourite records of all time, one of the all-time great tracks and some fabulous guitaring. He performed that on the Lulu Show.

That whole time was when I was hearing bands that would influence me to listen to everything that I have been listening to since. The Creedence, the Cream, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, all of that, and Johnny Cash. I still loved country music. And then you had the likes of Gram Parsons. Then Prog Rock came along, I loved Yes and I loved Genesis, and I still do today. And, of course there was still the love of the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The Sergeant Pepper album of The Beatles really made me sit up and like them.

On the back of all that, I got into punk rock, I heard the Sex Pistols, and just as it had been with Jimi Hendrix, here we were saying, what the heck is this, again. These are the big moments of music. It never happens now, unfortunately. That excitement of finding new things started to fade in the 1980s. But the full era of the late 60s and the 70s, that was my absolute favourite time for discovering new music.

If I was to pick any tracks from that time they would all be from that era. Those jaw-dropping moments when you just come across something that musically changes your life. David Bowie did it to me and Joy Division, but they were a short-lived thing, not around for long. Nirvana came pretty close to it, but they were never that “jaw-dropping moment” for me. That mid-seventies thing, when there was the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, The Clash, Talking Heads, that was a helluva time. There was something that was new every week. Ah, Patti Smith, she is my favourite female artist of all time. And still going strong.

I loved the stuff that grew out of punk, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, they werna punk, but they thrived in that era by being different.

I started doing the BBC Radio Shetland Rock Show and soon after started promoting. We did the Rock Show on a Friday night, different themes, different topics, new releases. We started getting CDs fae loads of Scottish bands. One of them was a band called the Hunt Family. They were from the Glasgow area. We loved their stuff and they asked if anybody did promotion in Shetland. We said that we thought bands just came up here off their own bat. They asked to let them know if we thought of anybody.

John Robertson, at the radio station, suggested that we took the lead on this and book them. I was working for Shell at the time and also for Radio Shetland and I thought, why not? It went well and we had them back two or three times, and then other bands started to ask us. It all snowballed from there.

We were probably bringing up three or four bands a month. Whenever we got a band up, we just had to say they were from Glasgow and we sold out! We started getting more and more bands on offer, some of them names, and we just negotiated hard and brought them up. On and off, I’ve been doing it ever since. There was a demand for good bands to come here and nobody else was making it happen. They could have promoted themselves, but we could help, we knew the halls, we knew where to get the PA and stuff, Stevie Hook, mostly. So they worked with us.

I’ve never been a musician, but have always enjoyed putting musicians on. As long as you knew your heart and soul was in it, that’s what was important. And then, I took on the music development job at Shetland Arts, and this was a job in music that I wanted to do. A lot of people got behind me, helped and advised me. We developed a lot of music. It was a great moment getting hold of the music development job and it was a wrench to leave it. But it needed new faces and I went back to promoting through my own company. I’ve loved every minute of it.

I very nearly changed one of my choices at the last minute, because I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I love everything he does. I didn’t change it as I couldn’t think of one track. All his albums are great and they stand up as albums. He’s not a singles man. And I love him for his albums, not for any tracks that stand out individually. But if I could have an extra, for a treat, any song by Bruce Springsteen will suit me fine.

MY FIVE TRACKS ARE…

You Win Again
Hank Williams
Fantastic lyrics, heartbreaking lyrics. Probably one of the greatest country songs ever, written by the greatest country songwriter ever. I was fascinated by Hank Williams, by his character, dark and deep, he was the first real rock’n’roll casualty. Incidentally, that was one of the 78s my dad brought to me, so it was the first Hank Williams I liked and still love.

Voodoo Child
Jimi Hendrix
It was hard to pick a track to represent the sixties. It might have been Creedence Clearwater Revival doing Bad Moon Rising, but I’ve played that track to death, and remembering how I felt when I first heard Hendrix, it has to be Voodoo Child, the impact at that time. The song was incredibly poignant for me. We were sitting watching the TV, in September 1970, and the news came on that he had died. And the news played out with that song, which had been a relatively new song, and for me it’s always been associated with the day that Jimi died. It was such a great moment in rock music and one of the most brilliant guitar solos. He was such a flamboyant and brilliant personality, incredibly photogenic. A real rock star, and yet he brought together rock and blues and jazz and everything.

Anarchy in the UK
The Sex Pistols
This just has to be one of the most audacious records to change the course of history. I actually heard it before all the rumpus on the Bill Grundy Show, so I didna come to them through all the controversial stuff. John Peel played it first and I heard it on his programme and I thought, rock’n’roll is back. Even though I had liked that stuff with Yes and Genesis, it was all stating to get boring, a bit indulgent. The best albums had been made and you thought how much of this stuff do you need? I had liked Dr Feelgood at the time, good old pub rock, and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, they’d made a big impact. Then this came blasting through. I thought Johnny Rotten was one of the best rock’n’roll voices I’d ever heard and the power of the bass and drums. They were a great rock band. For me, it was like hearing Chuck Berry for the first time, but louder and a lot more powerful. Anger – I thought somebody’s angry, this is great! Probably one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands ever.

Heroes
David Bowie
For me one of the most consistently brilliant rock stars. I liked all the early stuff, new and fresh, but when he got to Ziggy Stardust that was just fantastic. Gobsmacking, both in terms of the quality of the music, the production, the visual images. This was long before you had your video specially made, which often ruined the music. These guys enhanced the music with their theatricality and visual presence. David Bowie for me was just incredible, absolutely incredible, and everything he did moved him on in a new direction. He had all those styles and then he got to a new thing with Heroes. That for me was another of those moments. A perfect song with that voice of his. Great stuff.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
The Rolling Stones
They were such a big part of my life. I loved them far more than The Beatles. Probably Paint It Black was the first track I kent, but I’ve liked most things they’ve done. I liked Satisfaction, but for me you can’t get beyond the pure rock’n’roll of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The Stones at their peak. They were absolutely amazing. I’ve seen them perhaps half a dozen times and I never get tired of seeing them.

Tracks of My Life: Joy Duncan

Joy Duncan has remarkable skills. Over many years she has acquired a considerable expertise in Afro-Cuban-Latin rhythms and developed practical skills in drumming and percussion playing. These skills she has shared with 
a vast number of people, young and older, on these isles. She has brought some of the greatest exponents of 
the world music genres here and created an atmosphere of excitement and enjoyment in listening to and participating in such music. With the phenomenal kora player Seckou Keita due to play Mareel this month, Shetland’s own “lady of percussion” has also arranged to have workshops with this master player in the days afterwards. JEFF MERRIFIELD interviewed her about this and how her interest in this music was nurtured 
and fed into the tracks of her life.

I was born in the Gilbert Bain Hospital, Lerwick, but my parents soon moved to Shetland and I was brought up in Scalloway. I remember being happy just playing around the village. My dad was a fish merchant and my grandparents and uncles were involved in fish. It was a very safe and stable upbringing, with six of us in our family. My parents were both in the Methodist Church, so we were dragged along to the Methodists every Sunday. My mam and dad sang in the church choir and, on reflection, I do like how they sang in harmony, though I did not understand that at the time.

My dad played the mouth organ and we had a piano, so I suppose music has always had a place in my life, though not the sort of music prevalent in my life now. We grew up with the Sankey hymn book and there’s some really beautiful hymns. There was lots of Jim Reeves and mum bought a record player and bought a Mozart collection. The Sound of Music was a big part of my life, a record that got played a lot. So everybody in the house loved music.

There were six of us and my older brother, who was four or five years older than me, had a big sound system in his bedroom and at tea, when we were trying to watch Crossroads, he’d be playing Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. It must have influenced me because I really love that music now. I didn’t at the time, thought it was just a racket, but when I hear Hendrix and Zeppelin now, I just love it.

When I was a youngster I was quite sporty and played a lot of hockey and netball. We’d go at weekends and dance around to The Clash, Echo and the Bunnymen, Human League, and all that kind of stuff. It wasn’t until I left home and got a job at the Leadmill arts centre in Sheffield, where they had a real variety of music. I was 18 and I was completely blown away. Orchestra Jazzera, African music and Latin bands all played live. There was a nightclub every Friday and the DJ always used to close with Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me.

My cousin Candida Doyle was there and she was linked to Pulp, which was in its early days. So I used to go to Pulp rehearsals and go on tour with them, get in the back of the van and go to their gigs.

But that music was never rockin’ me, it was more the funk, jazz, Latin, African side of things that got me. I was really inspired and I wanted this music in my life. I moved to London and started going to African dance classes in Covent Garden, on Monday nights with all these live drummers in the corner playing away. I loved it.

I was working as a cycle courier when I fell off my bike and hit a Canadian tourist, so I couldn’t dance that week. I so loved it I went along and asked if I could do some drumming.

This was about 1988 and there were lots of opportunities in multicultural London. I could access all sorts of workshops, classes and clubs in African and Latin music. And that’s exactly what I did. The trouble for me was that London was the mecca and there were so many awesomely good, fabulous percussionists and dancers, so I couldn’t kinda find my place.

After my daughter was born I started teaching and it felt right. I was good at it because I had to learn in the first place. Some of the African and Latin players had natural talents, but I’d had to learn. So I was good at teaching drumming and rhythms and dance, because I understood what it was like to be at the beginning.

We lived in King’s Cross and I soon realised that London was not the place I wanted to bring 
up my daughter. When she was two–and–a–half, my dad died and I thought, I want to go home. So I moved back to Shetland.

I had thought that was that and I’d have to leave all the drumming and dancing behind me and just bring up my daughter. But more doors opened for me here than they ever had in London. I was the big fish in the small pond, whereas in London I had been the minnow in a vast ocean. I found my voice, my place within the music, and I’m really happy and comfortable with that.

There had been some visiting musicians doing workshops, but I think my teaching work proved successful because I was a Scalloway lass, and I had this experience, I had this connection that I could share. And it was something new and different, 
but it was something that we could all tap into, what area of life we come from, what age or gender we are. The thing about the drums is it touches something deep down in us. It resonates in our lives. We’ve all got rhythm.

I worked with bairns to begin with and they loved it. I started a night class in Lerwick and another one in Scalloway and many people joined in. We were asked to play at the folk festival and I said there should be people from each of the classes, in the east and in the west. And that’s how Aestaewast was born.

Joy Duncan 2 660

Joy (far right) performing with Aestaewast at the Shetland Folk Festival. Photos: Kenneth Shearer

The group just took off and we were quite strong for a good number of years. But like all things, it’s had its ups and downs and just now it’s not so strong. The jazz club became Shetland JAWS to take into account the amount of world music on offer in Shetland and together we brought four of the finest drummers in the world, Sura Succo, Adiano Adewale, Bruce Ncube and Asaf Sirkis, to Shetland and they worked with large numbers of bairns and adults in some of the best workshops I’ve seen.

For them to be able to come and immediately connect with what is going on here was great. It was like being at a birthday party. It made me happy to realise that was something I’d been able to facilitate and that it happened in the village hall where I grew up. Here I was, an adult, being able to share what I’d discovered in the world, in the big world, in the village hall with our bairns. It was great, it was magic. Now Sekou Keita is coming back to Shetland, one of the master African musicians, and he’ll be tapping into our drumming reservoir here working with bairns and adults.

Expect more magic.

MY FIVE TRACKS ARE…

I Wish I Knew
John Coltrane
I went to the United States when I was 19, on Camp America. I worked as a nanny – and discovered John Coltrane. I loved the music from the first time I heard it: Blue Train and A Love Supreme. I heard a story how someone had said to Coltrane that he just played fast and that he had gone into the studio to record a whole album of ballads, just to prove that he could bring it down. That album, called Ballads, I really love and my favourite track is I Wish I Knew.

Sir Duke
Stevie Wonder
I was lucky enough to see Stevie Wonder twice at the Royal Albert Hall. On every song, he delivered. His songwriting for that period, his lyrics, everything that he embodies, I really respect and admire and love. It’s really important stuff he’s writing about, really important messages. I had every album and they were never off my turntable. It’s so difficult to choose just one track, I’d have them all, but if I’m pushed I’ll settle for Sir Duke.

Malaika (My Angel)
Harry Belafonte & Miriam Makeba
I really love to hear about musicians who have really had to struggle, who perform with a passion despite what they are up against. Miriam Makeba was up against it big time, she came through some struggle and she made it through to the end. All through her life she had tremendous losses, she had horrendous treatment, but she kept on singing, amazing songs with such history and such depth. The voice that she had – nobody can sing like Miriam Makeba, nobody can. When I hear her sing it touches somewhere in me. I’ve chosen a duet she did with Harry Belafonte called Malaika, which means My Angel. Just brilliant.

Quiéreme Mucho
Ibrahim Ferrer
When I went to Cuba, when I was about 24, something happened, something changed and life would never be the same again. Ibrahim Ferrer was a remarkable man. He was one of the people rediscovered when Ry Cooder did his project. Just a wonderful singer and I knew him personally, went on tour with him. Whenever I hear his music I feel like he’s right there, by me. He was one of a genre of singers called balladeers and I just love the passion they sing with. His vocals are second to none. There’s a really beautiful song called Quiéreme Mucho that’s got wonderful string arrangements in it and it’s from an album he did because it was always his dream to record an album of love songs. He died not long after recording it, so he left a fitting tribute, his dream.

Miniyamba
Sekou Keita
Probably one of my favourite musicians at this time is Sekou Keita. I first met him about nine years ago at the African Drum Village, a festival held in Scotland. It was about midnight and we’d had a few gigs already at this festival, everybody was tired and energy was quite down, when Sekou came on with his kora. Within five minutes everyone was on their feet dancing, and he just delivered some magic I’d no kent before. Everyone seems to think that kora is a gentle, celestial, loving instrument, which it can be, but it can be upbeat as well. And Sekou can do everything on the kora. Again, some magic happened that night. I’ve been in Senegal with Sekou, I’ve heard him play there, I’ve been to his home and eaten with his family. I have all his CDs in my car and because I drive a lot I listen to his music constantly. It’s a part of my life.