Paul McGeechan, it’s fair to say, is a veteran of Scottish music. After all, he’s spent over thirty years making music. His career began in 1982, when he was cofounded the short-lived, but much missed Friends Again.
Friends Again’s recording career began in 1983, when they released the first of eight single and EPs. Then in 1984, Friends Again released their one and only album, Wrapped and Unwrapped. Alas, there was no followup to this minor classic, and the Friends Again went their separate ways.
The former members of Friends Again went on to form two of the most important and influential bands in Scottish music. Love and Money was formed in 1985 by James Grant, Neil Cunningham, Stuart Kerr and Paul McGeechan. Meanwhile, Chris Thomson went on to form The Bathers. Both of these bands would make their mark on Scottish music.
Love and Money.
A year after they were formed, Love and Money released their debut single Candybar Express in 1986. Although it only reached fifty-six in the UK charts, Candybar Express found its way onto playlists on both sides of the Atlantic. Things were looking good for Love and Money.
All You Need Is…Love and Money.
Later in 1986, Love and Money released their debut album All You Need Is…Love and Money. It had been produced by veteran producer Tom Dowd; and featured a slick, polished sound and carefully crafted songs. This included future favourites like Candybar Express, River Of People and the heart-wrenching paean You’re Beautiful, which Paul McGeechan and James Grant penned. Critics praised Love and Money’s debut album, and forecast a bright future for the band.
Alas, despite the quality of All You Need Is…Love and Money, the album failed to chart. However, a small crumb of comfort was that Dear John and River Of People were minor hits.
Strange Kind Of Love.
Two years after the release of their debut album, Love and Money returned with their sophomore album Strange Kind Of Love. It had been produced by Steely Dan’s producer Gary Katz. Making guest appearances on Strange Kind Of Love were Toto’s.drummer Jeff Porcaro and Donald Fagen. The result was another album of slick, sophisticated and cerebral pop and rock.
Strange Kind Of Love was an album that oozed quality. It was a cut above much of the music being released in Britain in 1988. Proof of this were songs like Halleluiah Man, Strange Kind Of Love, the Paul McGeechan penned Jocelyn Square, Walk The Last Mile and Up Escalator. Unsurprisingly, critical acclaim accompanied the release of Strange Kind Of Love. Love and Money’s luck was changing.
Halleluiah Man was chosen as the lead single, but reached just sixty-three in the UK. Elsewhere, the single sold well in Europe and Oceania. Helped by the success of Halleluiah Man, Strange Kind Of Love went on to sell over 250,000 copies worldwide. Love and Money it seemed, had arrived.
Dogs In The Traffic.
Their star was definitely in the ascendancy. After the release and success of Strange Kind Of Love, Love and Money were asked to support musical luminaries like BB King and Tina Turner. This helped raise the band’s profile and introduce their music to a much wider audience. However, three years would pass before Love and Money returned with their third album, Dogs In The Traffic.
It had been recorded in Glasgow and London. This time, though, Love and Money co-produced Dogs In The Traffic. They worked with two separate co-producer. This included Steve Nye of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Tony Phillips. The result was a quite different album.
Critics felt that James Grant had come of age as a songwriter, and the much more understated arrangements were the perfect accompaniment to his vocals. Among the highlights of Dogs In The Traffic were Winter, My Love Lives In A Dead House, Cheap Pearls, You’re Not The Only One, Looking For Angeline and Whiskey Dream. However, the album’s highlight was the soul-baring, Sometimes I Want To Give Up, with its despair filled vocal. Critics hailed Dogs In The Traffic Love and Money’s Magnus Opus, and later, it would become a classic Scottish album. Given the reviews, surely Dogs In Traffic would more than match the sales of Strange Kind Of Love?
Alas, despite its quality, intensity and cerebral and emotive lyrics, Dogs In Traffic wasn’t a commercial success. Neither of the singles troubled the charts, and Dogs In Traffic was the last album Love and Money released on a major label.
By the time Love and Money released their fourth album Littledeath in 1993, Bobby Paterson had left the band. Love and Money were also without a record label. They had left Fontana after the release of Dogs In Traffic. So they made the decision to release their new album Littledeath independently.
Littledeath was released through the Glasgow based Iona Gold label. Although it was a much much more low profile release, the quality remained. Songs like I’ll Catch You When You Fall, Pray For Love and Love Is Like A Wave were proof of this. However, given Glasgow’s illustrious industrial past, The Last Ship On The River was a poignant and beautiful song. It showed that Love and Money were still a potent force.
While Littledeath was well received by critics, the album didn’t sell in the same quantities as previous albums. Only 25,000 units were sold, which was just ten percent of what Strange Kind Of Love sold. This was hugely disappointing.
Even more disappointing was Love and Money’s decision to disband in 1994. After nine years and four albums, Love and Money were no more. Keyboardist Paul McGeechan decided to join a new band, Cowboy Mouth.
Joining Paul McGeechan in Cowboy Mouth were Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson, Grahame Skinner and Michael Slaven. The group was formed in 1994, and released two albums on Marina Records. Their debut album was Life As A Dog.
Life As A Dog.
It was recorded during three days at three different studios in Glasgow. The Glaswegian alt-rockers worked their way through songs like Headlights, My Life As A Dog, I Won’t Let It Happen Again, Bad Poetry and Breakdown. Once these songs were recorded, they became Life As A Dog.
Elements of rock, country and folk combined on Life As A Dog. It was released on Marina Records in 1994. Although well received, commercial success eluded Cowboy Mouth’s debut. So they returned a year later with their sophomore album Love Is Dead.
Love Is Dead.
Just like their debut album, Life As A Dog, Love Is Dead was recorded at three Glasgow studios. Stylistically, Love Is Dead was similar to its processor. However, this time around, Cowboy Mouth produced Love Is Dead. Once it was recorded it was released later in 1995.
On 1st November 1995, Life As A Dog was released. It was a strong and cohesive album. Songs like Melanie, My Beautiful Dream, Summer Runaway, The Colour Of Spring and Love Is Dead showcased a talented band. Alas, when commercial success eluded Love Is Dead, Cowboy Mouth called it a day in 1995.
By then, Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson and Paul McGeechan had formed a new group, Sugartown. Just like Cowboy Mouth, it had signed to Marina Records. Sugartown released their debut album Swimming In The Horsepool in 1995.
Swimming In The Horsepool.
Just like the Cowboy Mouth albums, recording took place at Riverside Studios, Busby and also at the Keyroom and CaVa Studios in Glasgow. Joining Sugartown, were a few of their musical friends, who augmented the core group. The result was an album carefully crafted songs.
When Swimming In The Horsepool was released, critics were impressed with the album. It was a mixture of new songs and cover versions. The new songs that stood out were Secondhand, This Is Not For Me, Desert Bloom. The covers of The Velvet Underground’s I’m Set Free came complete with a slide guitar solo from Michael Slaven; while Willie Nelson’s Valentine was given a makeover. Despite the reviews, and the undeniable quality of Swimming In The Horsepool commercial success eluded the album. For Sugartown this was a disappointing start to their career. Meanwhile, Paul McGeechan was adding a string to his bow.
Paul McGeechan decided to embark upon a career as a producer. This made sense. Paul McGeechan has worked with some of the best in the business, including Tom Dowd and Gary Katz. Watching two of top producers at work was part of his apprenticeship. So was co-producing Dogs In Traffic and Littledeath. Now Paul McGeechan embarked upon a career as a producer.
The Production Years.
Having made the decision to embark upon a career in production, it wasn’t long before Paul McGeechan was asked to produce an album. Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson had decided to embark upon a solo career. She needed a producer and chose Paul to produce her debut album, The Dreaming Sea. It was released in 1996, and marked the start of Paul McGeechan’s production career.
A year later, and Paul McGeechan was asked to produce former Ricky Ross’ sophomore album. The Deacon Blue frontman released his album New Recording in 1997. The same year, Sugartown returned with their sophomore album, Slow Flows The River.
Sugartown-Slow Flows The River.
When work began on Slow Flows The River, there had been a couple of changes. One was that Paul McGeechan would produce Slow Flows The River. Given Paul’s new career as a producer, this made sense. Given Paul produced the album, it also made sense that he mixed it. Once Slow Flows The River was complete, it was released later in 1997.
Sadly, it was a familiar story for Sugartown. Again, quality shawn through on this album of country, folk, pop and rock. Among the standout tracks were The Look In Your Eyes, Sad Eyed In The City, I Won’t Let You Go Again and a cover of the James Grant penned Are You With The One You Love. Despite the quality, and positive reviews Slow Flows The River failed to find the audience it deserved. This was a familiar story for Paul McGeechan.
It had been the case with Love and Money, Cowboy Mouth and now Sugartown. So it was no surprise that Slow Flows The River was the last album Sugartown released. They became another of Scottish music’s best kept secrets. Meanwhile, Paul McGeechan worked on over fifty projects between 1997 and 2011.
After the release of Slow Flows The River in 1997, worked with the great and good of Scottish music. This included working as producer, remixer, recordist, mixer and musician. It seemed artists across Scotland had Paul’s number on speed-dial. He was one of the hardest working men in Scottish music; working with Ricky Ross, Capercaillie, Bill Wells, Isobel Campbell, The Pearlfishers, James Grant, Justin Currie, the BMX Bandits, Karen Matheson, Emily Smith, Kris Drever and Roddy Hart. It wasn’t just Scottish artists Paul McGeechan worked with. English folk singer Kate Rusby worked with. However, one phone call he thought he would never receive came in 2011.
Love and Money Reform.
In 2011, Love and Money decided to reform to for what was billed as “one night only.” Love and Money were going to play a one-off show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of Celtic Connections 2011. Quickly, the show sold out, and when Love and Money made their comeback in their hometown, they received a rapturous reception. That night, they worked their way through two entire albums, Strange Kind Of Love and Dogs In The Traffic. When Love and Money left the stage that night, a seed had been planted.
In December 2011, Love and Money’s comeback continued. This time, they played another hometown show, but chose the Clyde Auditorium. So successful was the show, that Love and Money decided to record their fifth solo album, and first since 1993.
The Devil’s Debt.
Unlike previous Love and Money albums, where recording took place at one or two studios, The Devil’s Debt was recorded at twelve studios in Glasgow and in the West of Scotland. This time around, Paul McGeechan played a major part in the recording of The Devil’s Debt. He cowrote The Desired with James Grant, and added keyboards. However, Paul also engineered, recorded and mixed the album, and co-produced it with the rest of Love and Money. Once it was complete, it was released in October 2012.
The Devil’s Debt was launched at a preview show at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut in Glasgow. Critics liked what they heard, and The Devil’s Debt received positive reviews. Love and Money’s first album for nineteen years had been well received and found an audience with fans old and new. Not long after this, Paul McGeechan’s thoughts turned to a project he had been contemplating for several years, Starless.
This was nothing to do with Love and Money. Instead, Starless was the brainchild of Paul McGeechan. It was a project he first contemplated couple of year before the Love and Money reunion. It was only after the Love and Money reunion, that Paul decided to return to songwriting. The songs he wrote would find their way onto the Starless album.
Newly reinvigorated, Paul sat down at his keyboard and wrote Fuadach, Misty Nights and Jura. He would also eventually write three track and cowrote five other tracks. This included Starless, where Paul and Bobby Henry cowrote the lyrics; and Solitude where Paul also added the music to Bobby Henry’s lyrics. Paul’s other contributions included writing addition music to Surge Of The Sea; composing the music that accompanies Marie Claire Lee’s lyrics to Whispered Reason, No. 2 and adding the music to John Palmer’s lyrics to Yellow Midnight. These compositions would form the basis for Starless.
By then, Paul McGeechan had secured funding for the Starless project from Creative Scotland. Paul had approached them with his vision of a project that incorporated elements of Scottish-Gaelic traditional music, pop, rock, an element of theatre and even The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The final piece of the jigsaw would be a cast of singers and musicians that Paul had worked with. They were on Paul’s wish-list. Convincing everyone to take part, was another matter.
Paul knew it wasn’t going to be easy. However, he was well known within Scottish music, having worked with everyone from traditional Scottish singers to folk, pop and rock artists. Many of the people on Paul’s wish-list were people he had worked with. Others were friends or contemporaries of Paul’s. This included two singers who were at the top of Paul’s wish-list.
The first was Paul Buchanan,The Blue Nile lead vocalist. This was someone Paul McGeechan had admired since the release of The Blue Nile’s debut album A Walk Across The Rooftops. So Paul McGeechan got in contact with Paul Buchanan. Then it was a waiting game. However, after three months, Paul Buchanan got in touch to say that if he liked the song, he was onboard. Sadly, the other name at the top of Paul’s wish-list unavailable. This was former Cocteau Twin, Liz Fraser. Her ethereal vocal would’ve been perfect for the project. Alas, it wasn’t to be. However, some other big names signed up to join the Starless project.
This included The Bathers’ lead singer Chris Thomson, former Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson and Scottish folk singer Julie Fowlis. Both Karen and Julie had worked with Paul McGeechan. So had Kris Drever of Lau. He adds backing vocals on Apocalypse, which is one of two songs where Kaela Rowan takes charge of the lead vocal. Paul spent time matching singers to songs, and chose Marie Clare Lee, Kathleen McInnes, Andrew White and Gwena Stewart to add the vocals to other songs on Starless. At last the ‘cast’ was in place for Starless.
By now, another four songs had been penned. Kaela Rowan cowrote Apocalypse, Andrew White penned Within These Walls and Ewan Robertson wrote the words to Duthaich Mhicaoidh. It was arranged by Paul McGeechan. Now his band could get to work.
No longer are albums recorded in one studio. So, Starless was recorded at various studios in Glasgow and the West of Scotland. This included Waterside Production, CaVa Sound, Chem 19, Watercolour Music, NCL and the studios at the University of The West of Scotland. These studios were where Paul McGeechan began what was the most ambitious project of his career.
When the sessions began, Paul played keyboards, synths, Hammond organ and took charge of much of the programming. That was except for Fuadach and Surge Of The Sea, which Mark Sinclair was responsible for. Bassist Ewan Vernal played on much of Starless; while other musicians played on just one track. This included accordionist Colin Train and harpist Mary Ann Kennedy who featured on Surge Of The Sea. Finn Lemarinel played acoustic guitar on New Green World; while Martin Bond added guitars on Misty Nights and Paul’s son, guitarist Joshua McGeechan stars on Apocalypse. However, the sessions at Waterside Studios were only part of the Starless story.
In Prague, at the Smecky Studios, Paul travelled to record the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s string session. He had previously worked with them on Love and Money’s 2012 album The Devil’s Debt However, this was quite an undertaking. So Paul had brought some friends along. Paul and Pete Whitfield arranged the strings; while Richard Hein conducted the strings and James Fitzpatrick produced the session. Once the session was complete, so was Starless,..almost.
All that remained was for Paul to mix Starless. By the time the mix was complete, Paul had been involved in just about every part of the process. He had written, arranged, recorded, played a part in the engineering of Starless and had produced the album. Starless which had been Paul’s idea, all these years ago, was now ready for release on Marina Records. Now critics and record buyers would have their say on what was a hugely ambitious project, one that would take time, patience and persistence to realise, Starless.
Fuadach opens Starless. Bells chime, and a choir sing what sounds like a gaelic psalm. By then, melancholy string sweep, and add to the cinematic sound. Meanwhile, drums crack and Paul’s piano play. Although its twinkling sound meanders, plays an important part in the sound and success of the track, it’s the strings that steal the show. They’ve a cinematic quality and produce a heart-achingly beautiful sound.
Starless features Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile. His worldweary, lived-in vocal is perfect for the lyrics: “I’m faithless and fallen, careless and loving, deeper and dark, like your eyes in the rain.” By then, swathes of strings have swept in, and join synths, a bubbling bass and crisp drums. Karen Matheson adds backing vocals. They’re a perfect foil to the troubled troubadour. His hurt and heartbreak seems very real. Especially as he sings: I prayed down the angels, took a walk down to Central, washed up and gentle, like a song in the rain.” Again, there’s a cinematic quality, and it’s possible to imagine a heartbroken figure aimlessly walking in the rain to Central Station, in Glasgow. Maybe he’s not heartbroken: “I’m saddened without you, maybe that’s not true?” There’s maybe a reason for this: “in a Starless sky, one shutdown moon, here in the city, we fall in love too soon.” Despite this, despairingly Paul sings: “I can’t get out of this,” on what’s an emotional roller coaster, featuring a vocal tour de force from Paul Buchanan.
Urgently, washes of jagged synths accompany Marie Clare Lee on Whispered Reason, No. 2. Her tender, heartfelt vocal has an ethereal quality that’s reminiscent of Jerry Burns. It’s perfect for this mysterious paean. This becomes apparent as Marie Clare sings: “I have seen your face, in the darkness I know this place, I wait for you so long, I am calling you to my heart.” Meanwhile,bubbling bass joins, a chiming guitar, eighties drums and keyboards. Harmonies add the finishing touch to this dreamy ballad floats along. Its ethereal beauty washes over you for three magical and mesmeric minutes.
A myriad of otherworldly sounds open Apocalypse, as Kaela Rowan delivers the vocal. Her vocal is tender and impassioned as she sings: “here comes Apocalypse, as I kiss you on the lips, I don’t care if the world falls apart, living life from the heart.” By then, strings slowly sweep in, and are joined by slow hypnotic drums and the bass. Later, when the vocal drops out a crystalline guitar joins the swells of strings. By the time the vocal returns, they’ve become lush and are the perfect accompaniment to Kaela’s vocal on this beautiful, poetic paean.
The sound of waves breaking on the beach opens The Surge Of The Sea. Karen Matheson, Julie Fowlis and Kathrine MacInnes, who sing in Gaelic, share the lead vocal. This they do, against a backdrop of the lushest strings. Meanwhile, the vocal is delivered slowly, thoughtfully and with a poignancy. Later, drums and backing vocals join the swells of strings as they sweep. Deep in the mix, the bass plays, while thunder cracks. Soon, the vocals drop out and the tempo drops. This adds to the drama and emotion, before keyboards and a flourish of harp is added to this beautiful, cinematic track that’s the musical equivalent of a widescreen production.
Solitude marks the return of Marie Lee Clare. She delivers the lyrics against what begins as an understated arrangement. Not for long. Soon, the strings swell and drama builds. Marie Lee’s vocal combines power and emotion. Sadness, guilt and longing combine as the strings take centre-stage, before the track takes a brief diversion via trip hop. By then, the vocal is needy and almost despairing, as if Marie Lee is resigned to a life of loneliness and Solitude. It’s a truly poignant track, that tugs at the heartstrings.
The piano lead Within These Walls was written by Andrew White. He delivers an emotive and impassioned vocal. It’s accompanied by sweeping, swirling string, the rhythm section, and keyboards. However, it’s the strings that play a leading role. They dominate the arrangement, and are yin to the vocal’s yang. Soon, seesaw strings quicken, adding a degree of drama, as Andrew delivers a soul-baring vocal. Then the arrangement flows along, strings cascading as Andrew almost lives the lyrics. Later, a curveball is thrown when sci-fi synths make a brief reappearance, in another powerful and emotive example of balladry.
Distant, ethereal synths are joined by a picked guitar as the understated arrangement to Misty Nights unfolds. It ushers in Chris Thomson’s vocal. He too, dawns the role of troubled troubadour. “Sure as east meets west, she’s in her summer dress, young musicians on their knees.” Chris paints pictures of a beautiful, bewitching, siren, but urges caution: “the song she sang was ageless, strange her beauty lies, parade of joy confound us, beware how sorrow flies.” Later, as a piano, strings and the bass accompany Chris, there’s sadness in his voice as he remembers: “the darkened sky, the laughing eyes, a tender kiss, the lost good-bye, the fallen years that cling to me.” These are some of the best, and most moving lyrics, on a track full of heartbreak, sadness and melancholia.
Duthaich Mhicaoidh features a vocal from Julie Fowlis. She delivers the lyrics in Gaelic, as strings sweep. They dominate the arrangement. However, that’s all that’s required to compliment Julie’s beautiful, emotive vocal on a track, where less is more.
Jura closes Starless and features Kaela Rowan. It’s a track that’s meant to last nearly six minutes. Just swathes of the lushest sweeping strings accompany the vocal. They produce a beautiful sound, emotive sound. Meanwhile, Kaela delivers an ethereal scat. Sadly, by 1.41 the vocal disappears. Then a hidden ‘track’ appears. For the next four minutes an avant-garde soundscape, full beeps, squeak, chirps and crackles meanders along, showing another side to Starless. This is a quite unexpected way to end the most ambitious project of Paul McGeechan’s musical career.
Starless is a project that Paul McGeechan conceived over seven years ago. It was only after the the Love and Money reunion, and the release of their latest album The Devil’s Debt in 2012, that Paul’s thoughts turned to Starless.
Paul knew it was an ambitious project, and one that would take time, patience and persistence to realise. However, this he realised, was the time to make the Starless project reality. So having compassed music of the music on Starless, Paul enlisted a few friends.
Soon, Paul had a cast of some of the most talented singers in Scotland. This included not just pop and rock vocalists, but traditional singers. Many of these had been in the music industry as long as Paul. He knew the, and had worked with them. Now they were part of the cast of Starless, which Paul would direct. These veterans were joined by newcomers, and together they made Paul’s Starless project reality.
Playing a starring role were The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson, Marie Clare Lee, Julie Fowlis, Andrew White and Chris Thomson of The Bathers. That’s not forgetting the contribution of the string section of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Their contribution to Starless was huge.
The strings provided an emotive backdrop throughout Starless. They swept the arrangements along, and in the process framed the vocals. What was unusual was that the strings dominated the arrangements, rather than the usual instruments that feature on a pop or rock album. However, Starless was no ordinary album, and Starless is ordinary group.
Instead, Starless is more like a musical collective, where there is room for the lineup to evolve. This means, that if Starless release future albums, their lineup won’t necessary be rigid, and any number of vocalists and musicians will play their part in the future success of the collective. Who knows, maybe Paul will be able to convince Liz Fraser to lend her ethereal beauty to future albums. Not that there was any lack of ethereal beauty on Starless.
Indeed, ethereal beauty and troubled troubadours with worldweary vocals join lush strings in producing an almost flawless album. That album is Starless, which features stars aplenty, that shine bright and made Paul McGeechan’s Starless project a reality, and a resounding success.