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Nicky Murray QnA: "I'm just doing my thing, doing what I want"

By Kyle Walker

Nicky Murray.
Nicky Murray.

Singer-songwriter Nicky Murray’s latest release Wintermore has been a long time coming – it’s been four years since his last extended release. In that time, there’s been university, writing, organising the Sofar Sessions and so much more for the Inverness-based folk artist to contend with...

Hi Nicky, thanks again for agreeing to this! Whereabouts are you currently reading these from

Hello there! I’m currently enjoying the morning light of Inverness pouring through the sash window in our house. Feeling appreciative!

So, your new release is out now – Wintermore! It’s been a long time coming, it’s safe to say (first release since Mni Wiconi and first extended release since 2014’s Plenty More Weeping) – how are you feeling now that it’s been completed and it’s out in the world?

Yes, it’s been way too long. I did have plans to release something earlier, but I ended up at university, and studying took up a lot more of my time than I thought, so I turned to writing more for a while, whilst developing my knowledge of music. All the while, keeping my foot in the door.

I’m feeling excited now though, with a sense of relief, and achievement, it’s the best thing I’ve done yet, I feel. I’ve poured a lot into it.

So how did Wintermore come together over the years – how did you approach the songs that make it up? Was there a particular theme you’ve been exploring in your songwriting recently that you feel comes out in the course of the record?

Well, the theme is love. Love in its many forms: family, friends, romantic, whatever. It was never intended to be a concept record though, it’s just various songs that I think don’t clash with one another. It took me a long time to choose which ones to use though, I had some older songs I wanted to use, but had to write some new ones as well.

The new thing for me was composing the strings. I wrote music accompanying the songs for two fiddles and cello, as well as for two harmony singers. This was the challenging part, but luckily we had a such a good team that it all fell together smoothly. It’s been an honour working with this wonderful team. Each of them are virtuosos in their own right, so I’m blessed.

Listening back to Plenty More Weeping, how do you feel that you’ve evolved as a musician, singer and songwriter from that album towards Wintermore this year.

In some ways a lot has changed, but also as this was my project I got to do things exactly how I wanted to. I’ve been wanting to do something very much like this for years.

I suppose I must have grown as an artist, but now have more skills to do the things I always wanted to do. I’m still an amateur if you ask me, but I’m just doing my thing, doing what I want, that’s all. The way I see it, if you don’t look back at your old material and cower to some degree, then maybe you haven’t evolved. It doesn’t mean you should be full of regrets either though. I still don’t feel that the overall aim is to constantly improve, I don’t think that’s right, but it’s a good thing to bare in mind.

Looking back at your style of playing – are you a self-taught artist or were you tutored? What first drew you to writing and performing music?

I see it in two different ways: I’m self-taught in the manner that I was never brought up in an institution where you learned music, I never studied it academically until later in life. I must admit, I’m a little envious of the opportunities the Highland kids have here, the Feis etc. I sometimes wish I had that growing up. Top class opportunities.

I did all my learning from others. I sometimes shy away from the term ‘self-taught’ as I don’t think anyone can really be self-taught, the influence always gets in there one way or another. Whether that be from listening to records, playing with other folk, going to gigs etc, it all gets in there, even to where you’re learning what not to play.

Luckily for me, I was subjected to a wealth of good music growing up. All music was encouraged, as were concerts and anything else music related. My Mum and I used to go to gigs together from a young age, she took me to see all these legends. So for a boy of this day I’m glad to say I’ve caught Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills and Nash, Roy Harper, Neil Young and loads of others, I feel super privileged to have seen these folks still gigging in my day. All this probably gave me strong foundations, and paved the way to how I approach things now.

It’s been a very busy 2018 for you more generally – you’ve been putting together Sofar gigs here as well as juggling all the finishing touches for the new record! How has that been, curating gigs in the local community as part of the Sofar Sessions thing?

Absolutely Kyle, it’s been busy, we’ve learned a lot, we’ve expanded things, learning different ways of doing things. Sofar is in over 400 cities around the world and we used to go to their gigs in Glasgow, and so when we seen an opportunity to start it ourselves in Inverness we took the chance. We have a lovely small team, everyone is real and into it, this is what makes it work.

Inverness is a cool wee town and I think it still has that Highland thing though where if you want things to happen then you have to take responsibility and put things on yourself. It’s tough in the expendable modern day for everyone to appreciate all the effort that goes into these kinds of things. So from putting on gigs ourselves I think we’ve learned to take more notice of things, we now try to be more mindful of things like posters when we’re out and about, adverts, local music heads, seeing what folk are upto. It’s all there, it’s happening now.

I think we have a responsibility as part of the Highland community, it isn’t like the big cities. The Highland community as far as I see it covers all of the Highlands, east coast to west coast. We’ll go to something in Ullapool, or something in Balintore, we’ll travel to support the rural areas. You don’t get that in the bigger cities.

You’re active all about the Highland folk and singer-songwriter community though – between Sofar, the release, MacGregor’s Songwriter’s Circle, etc. How strong-knit is the Highlands’ music community, and has there been any way that the Highland community spirit has helped you in your musical journey?

Like I mentioned there, since being involved in all these things, slowly I’ve seen all the Highland artists come out the wood-work. There are some beautiful writers up here, and I feel glad to be able to give these people a platform. It works both ways though, I’ve learned lots myself, and it’s helped me hugely also. I just feel that when you live in a community that you have a responsibility to support things. It’s thanks to you guys also, you’s put in the effort, it’s so good. It’s never a chore, it’s all really beautiful (excuse my inner hippie).

Now that Wintermore is out, what’s next for you? What plans do you have for the rest of the year?

So, I’m just starting my fourth and final year of uni, so once I gain a solid routine with that, I hope to gig for the rest of the year and into early 2019 with the EP band. It’s just finding out how to viably put that together, we’re looking for places to host us, and for other opportunities. So if anyone is keen to work with us, please get in touch. In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing, I’m part of a group called ‘Song Every Week’ so I’m writing all the time, and I hope to begin working on an album for summer 2019. So yes, writing, gigging, and working on the next project.

Wintermore is out now and available to buy on CD or download.

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