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Kingussie musician Colin McLeod releases album in tribute to his late brother Norman


By Margaret Chrystall

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The McLeod brothers, the late Norman (left) and Colin on new single Your Song. Picture: Andy Wardle
The McLeod brothers, the late Norman (left) and Colin on new single Your Song. Picture: Andy Wardle

KINGUSSIE musician and music teacher Colin McLeod is remembering his late brother Norman in Your Song – the third single from album Brother, created by Colin to celebrate a life of music.

Norman, who developed a brain tumour, was born in Grantown and, like Colin, who was five years younger, was brought up there.

But Norman left to pursue a career in graphic design in London. And, as well as being the founder of Uncut music magazine, he was art editor at top music weekly, Melodymaker for 15 years.

But the two brothers got together later to set up and run a three-studio recording centre in the Manchester area – the Moolah Rouge in Stockport.

There they worked with many well-known bands and musicians, such as Badly Drawn Boy (Damon Gough).

"When he moved up to Manchester to run the studio, we did that together for 12 years and through that we played on lots of people’s albums, Manchester bands –we did five albums with Badly Drawn Boy, one of which I mixed, so we worked with him and the Doves – lots of Manchester bands came through there.”

The two brothers, as well as playing on many albums they also recorded, joined Manchester band I Am Kloot.

“We played with the band for five years and toured with them,” Colin said.

He explained: “My brother played guitar, but slide guitar as well and pedal steel – and that was an unusual thing that people wanted on their records.

“And I played piano and Hammond organ. A lot of people wanted Hammond organ, so we ended up doing that too as well as running a business and playing in band Bigfinn.”

Norman died when he was 49, five years ago, having been given an initial diagnosis of just three months to live.

Colin explained that as well as coming North and being treated in the Grantown hospital where he had been born, Norman was taken by his brother to Germany for alternative treatment, and lived for 11 months, despite the diagnosis.

Colin revealed it has taken time to feel ready to make the album, which includes many musicians the brothers had worked with and were friends.

“It can be one of the best ways to deal with these things, to celebrate him rather than moping about, but it was difficult,” Colin said.

He wanted to invite many musician friends to play on the tracks.

They include Neil Fairclough who studied music at university in Salford with Colin. Neil has been bassist with Queen for the last 10 years. And pedal steel legend BJ Cole – who played with Elton on his song Tiny Dancer – also features, having inspired Norman to play pedal steel.

There is even a snippet at the end of Norman playing guitar in the outro, and also violin from his nieces, Colin’s two daughters, Iona and Maili.

It’s Colin who is the lead voice you hear on album, and he laughs when you say Leonard Cohen comes to mind.

“I’ve just got a low voice and there are going to be comparisons. But there are not many low voices out there, I guess.

“I am a fan of his. I saw him live on his last tour, one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

“My Dad used to play Leonard Cohen in the car, though I never really liked it growing up. But I love him now. And Tom Waits and people like that – and Robbie Robertson, I’m a big fan of his.”

The songs on the album come in varied genres.

Colin said: “The idea was to do a lot of different styles on it because my brother and I worked together as musicians and we liked a lot of genres of music, so it’s a bit varied.”

It doesn’t take long, listening to the album, to begin to wonder who the supergroup you hear might be.

“That was the nice thing,” said Colin. “It was all people who knew us well, people we had worked with in the past through the studio – and everyone put their best efforts into it to help me to achieve the album.

“Lots of them are in different bands, such as the drummer Alex Thomas, he plays with Mercury Prize-nominated Anna Calvi, Pete Jobson – who plays with I Am Kloot – and for Guy Garvey.”

Colin wrote the songs, then made the album during lockdown. He learned guitar and contributes piano, Hammond organ, clavinet.accordion, melodica, drums, electric bass and guitar to the songs.

And after inviting the musicians to take part and asking them to send tracks, he enjoyed receiving their contributions.

“We’d have a chat and I’d tell them what I was looking for. They are all talented people, so I just left them to it!

“I’m a great believer in letting musicians express themselves.”

Also video-makers! Three of the songs from the album, Let The Wolf Run Free, Cathedral and Your Song – – will have videos to go with them.

“I’ve a connection with the Washington Wolf Conservation Centre, in Washington DC, and they sent me loads of footage of the wolves they are trying to save. They want to release them into the wild over there.

“So there will be a video for that song, and for Cathedral.

“And I’ve got an artist in London who is going to be doing a video for Your Song."

The song talks about losing Norman and living with that loss:

'I closed my eyes to time

To keep you in my mind

Stop my life from slipping away

I can’t put my head on the track

And tell you I’m not coming back

It’s seems that I’m here, here to stay

It’s your song'

Colin said: “Basically all the songs are moments of the time we spent together and the song Brother is the whole of my brother’s life put into one song.

“Norman did live life to the full – he always enjoyed himself to the fullest.

“I’m just thankful we had the time we had. We played music together and ran a business together, so we were very close.”

“The videos is my next thing and I’m trying to sort it out.”

For Colin, being back up north again has helped him after the death of Norman.

“It’s helped me immensely being here, being able to go walking every day with my dog. That’s why the cover is like that.”

The cover of Brother shows the figure of a man with a dog walking through the landscape.

“Getting out every day, it’s how you think about music, walking in the woods and things like that. Hence the song Let The Wolf Run Free.”

Colin has also been sharing the power of the landscape with musicians he has been working with.

“I’ve been back in Kingussie for the last eight years.

“Basically, our studio closed. The music industry changed considerably and people we knew at record labels got sacked , it all just changed dramatically.

“Bands didn’t have budgets any more, so we just called it a day.

“We had a huge facility with three recording studios in Stockport.

“After it closed, I re-evaluated and thought ‘I’ve got young kids’ and I thought ‘Oh well, I loved being brought up up there', so we decided to come back home. The song Coming Home is about that.

“We came back and it’s a great place to bring up the kids. I do music from home and I teach as well, piano.

“The album is out on my own label, well it’s a production company.

“I manage and produce, we mentored young artists and when we finished the studio, we produced albums for young singers – it’s on my website.

“We’ve done about four or five other projects as a production company and I’ve kept it going as a production thing.

“I’ve worked with a couple of people up here but the main thing has been people I wanted to produce coming up here from Manchester to the countryside and stay here and we would work on an album together.

“As a producer I had done the city thing a lot.

“The idea is to take people up here and take them out on the hills and completely clear their minds, come back here and then you get a better performance.”

Colin left Grantown when he was 17 to study music at university in Salford and from finishing there, he joined a rock band called Skin. They made albums and toured and appeared on Top Of The Pops. When that broke up, he ended up working in sound production and producing other people’s work with his brother at Moolah Rouge, as well as continuing to perform as a musician.

The album Brother, Colin's project as McLeod, has 30 musicians playing on it in memory of Norman.
The album Brother, Colin's project as McLeod, has 30 musicians playing on it in memory of Norman.

And he reveals that the experience of making Brother has inspired him to continue and he hopes to do another album.

“There are moments we spent together and basically all the songs are moments of the time we spent together and the song Brother is the whole of my brother’s life put into one song.

“My brother did live life to the full – he always enjoyed himself to the fullest.

“I’m just thankful we had the time we had. We played music together and ran a business together, so we were very close.”

Colin has some personal ambitions for the album.

“Hopefully people enjoy it, that’s the thing.

“I think people who like lots of styles of music might enjoy it. My main thing is just to get people to listen to it.”

Colin also hopes he might be able to tour the album as he would love to play the songs live.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than thinking that people will think about him when they listen to the music – and enjoy it.

“That’s what music is all about, isn’t it, connecting with people?”

You can find the album Brother on Bandcamp here: https://mcleodmusic.bandcamp.com It’s on all digital platforms, as is the latest and third single Your Song, about Norman. Check out Colin's website: www.moolahrouge.co.uk

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