The Old Blind Dogs are an institution of folk. Since beginning twenty eight years ago they have become one of the scene’s best loved acts, with thirteen albums, gigs all over the world, and a number of award wins to their name.
The band began with three founding members: Ian F. Benzie, Buzzby McMillan and Jonny Hardie. Benzie – a traditional singer, well versed in local Aberdonian songs came together with Hardie on fiddle and McMillan on cittern came together when the Aberdeen ceilidh scene was taking off in the early 1990s.
The band were soon joined by Davy Cattanach – a local percussionist who’d recently returned from London. He introduced congos, djembe and talking drums to the mix, completing that signature early days Dogs’ sound. Soon after came the bands’ first opportunity to play in the states, for which they went into preparing their debut album – New Tricks.
They soon formed a relentless schedule, for the rest of the 90s playing up to a hundred and twenty gigs per year and releasing an album every year or two. The first six of those were released on Glasgow’s Klub Records subsidiary Lochshore, before the band signed to US based Green Linnett in 1999, for whom they made a further four albums.
In 1997 the Dogs’ lineup went from four to five, with Fraser Fifield joining the band on pipes and saxophone, debuting on their 1997 release Five.
Throughout their first decade together, the hectic schedule meant that this was not the only lineup change. By the late 90s, Davy Cattenach had departed, being replaced briefly by Graham Youngston, before Paul Jennings joined in 1999. That year brought further changes, with Benzie stepping down to be replaced by Jim Malcom on guitar and vocals, and Fifield’s spot being taken up by Rory Campbell on pipes and whistles.
These changes invigorated the band, each new member bringing fresh styles and ideas to the table, while also fitting in with what was by this point a very well established sound. Writing for The List, Norman Chalmers enthused about their 1999 performance opening the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival: “Sounding to those who’d already heard the dynamic Scots band’s albums, or seen them in action like business as usual… Jim Malcom’s assured, burnished vocals complement Rory Campbell’s beautifully executed, highly musical expression on bagpipes and whistle; while in young Paul Jennings, they’ve found a perfect replacement for original percussionist Davey Cattanach”.
This new line up soon led the band to a prestigious nomination for Celtic Album of the year at the Association of Independent Music Awards with their 2001 album Fit?, followed by wins in the Folk Band of the Year category at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2004 and 2007.
By 2007, further lineup changes had taken place, the biggest being Jim Malcom’s 2006 departure to pursue a solo career. With that, the band’s lineup went back from five to four, with vocal duties being shared across the band. The new lineup: Johnny Hardie on fiddle, Aaron Jones on guitars, Rory Campbell on pipes and whistles, and Fraser Stone on percussion debuted this sound with their 2007 release Four on the Floor on Vertical Records.
That year marked the band’s 15th anniversary, celebrated with a concert in Findhorn featuring the new quartet lineup and guest appearances from several former members, showing that ties with the old Dogs remain strong.
Intervening years saw Stone replaced by Donald Hay on percussion, and piper Rory Campbell’s mantle being taken up by Ali Hutton. As well as their work with the band, all are hugely in-demand musicians outwith, with a slate of credits to their respective names.
In 2017, the band celebrated their 25th anniversary with the release of Room With a View – their first album in nearly a decade, attracting the best response of any of their thirteen releases so far and reaching the shortlist for Album of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards. That year also saw their efforts recognised with the band being awarded Hands Up For Trad’s Landmark Award, in recognition of this major milestone.
Not that they show any signs of slowing down. 2020 might have put the lives and work of touring musicians on hold, but there’s no doubt they’ll be out in force for years to come.