Congratulations to Sandy Brechin who has been nominated in Online Performance of 2020 sponsored by Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust in the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2020. Vote now!
We asked Sandy Brechin the following questions.
Tell us about yourself
Sandy Brechin is one of Scotland’s best-loved accordionists. He has been playing the accordion since he was unwillingly strapped into it at the age of eight, and not released until he was a fully grown adult. (He is still playing the same, small 48 bass kids size accordion, but no-one seems to have noticed.) He was taught first of all by the wonderful Ken McGinty, then by the lovely Chrissie Leatham, and later by her virtuoso son, Owen Murray, now Professor of Accordion at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Sandy grew up in the village of Kirkliston, West Lothian, just behind Runway No. 1 of Edinburgh Airport. Now based in Edinburgh, more than 40 years later, that little accordion (and that airport) has taken him all over the world with an amazing variety of bands, such as folk-rock group, Bùrach, who won the Scottish Folk Band Competition in 1994, the only year there ever was one, which was lucky; Gaelic folk band, Seelyhoo; The Sandy Brechin Band, and his incredibly popular electric ceilidh band, The Sensational Jimi Shandrix Experience. He has also played in The Donnie Munro Band, and even ended up in the final for the British entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1997 – the wonderfully titled Yodel in the Canyon of Love – which came a close second to the overall Eurovision winner that year, Shine a Light, by Katrina and the Waves.
Other current line-ups include McKerron, Brechin & Ó hEadhra, with fiddler, Charlie McKerron, and Gaelic singer/guitarist Brian Ó hEadhra; The Sandy Brechin Trio, with Swedish fiddler, Jimmy Johansson, and double bass player, Christopher Andersson Bång; BrÒg, a new trio with piper, Gary West, and fiddler Greg Borland, and his long-standing duo with Scots Borders singer/guitarist, Ewan Wilkinson.
Sandy was fortunate enough to start his recording career with not one, but two, recording contracts for separate bands in the same year from Ian Green’s prestigious Greentrax label. Sandy went on to record on many Greentrax albums and compilations for Ian over the ensuing years, until he founded his own record label, Brechin All Records, which features, among some of his own releases, a huge range of talent from the best of Scottish traditional music and song, with over 40 albums so far. This month sees the release of Love so Strong, by Ayrshire singer/songwriter, Davie Anderson, soon to be followed by the new album, Le Chèile, by McKerron, Brechin & Ó hEadhra. www.brechin-all-records.com
Sandy is also a well-known composer, with over a hundred tunes to his name, many of which have been recorded by other artistes and bands such as Blazin’ Fiddles, and appear in several tune books, such as the RCS Graded Exam books, the Ho-Ro Gheallaidh session books and his own book of compositions, Out of his Mind, all published by Taigh na Teud.
Having held the post of accordion tutor at The National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton for nearly two decades, Sandy has also taught regularly at many fèisean around Scotland, including Fèis Rois, Fèis Bharraigh, and Fèis Dhùn Èideann, and The Orkney Traditional Music Project, as well as guest tutoring at a host of other fèisean; The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), where he is also the Special External Examiner for the accordion students; Tinto Summer School; Scots Music Group, and Edinburgh University, plus accordion workshops over the years in Shropshire, Folkworks in Durham and Accordions at Whitney. Internationally, he has run accordion (and ceilidh dance) workshops in countries as far flung as Australia, NZ, South America and the USA, and many others in between, such as Sweden, Poland, Germany and Spain. Sandy has released two accordion teaching DVDs, and is soon to release a teaching book to accompany them.
Since lockdown, Sandy has performed a regular weekly online Facebook show, “Sandy on Sunday” on Quarantine Gigs, combining his musical talents, quirky humour, some very unusual costumes and a small dog, gathering a huge following of several thousand viewers each week.
Why are you involved in Scottish music?
Due to his father’s job as a vet, Sandy was brought up in the farming community, which had a strong connection with traditional music. Sandy regularly attended ceilidhs and often performed himself at such events from a young age, as well as Burns Suppers and local community concerts.
As a teenager, Sandy was very fortunate to join the Queensferry High School Dance Band with his schoolhood friend, Ian Wood, led by inspirational teachers, Rodger McAndrew and Alastair Gentleman, where he revelled in playing music for the first time with others and developed a life-long love of ceilidh music, bands and touring. The band still perform today, under the name The Forth Bridges Dance Band!
Even after more then three decades of professional playing and tutoring, Sandy still loves to teach and perform, and the current situation has made him appreciate even more how lucky he has been to have been able to share his nation’s rich musical culture with audiences at home and all over the world. Thanks to the internet, this has been able to be continued to a lesser extent, but Sandy is optimistic that he will be back out there in the not too distant future, teaching “live”, calling ceilidhs in his customary comical fashion, playing ridiculously fast tunes on a ridiculously small accordion, and, of course, scaring small children.
Any particular career highlights?
Playing Yodel in the Canyon of Love, by Kerry with Do-Re-Me (Sandy was “Do!”) on “Live on the Lottery” on BBC1 in 1997 for the final of A Song for Britain – the competition to choose the UK’s Eurovision entry that year.
Playing on TV with Ceilidhdonia for the opening of the Olympics, from Festival Square in Edinburgh.
Playing on Glasgow green with Ceilidh Minogue for a ceilidh for the Commonwealth Games.
Playing every year for the last twenty or so for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, most recently for the Ceilidh Under the Castle, an outdoor ceilidh dance for over 3000 people.
Persuading Prince Charles’s staff to bring out the “Highgrove Red” wine a few years back at a particularly dry charity ceilidh that HRH had organised at Holyrood Palace.
What are your plans for the future?
Sandy hopes one day to be able to return to travelling the length and breadth of the country, playing music and sharing the tradition that he has been fortunate enough to be brought up in and to make a career out of, with his happy brand of humour. But until then, he will carry on writing music, releasing albums and teaching and performing his Sandy on Sunday show online for as long as his internet subscription holds out…
The MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards, Na Trads 2020, will be broadcast on BBC ALBA on 12th December 2020 at 9pm where the award winners will be announced along with specially recorded music performances. During the day on Saturday the 12th, you will be able to watch from 1pm til 9pm a day of live Scottish trad music including Kinnaris Quintet, Dallahan, Inyal, Paul McKenna Band, Ryan Young and Jenn Butterworth and many more here https://youtu.be/amByvVzxl5E. Keep up to date with all the latest information by joining the Hands Up for Trad newsletter at https://handsup.link/Newsletter or use the hashtags #natrads #HUFTonline.
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