Scotland’s Malcolm MacWatt got his first guitar at age 12. When his dad bought him the Johnny Cash at San Quentin album, he was hooked. “It was all about roots music from there on,” he said. He was especially into the more traditional, folk elements of it, with its roots going all the all the way back to Britain and Europe. He wrote his first song when he was 13 years old.
Last year, Maverick magazine recognized Malcolm for his powerful songwriting skills with a four star review for his 2019 album, Three Truths and The Chord. “Country is heart, guts and soul music, born out of difficult times, and I try to keep that in my writing, whether it’s a country song or otherwise,” he says. “In one way or another I’ve lived my songs. They’re very personal and honest but at every gig people always tell me how they relate to them. I love when that happens.”
Malcolm has plenty of experiences to draw on for his lyrical content. He spent weeks at a time away from home working on the North Sea oil rigs in the middle of the ocean. “I listened to a lot of guys talking about their lives – marriage, divorce, good times and bad. I also read a lot to pass the time. Later I became a journalist documenting people’s lives, going to the criminal courts and listening to real life hardships as well as the feel good stories. My last job was working in inner-city schools supporting children from vulnerable backgrounds – another side of London that has found its way into some of my songs.”
Malcolm has a new record out now called, Dial It Back. It’s a collection of songs linked through a mid-70s country rock production. “I really wanted to tap into the rock bands that influenced me as a teenager, he said. “We just imagined Gram Parsons, Keith, Ron & Charlie, Duane & Eric, Nicky Hopkins and Ron Blair getting off their faces and jamming together.”
Malcolm also released two EPs shortly afterwards as the recording process for the album was so quick, and he had money left over. For the latest EP, SKAIL – it’s an old Scots word meaning to scatter, disperse and sail overseas – “I wanted to explore the roots of country music using experiences of 18th century Scottish emigration to the New World. It’s a Celtic/Americana crossover and Canadian and American listeners have really responded to it,” he said.
Here are a few additional questions we asked Malcolm for the interview that we were unable to fit into the original print version – we thought you might enjoy reading more about Malcolm before you go.
- What kind of audience do you find resonating with your music best? A: Older guys! I’m one of them! I write about the stuff that we go through and at gigs people always come up to talk about certain songs and how they reflect their life stories. I also see that audiences for live gigs are 45+. I don’t see many young listeners at roots music gigs, to be honest. I played guitar recently for a guy supporting Chase Rice in London and was amazed to see so many younger women in the audience. They are never at any of my gigs (LOL)!
- How has the pandemic affected your ability to perform and support this project? A: Firstly, I had to record it at home as my usual studio was, and still is, in lock down. So, while I have friends who are better fiddlers and better banjo players, I ended up playing every instrument myself. I even learned basic bodhran for that EP. We had to mix and master it using Skype and a lot of back and forth emails, but it was nice just working away on my own without my usual producer Phil Dearing telling me to play something again and again and again (ha ha!)
- What do you look forward to as a musician (future aspirations)? A: Obviously getting back to playing live. I play a lot so I am missing the adrenaline rush of an audience hearing new material. I’m also hoping to get over to the US and play a few gigs down the East coast folk circuit, and do a bit of walking.
- What are you doing now, outside of music, to support yourself – day job? A: I saved as much money as possible and quit work in January 2019 to do music full time for a couple of years. So right now I’m leeching off my wife! I’m a fully qualified luthier – I trained with some excellent guitar makers – and I am planning to go back to doing guitar repairs and set-ups at some point.
- Do you plan/hope to tour the US in the future? I’d love to combine some US gigs with a US road trip. I’m fascinated by America. I want to walk some of the Appalachian Trail and attend some old-time/bluegrass festivals, so I’m definitely hoping to get across the pond.
- Anything else you’d like to add? A: I’ve been very humbled by the great reviews I’ve had for SKAIL, particularly the supportive comments from my musical peers. It’s a game-changer for me in that after years of playing, I’ve finally found my own unique path to follow. I’m a mixed-race Scot with a deep appreciation of traditional Scottish music and a long term love for American roots music, so it feels like I have come home.