By Stevie Connor.
Scottish musician Malcolm MacWatt continues his Trans-Atlantic journey with “Dark Harvest”, the follow up to his highly acclaimed album “Settler”.
As a songwriter, MacWatt mixes Americana with British folklore, uncovering the past to explore contemporary issues. As a multi-instrumentalist, Dark Harvest displays the Appalachian and Celtic influences that underpins MacWatt’s music. With the exception of piano, he plays all the instruments on the album with much of the ornamentation being improvised at the moment of recording.
“I don’t read or write music,” explains MacWatt. “I have very basic equipment with no recording software so when I’m playing a fiddle part I need to be aware of what the banjo might do. For me, it’s a very immediate and exciting way to make music.”
From the opening song “Strong Is The North Wind” to the closer “Semi Scotsman” MacWatt lays out his personal politics and beliefs with sensitivity and compassion and without apology. As the album title suggests, this is a sombre collection of songs gleaned from the shady side of history with underlying themes of karma and repercussion. The lyrics speak of horror, violence and oppression but there’s also heroism, bravery and love, all delivered with beautiful melodies and a delicate touch.
Growing up in the Scottish Highlands, MacWatt has a deep respect for tradition and heritage but considers himself a contemporary folk artist.
“Folk music isn’t stuck in the past”, he says. “It’s constantly being written and rewritten, and while I throw a little light onto certain historical events, I’m also trying to create new stories and songs that reflect life today.”
Bolstered by the success of Settler, together with the continuing support of Santa Cruz-based Need To Know Music, the new album is evidence of a mature and assured musician very much at home in his own creative space.
While Settler featured superb contributions from long established names like Eliza Carthy, Gretchen Peters and Laura Cantrell, for Dark Harvest MacWatt had very specific qualities in mind. “I was so invested in these songs that I considered every aspect to the point where I was writing and arranging songs for artists I hadn’t even approached yet,” he explains. “Had Angeline Morrison not agreed to sing on “Empire In Me” I probably wouldn’t have recorded it. As I was putting the title track “Dark Harvest” together I could hear Nathan Bell’s voice and guitar. For “Out On The Western Plain” I wanted someone who could play the blues with all of Rory Gallagher’s fire and sensitivity and was blessed to work with Pat McManus. I’m so grateful to every single artist who gave of themselves for this project.”
Malcolm MacWatt is a unique voice in British Folk/Americana with the likes of Gretchen Peters, Laura Cantrell, Jaimee Harris, Eliza Carthy, Nathan Bell, Angeline Morrison, Pat McManus and Kris Drever lending their names and voices to his recent work.
Hailing from Morayshire with the Highlands and North Sea as a constant backdrop, Malcolm was raised listening to the folklore and music of Scotland. His love for the outdoors saw him spending much of his life as a keen hillwalker and surfer; learning first hand that the Highlands are beautiful and uplifting but unforgivingly harsh if taken for granted.
Like many other young men from the area he worked on the offshore oil rigs where the power of the North Sea was a constant reminder to remain humble in the face of nature. Later, as a newspaper journalist he reported on local topics including the criminal courts and social issues. As such there’s sensitivity, compassion and humanity in his songwriting with a rugged simplicity and directness in how they are delivered.
Recounting his musical journey, Malcolm explains, “I’ve had a lifelong love of American music and culture. At the same time as those US influences were coming through the TV and radio I was also being steeped in Scottish folk tales and traditional music. So I’ve always been fascinated by music with Trans-Atlantic connections, or Transatlanticana as I like to say.
I'm indebted to my label Need To Know Music for their steadfast support. Thinking back to September 6th 2020 when I received an email out of the blue from a guy called Brian Brinkerhoff in California. He’s just been tipped off about ‘Skail’ from a friend at Americana Highways who gave the EP a glowing review. Says he’s been a music producer for much of his life and mentions some of the great artists he’s worked with… and he’s keen to work with me! Over the next few days we talk politics, family, books, films, history, cooking, Scotland, America and of course music and pretty soon the conversation comes around to how we could collaborate on an album and what form that album might take.That first contact was the start of the most important musical relationship of my life and I now count Brian as a personal friend and mentor. Together we released ‘Settler’ in November 2021 and my new album ‘Dark Harvest’ released in January 2024. To work with someone who has a real passion for the art of music is a joy, a privilege, an education and a huge boost to my confidence as a songwriter and musician.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who continues to support me on this musical journey. You allow me to continue producing music and to keep my old Toyota rolling up and down the road. I couldn't do this without you so thanks again."
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