Some may know Pete Coutts from Ballad of Crows, Smokin’ Catfish or from the many other projects he has been involved with but ‘Northern Sky’ is the beautiful debut solo album from the North-East Scotland musician as he looks to his roots for inspiration.
Pete, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
I’m a professional musician from Aberdeen / shire, I now live in Bonn Germany. I started playing guitar at 15 and joined my first band a week later (on bass). I played many styles from grunge/rock, funk/jazz, electronic, psychedelic, bluegrass to traditional folk music ( I’m getting auld ken)
The album has its roots planted firmly in the North-East dialect Doric. How do you feel that this ties in with your own identity?
As a musician/singer sometimes it’s really difficult to find your own voice, it’s the balance between what sounds good and what sounds “like me”, so coming from NE Scotland serves up a unique problem, the almost glottal sounding vowels and rolling “R’s” don’t always sound at home in contemporary music.
I always struggled playing in a bluegrass band and singing in a fake American accent, it seemed so disingenuous so I guess it was inevitable that as I got more into the traditional music of Scotland I became more confident in singing in my natural dialect.
There are a number of collaborators on the album. What was the process for writing Northern Sky?
My dad had always told me lots of great stories from growing up in NE Scotland wee fairm toon life and I found it fascinating, I always thought “that would make a great song” So it wasn’t until I had written some traditional tunes on the mandolin a few ideas came to me for song themes that I began thinking I had a viable project happening. After I committed myself to making a solo album consisting of traditional songs and tunes I realised that I would need a few other musicians involved to achieve the sound I had in mind. I was very lucky to get the help of some amazing musicians and songwriters on the album.
Nick Drake’s Northern Sky is the only non-original track, why was this song in particular chosen? Who/What would you class as your other influences?
I’m a big Nick Drake fan and Northern Sky was always one of my favourites, I had performed it solo for years and I thought it would really work with a more celtic sound, which Ali Hutton’s whistle does very nicely. My influences are very different and very many, everything from Pink Floyd, The Doors to Miles Davis, Bjork and Radiohead. But my traditional music influences are easy to name, Old Blind Dogs, Flook, Malinky and Dick Gaughan.
What do you hope to achieve with the album?
I’m really keen on promoting NE Scotland’s culture, particularly the Doric dialect, also preserving something that is unique to us. When Scotland’s culture or Scottish music is spoken about, the Glasgow music scene or Gaelic is always given the most attention but NE Scotland is the home of the Bothy Ballad, when you drive up the A96 every wee toon you see has been mentioned in one of the great old songs, I only hope that maybe I have added to that in a very small way.
Music is an incredibly personal thing. Which track gives you most satisfaction or sense of achievement?
The song ‘Belhelvie’ is about the death of my great, great, great grandfather. That was the story from my Dad that really inspired me to make the album. It’s a very sad but wonderful story that now has been immortalised in song, I’m very proud of that because it’s the reason I began the project.
Pete’s album ‘Northern Sky’ is out now and is available to stream and buy from https://petecoutts.bandcamp.com