When I caught up with singer songwriters Graham Brown and Megan Blyth, I was taking the opportunity to speak to these two rising stars of the Inverness music scene, in advance of Graham’s EP release at the Ironworks on the 9th December. Meeting up with this pair was no mean feat, as finding a time in their busy schedules was not that simple.
Eventually an evening was found when Graham could hot foot it from the railway station, on his return from some recording in the central belt, and at a time that fitted in with Megan’s hectic program. A year ago mention of their names would have encountered blank looks, but now, with a string of high profile support slots and appearances, both have gained a vast amount of experience in a very short space of time.
Graham first came to our attention early this year when he took part in Live and Unsigned, a route which he is now able to laugh about. “I did it as a bet, kind of. I got through to the live shows”.
Megan, on the other hand took her bow at the Coffee Shop sessions at Bogbain, back in February. A performance that she admits, to her, felt awful. “I was sitting on my wee seat, it was my first gig, in fact it wasn’t even a gig, it was an open mic thing, and it was the first time that I had played in public. I was shaking so bad that my guitar kept sliding off my leg.” Megan’s foray into the music scene really begun when her parents spotted her talent. “My mum and dad had been pushing me for a while to go to one of these things. I would come downstairs and play one of my songs, and they would say that I should start playing, and I would start shouting at them, and be like, no I don’t want to. But then one day I said fine but if I get a bad reception I’m never doing it again!” Graham adds “If you go to a place like the Coffee Shop Sessions, not that I’ve been, you play in front of so many musicians, it can be so constructive.”
Graham chipped in with his similar emotions the first time he played Hootananny. “I was the same as Megan on my first gig, I was terrified, I was proper shaking and all that stuff. I was supporting Andrew MacDonald on a Sunday night and I was terrified!
With both being so young, Graham is not quite 20 yet, a prospect that he doesn’t fully relish, and Megan a mere 16, it is somewhat surprising that experiences at school musically were not at the forefront of the musical development. As Megan puts it “I never let anyone know that I could sing, I just didn’t want that to be part of my school life. It was mostly Scottish music, that’s what the whole department was involved in. I just wasn’t into that. You’re kind of limited to what you’re allowed to do in music. I got average results for my music, I just wasn’t listening to what they were saying.”
This is echoed by Graham, “In Grantown they used to close the school down at the end of every term for the concert, and everyone was amazing. But, I didn’t start singing until I left school. I left Grantown and came to Inverness when I was 14, so I had 3 years of everyone being into sports. Everyone at school who could sing was laughed at.”
But arrive on the scene they both did. Graham is no stranger to the Ironworks with an incredible support slot for 2010 X Factor winner Matt Cardle. But this wasn’t the gig that stood out for him, that was his stint before Matthew and the Atlas. In Graham’s words “Their music was just amazing. I was sitting watching them on the balcony and I just didn’t speak the whole time, because they were that good, they just draw you in”
But the Matt Cardle experience was not lost on Graham when he played in front of his largest crowd to date. “That was probably the biggest thrill that I ever had. I was scared. I was talking to him and he was terrified as well! But he told me how he feels and how he gets over it, and his band telling me how you get hyper and start shouting and doing things that you wouldn’t normally do. I was doing it, and so was he! It was funny to see him doing that after him playing in front of millions of people on TV. When I was about to go on, I put my guitar on, turned round and I was shaking. I said hello, then it went mental. I was over it straight away.”
The pair have a lot in common, especially when it comes to what they want to do next year. “Festivals!” they sprung at me in unison. Although both shared disappointment in the location of the Hen House Stage at Belladrum, Megan shared her little adventure she had at Bfest in Wick. “Marion Scott said she would take me to Wick and we could busk there, as she was doing stuff there for MFR. But she said to the guy, see in the changeover, can we get Megan up on stage, so she gave me my guitar and I went up and did a could of songs and then I ended up busking in front of Gun afterwards. It was kinda random, but a really good day. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. You’ve got to be brave.”
As the year has pushed on, eyes are now on Graham’s EP launch. Graham is keen those that come to hear him have something to leave with
When it comes to writing songs, Graham finds that a lot depends on his mood. “Some songs I write in an hour, and some I’ve been writing over the last year. I don’t rush them. I wait for them to come to me rather than trying to force it. You try to force a song, it just comes out as rubbish.” Megan started writing when she was 13. “But the songs that I wrote back then are very different to the songs that I write now. I feel more confident in how I construct a song now.”
Discussion turned to the tracks on Graham’s EP. Graham is quite modest when talking about the tracks on the release “For me this is kinda to show people my music. I’ve never had anything to give them. It’s not done in a mad studio, its done in my house. Its just to give people something that they can listen to rather than come into shows and having nothing to give when they ask for CDs.” There are songs that I’ve held back on, because I feel that they are not perfect yet. They’re be for next time.” So with Recover being the title track, Graham explained its significance “It was the first song that I wrote. I was 17 when I left school and I started writing it in that summer”.
Megan also has recording plans of her own “Yeah, we should be hopefully starting recording after Christmas. I’m hoping to get a little EP recorded.”
Graham was keen to discuss the development of his solo sound and his use of a accompanying band, “When I played with Matt Cardle, he wanted a solo person with an instrument so I wasn’t allowed to bring them. I used them at Matthew and the Atlas, my girlfriend plays the violin, and the drummer from Midnight Glory does percussion for me, and I also have a new guitarist, called Ewan Cruikshank. I’m not sure if anyone will be playing the violin on the (EP launch) night, but Ewan and Phil will be playing. It warms everything up when you do it like that . It give everyone a beat to tap along to, and the backing vocal, and backing guitar that Ewan does just makes it a bit more alive.”
Graham draws a firm distinction between his solo work and that of his other project Midnight Glory. Graham is a little coy when he says that his solo music is more emotional, more folky music, and the Midnight Glory music is all upbeat, happy music. Surprisingly, with Midnight Glory having been compared to 2 Door Cinema Club, Graham is somewhat dumbfounded by this. “None of us really listen to them, which is weird, only the drummer really listens to them and he has no influence in the writing! The only thing is the lead guitar delay, that’s all it is, but we’ve just recorded and they don’t really sound like 2 Door Cinema Club.”
Graham is not the only one running two strands to his music career, Megan also mentioned that she is part of a new band, Little Sisters, who will be playing a short support set at Hootanannys before the end of the year. Megan also is very keen to sing the praises of her manager Paul Elliott who she feels has worked so hard in her first year getting her gigs and making it such an enjoyable experience.
But essentially, we have two songwriters, and they were keen to discuss there approach to the craft, Megan too it up “The melodies are hardest part for me, once I come up with a melody I sit and totally think about my lyrics and about how meaningful they’re going to be”. Graham added “I put myself into a scene when I do it. I don’t like to make the scene really right in my mind, I like to keep it pretty vague, just so if you keep it vague when you write it, you don’t say about specific things. When people listen to that they take it on board as something that they have got in their life, and can have empathy.”
On that thoughtful note, it was time to vacate our window seats in the Encore lobby, and head out into the cold evening, but not before both Graham and Megan wanted friends, family and fans to get their tickets in advance of the gig, as with a large number sold there was no guarantee of getting in on the night if you tried to pay at the door.
Tickets are available via www.ironworksvenue.com
Written by Frank Finlayson
Thanks to Megan Blyth and Graham Brown for their time.