The Don Paterson Situation to play Inverness in October.
A poet of the guitar is a description that’s been given to many musicians due to their ability to create beautiful lines. It’s a soubriquet that applies literally to Don Paterson, who trades sonnets for sonics in Scotland later this month. Paterson is best known to jazz audiences for his work with the Celtic-jazz group Lammas, which he co-led with saxophonist Tim Garland through the 1990s and on five well-received albums. The group was the result of extensive playing and searching for ideal musical partners which had begun in Paterson’s home town, Dundee, in his teens.
Initially influenced by the freewheeling folk-jazz-rock albums of John Martyn and the conversational style of John Abercrombie, Paterson moved to London in 1984 to join the free-improv scene. His experiences there included lessons with improv master Derek Bailey and gigs and albums with Scottish drummer Ken Hyder’s Talisker, where fellow band members numbered the former King Crimson violinist David Cross.
Shortly after moving to London, Paterson encountered poet Tony Harrison and became captivated by his work. He read widely for a year then began to write, devoting his time to twin pursuits that sometimes went hand in hand. Having met Garland and formed Lammas, adding singer Christine Tobin’s distinctive voice to the group’s Scottish and Irish-flavoured sound, Paterson provided lyrics to songs. Eventually he found himself being recognised more and more for his poetry and as Garland went off to feature in Chick Corea’s group The Vigil, Paterson’s pen became mightier, or at least busier, than his axe.
He is now one of Britain’s most decorated poets, having won the Forward Poetry Prize for his first collection, Nil Nil, and gone on to win the prestigious T S Eliot Prize twice, among many other accolades. In 2008 he was appointed OBE for services to literature and his latest collection, 40 Sonnets, has been nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize. He also keeps busy with readings as well as working as poetry editor for publishers Picador and teaching creative writing at the University of St. Andrews.
Towards the end of last year Paterson decided that he’d neglected the guitar and music for too long and needed to reactivate a career that had involved sharing stages and recording studios with Kenny Wheeler, vibraphone virtuoso Joe Locke, pianist Jason Rebello and others. He began woodshedding to get back to ‘match fitness’ (a hand operation had also been a factor in his silence as a musician) and formed a new group, the Don Paterson Situation.
Applying his unusual fingerstyle technique to electric guitar, he’s been writing new material that reflects his long-term engagement with jazz, electronic, classical and Celtic music. His group features Steve Hamilton (currently touring with Mahavishnu Orchestra drumming legend Billy Cobham) on keyboards, along with Euan Burton on bass, and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s star drummer, Alyn Cosker. They made their first appearance at Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar in February.