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Tom Houston

An Interview With Scottish Folk Artist Tom Houston

Tom Houston released his wildly emotive album ‘Gap in the Fence’ this October.

A truly wonderful insight into the mind of the artist, with all it’s meanderings and musings, this collection of twelve songs and spoken word pieces is something you can unwind to as the winter’s nights draw in. Yet the album is not so personal that we cannot relate. Moreover, these songs are open to interpretation and thus, through the ‘gap in the fence’, you will also find… yourself.

The album is available to stream and download on all the major digital platforms, yet also – quite rarely today – available as a physical copy, which you can purchase from the artist himself at www.tomhouston.org

How have you found the pandemic situation? And lockdowns? 

It’s obviously been a big adjustment, and I’m sure the impact will be seen for a considerable time. On one level I’ve adjusted reasonably well to the ‘simple life’; walks in the woods, baking bread, looking for online contacts and exploring social media. At another level it can feel like we’ve been ‘cheated’ out of a year. Mainly live gigs and the resulting social connections (and whatever income) have been the big loss.

Talk us through your recent releases – which track is your favourite?

I’ve just released a new Album called GAP IN THE FENCE. I had planned to release the tracks on a ‘slow burn’ anyway, but when Covid hit in March I decided to release a ‘track a month’ starting in March and building to a ‘frenzy’ in October when the whole Album would be out. I’m really pleased and proud of the Album which can be seen as a collaboration with producer Neill MacColl. It’s been well reviewed  by the likes of RnR and FolkRadioUK and features 8 songs and 4 spoken word pieces.

When I first suggested the project to Neill it was going to be mainly spoken word based, and kept as minimal and simple as possible. Then when we started looking at the material it started to grow arms and legs (and songs). It was also a great opportunity to involve some of my previous collaborators, such as Me for Queen, Cathryn and Lucie Robson and Kate St John. It was great to have Mattie and Ben involved too to add the rhythm section.

No favourites from me, but I’ll mention Mary’s singing on Mud on the Doorway, Neill’s guitar work on Child on a Plane and his soundscape on Sonic Deviance. The Cello, bass and piano on I Am the River #33 are beautiful and Lucie and Cathryn’s vocals on Campbell’s Lament are exceptional (and weird). The other tracks are pretty damn good too!

Do you have to be in a certain mood to write?

Good question. I need to be centred and motivated whatever that means. It probably means I need to be receptive and open. So probably I need to be reasonably neutral…although one of the songs Laughter Below was definitely the result of a very sombre couple of weeks when we were deeply affected by an incident which seemed to haunt the community for a few weeks. So that was a result of being ‘haunted’. In fact now I think of it there’s usually a certain emotion or feeling that is evoked during the song process. I just need to be receptive to that feeling.

Where do you live? Tell us about it.

I mainly stay in the top floor of an old woollen mill in Tillicoultry in Central Scotland. It’s a lovely spacious flat with lots of light and great views of the hills and skies. There’s a stream that flows down below, and great local walks in the woods and up into the hills. It’s not necessarily a ‘trendy’ location. No hipsters in Tillicoultry! So the housing is affordable and the vibe is humble. I’m lucky enough to also have an old fisherman’s cottage on the North West Coast of Scotland. No electricity and you have to bury your own shit. So it’s down to earth. But what a glorious place to be when the midges aren’t about. My partner stays in Edinburgh, so I also visit auld reekie from time to time.

You’re a big Nature fan right? We gathered from your instagram…

I love taking those photos. If it’s not Nature then an old piece of rusting industry. Derelict, rotting and unused. I was out today taking some photos and I think my favourite one is of some rotting apples laying at the root of a tree.

We humans have a big challenge staring us in the face. We’ve got to come to terms with our place in nature and nature’s place in us.

What would your advice be to anyone wanting to start recording and releasing music?

I’d be the last person to send out any advice to someone I don’t know. I’ve also done a fair bit of  ‘coaching’ in my time. In another life I also qualified as an ‘improvement advisor’ and a ‘change agent’. So I’ve learned that everything happens within a context and each person’s motivation and priorities might be different.

What’s the toughest part of the industry for you?

mmm….I guess it’s being unknown and the wrong side of 22 and without a genre. In the sense that the ‘industry’ is geared towards either folks who have a name or who are young, cool and emerging, or those who excel in their genre.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the industry? 

mmmm. I guess it’s being unknown, uncool and an old genre-busting dude. It means I can sort of go where the creative adventure leads me without being too worried about sending out the wrong message. Also making connections with folks (from within or on the fringes of the industry) who resonate with the songs and let me know.

You can find more information about Tom Houston at...