About Dave

Dave Milligan

About Dave



Dave Milligan is primarily a jazz pianist and improviser, but one whose musical imagination flows freely between all kinds of musical genres.

Growing up in the Scottish Borders, he started learning piano at the age of six and was inspired by a diverse array of musicians through a small but varied record collection in the family home. He went on to study Jazz & Contemporary Music at the City of Leeds College of music before settling in Edinburgh in the early 1990’s. To this day he continues to draw inspiration from a wide range of music; from Jazz to Folk & Traditional, and Film scores to Dance music.

In a professional career spanning twenty years, Dave has performed all over the world. He is one of the most highly regarded pianists in Scotland, and has gained an enviable reputation as a highly skilled composer and arranger, writing works for large-scale ensembles down to solos, duos, string quartets and numerous arrangements for small groups.



 “A pianist of quite astonishing verve and subtlety… a whirlwind tour de force. “


“Excellent… He has a technique that opens rich possibilities in any contemporary piano style.“


“Scottish music, Jazz, Cuban rhythms – all let out with an entirely natural sense of flow.” 


“Dazzling music-making… he is equally at home in jazz and folk, and the genres are now deeply interlinked in his musical imagination.” 


As a collaborator and sideman, Dave has worked with a huge range of musicians from very diverse backgrounds – in one-off projects to long-term partnerships.

Since the mid 1990s he’s been working with award-winning trumpeter Colin Steele on a variety of projects including: Midnight Blue Band, Melting Pot, Masquenada, Colin Steele Quintet, Stramash and most recently in duo format.

He has been pianist and arranger for all three albums by Colin’s Quintet as well as the debut release for the 10-piece Stramash.

Dave have also worked extensively over the last decade with writer and story-teller Mike Maran on his theatre shows ‘Did You Used To Be R.D. Laing?’,A Funny Valentine – The Story and Music of Chet Baker’ and he wrote the score for ‘Novecento – The Legend of 1900’.

His duo with concertina virtuoso Simon Thoumire has also been a greatly admired musical partnership over the last decade. They first met whilst playing on a tour of Germany with the band Seannachie. It was clear that their playing complemented each other’s styles and they decided to make an album together. The CD “The Big Day In” was launched at Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours festival in October 2001. Since then they have played all over the UK, Europe, Canada & Australia, and have released a second album “Third Flight Home”.

“If you could pick a word to use after a Simon Thoumire and Dave Milligan Concert it had to be ‘wow’. However, to come out and say ‘wow’ would be just a crime. To do their concert justice you would have to run down the main street of Ikaalinen and scream it at the top of your voice WOW!” (From a review of a sellout concert at Sata-Häme Soi Accordion Festival in Ikaalinen, Finland.)

In 1998 he teamed up with Shetland fiddle star Catriona Macdonald to form the core of her band, they have since recorded two hugely popular albums and toured throughout the UK, Europe and Canada. January 2000 also saw Catriona create the String Sisters project and it premiered at Celtic Connections that year. This project brought together six of the most exciting female fiddle players in the world: Liz Carroll, Annbjørg Lien, Liz Knowles, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Natalie MacMaster, later replaced by Emma Hardelin.

2007 saw them release the sensational String Sisters “Live in Norway” CD & DVD for which they were nominated for The Spelamann Prize. They have performed some extensive tours of Scandinavia, and in 2012 headlined at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo.

Other artists Dave has worked with include: Larry Carlton, Art Farmer, Trilok Gurtu, Scott Hamilton, Pete King, Joe Temperley, Harry Allen, Charlie Mariano, Valery Ponamarev, Bill McHenry, Spike Robinson, Howard Alden, Ken Peplowski, Buddy DeFranco, Julian Arguelles, Tommy Smith, Carol Kidd, Tina May, Camille O’Sullivan, Eliza Carthy, McFall’s Chamber, Session A9, Alasdair Fraser, Chris Stout, Gordie Sampson, Jason Singh and Eugene Skeef.



Dave has written an extensive range of work: commissions, original music for recordings, theatre, T.V and Radio. These include works for Piano solos & duos, Jazz Trio, String Quartet, Large Folk Ensemble, Jazz Big Band, as well as countless tunes performed by groups within both Jazz & Folk idioms.

In 1998 Dave was amongst the first musicians to be invited to write music for the New Voices series at the Celtic Connections festival. The result was a 45 minute work for 2 two pianos, performed along with Scottish piano legend Andy Thorburn. More recently, he was commissioned to write for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra, for which he produced the 90 minute work ‘Sylvander & Clarinda’, featuring an international 16-piece jazz big band plus guest soloist Joe Temperly and three of Scotland’s leading folk singers Karine Polwart, Annie Grace & Corrina Hewat. Dave has more recently been working on some brand-new music for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, to be performed by the ‘Stone Islands Big Band’ – an exciting new eleven piece group made up of Scottish, Italian and Sardinian musicians.



Dave’s trio, with Tom Bancroft (drums) and Tom Lyne (bass) started playing together around 1998. Initially they played regularly around Scotland, exploring the jazz repertoire, but soon gravitated toward playing Dave’s original compositions. Considered one of the leading forces of the jazz scene in Scotland, they have released 2 highly acclaimed albums.

 “A pianist of quite astonishing verve and subtlety… A fervently jigging, Scottish-dance feel… a cracking trio.”



Just over a decade ago, a giant project that set a new benchmark in Scottish music was unveiled at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. Conceived and masterminded by Dave Milligan & Corrina Hewat, the project became a massive super-group called The Unusual Suspects.

It turned out to be a pivotal moment in the contemporary Scottish music scene. It was highly acclaimed by the press: “The Legend in the making that is The Unusual Suspects…” “The sound of the century in Scottish Music”, with the Scotsman later listing it as one of their top 20 gigs of all time.

It also proved to be a catalyst for countless musicians who went on to form large scale bands and folk orchestras, such as Bellowhead and Treacherous Orchestra, as well as providing inspiration for a host of youth projects including Aberdeen International Youth Festival’s Ceol Mor, Kathryn Tickell’s Folkestra, and The Gordon Duncan Experience to name only a few.

Milligan and Hewat devised the concept and formation of the band partly in response to the growing number of large-scale works that were being commissioned by festivals around the UK, that invariably involved a host of traditional and folk musicians, within the setting of a classical orchestra or other established mass ensemble. For Dave and Corrina, the thing that continually let these projects down was the sense that the traditional musicians were being asked to play composed music that was alien to them. And while that may be great for their personal development, the music always sounded somewhat uncomfortable. The underlying ethos of The Unusual Suspects from the start, was to bring together world-class musicians who already shared a musical dialect, and allow them to do what comes naturally to them. From there, you can fuse the music with other influences by getting other musicians into that same environment who also do what is natural to them. In short, get the best, and let them do what they do best.

The Unusual Suspects went on to develop and refine their sound – numbers varying between its original 32-piece line-up, down to a handful of performances with the tighter 17-piece. They have toured throughout the UK, France, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Germany, Croatia and in Canada where Dave & Corrina were invited to create the Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours as part of the Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. They have released 2 albums to date.



Several years before the Unusual Suspects, Dave and Corrina’s first joint project was a band called Bachué. Always with the duo of harp/vocals & piano at its core, Bachué often performed as a quartet with percussion, occasionally fiddle or trumpet, and latterly settled on a trio with drummer Donald Hay until they stopped performing in 2007. The band was consistently acclaimed for its groundbreaking and jazz-inflected approach to Scottish and Celtic traditions. Their music has inspired a whole new generation of players and their three releases are often cited as a source of inspiration for new music being created to this day.

The cross-fertilization between Hewat and Milligan’s shared jazz training and their love of Scottish tradition has been a strikingly fruitful one from the start. A decade down the line, though, their range of expression and depth of technical assurance has expanded tremendously, cemented by the fine-tuned rapport between their minds and hands.



In 2003 Dave published a book of piano music; a mix of traditional Scottish music and his own compositions. Through his work with Bachué, The Unusual Suspects and as a collaborator with some of the UK’s leading folk musicians, he has developed a style of playing that has made him one of the most individual voices in the Scottish music scene. The book has since become highly popular with pianists (and other instrumentalists), and is widely used by students looking for inspiration to develop their music and technique.

“A huge influence on me. He is a key player in developing possibilities within Scottish folk solo piano arranging and his Scottish Piano Collection proves to be an inspiration to all.” Heather Shelley, RCS student.



Dave has earned a reputation as a highly effective and inspirational teacher. He first started teaching when saxophonist Tommy Smith invited him to join a small team of tutors in the National Jazz Institute in Glasgow in 1996. He has gone on to teach at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Napier University, Newcastle University, the Irish World Music Centre in Limerick, National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton, Feis Rois, as well as workshops and master classes at festivals around the world. He teaches piano, group work, composition, arranging, harmony and improvisation.

He has recently been working for Music For Youth as a mentor, which involves judging at their National Festivals in Scotland and England. Music for Youth is a national music education charity providing free access to performance and audience opportunities for young musicians across the UK through its annual season of festivals and concerts. In 2011 Dave also took a group of youngsters from Feis Rois to perfrom at the MFY proms at the Albert Hall in London.

Since 2009, Dave has been the Musical Director of the Gordon Duncan Experience. Named after the late Perthshire piper, this large group is open to young musicians aged between 14 and 18 interested in playing traditional music – on any instrument!



“A great trio – thunking, funky Bad Plus-style grooviness… this is a unit with a deep sense of dynamics and groove. Highly contagious.” JAZZWISE

“A delight – excellent, captivating, entertaining… an individual voice… “ JAZZ REVIEW

“The trio has an exceptionally complete and cohesive sound… beautifully restrained” THE OBSERVER

“Superbly constructed composition, breathing as one… intensely satisfying.” JAZZVIEWS

“A dazzling display of technical skills and invention… makes an enormous impression – a keyboard master of today who is more melodic than, say, Bobo Stenson, but gentler than Jarrett. Certainly that’s the sort of company he belongs in.” JAZZ UK

“It’s big, bold, brassy, and adventurous… This whirlwind of sound takes Scottish music to unimagined heights! Is this the best live folk orchestra Scotland ever saw? What a statement [The Unusual Suspects] make with this album!”  THE LIVING TRADITION





Shops Late Show Did You Used To Be R.D. Laing?
Big Like This Live In Scotland
The Butterfly A Certain Smile Bachue Cafe
Third Flight Home The Big Day In



darkestplaces_box shoogle_box seinn_box Smoothitch Stramash Over The MoonString Sisters Live Scribbled In Chalk Through The Waves Hot and Cold My Favourite Place The Journey HomeBack To The Hills Swirler Twilight Dreams Bold