Dave Milligan


December, Nativity, Steinway, Tony…

Well, hello December. I didn’t see you coming, and to be honest I’m not quite ready for you…

However, you placed that sky outside my front door this morning so I forgive you.

I’m looking forward to hooking up with Sardinian saxophonist Enzo Favata and his group for a concert in Alghero, Sardinia on December 27th. We’ll be performing with Colin Steele (trumpet) Danilo Gallo (bass) and U.T. Gandhi (drums).

What else is happening this Month? Not much else on the gig front, but I’m enjoying my practice routines at the moment. Discovering some fascinating stuff… but more about that soon.

Oh, yes and my five-year-old daughter is preparing for the school nativity. She will be playing Mary. Yes, the starring role – quite a promotion from 2013 when she was cast as ‘Innkeeper no.3’.She came home from school a couple of weeks ago and in an overdramatic, exasperated tone, said: “I can’t believe we’re doing the Jesus show again…. We did that one last year!”  She’s a girl who puts variety before tradition, what can I tell you?

Got some nice gigs coming up in the new year too – will update on that when I have more news. I will also sneak in here the announcement that I’m preparing to record a solo piano album, which will be done hopefully in the next few months. Just got to find that perfect Steinway first…


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Finally, a wee bit of remembrance.

I just heard that Tony McLennan died. Tony was a great drummer from Glasgow and had an impressive list of musical associates – not least the Scottish legend that is Fionna Duncan and Ronnie Rae, but he also played with Buddy De Franco, Art Farmer, James Moody, Louis Stewart, Carol Kidd and Martin Taylor to name a few.  Tony was one of the first musicians I gigged with when I was starting out; cutting my teeth, so to speak…

We never talked about music in an academic way – I guess he was self-taught – but I did learn a thing or two from him. He would sometimes be talking about the music we had just played, or even were about to play – and just say something like: “It’s easy. Jist dae it son!”

I guess I was about twenty-two, and at the time I remember thinking: “Right. Easy, just do it. Gotcha.” But twenty-plus years later I have a different take on where he was coming from. I was full of questions then. Mostly stuff like how do I play better than this? How can I sound more like…? [insert any one of the many piano gods I may have been listening to at the time] I suppose I’m still full of questions, but I get the ‘just dae it’ advice now. Tony was crazy about music, and he wanted to play, to create magic. If you look at it like that, the idea that you can waste a single moment of potential magic making on worrying about what it’s supposed to sound like, it doesn’t make any sense.

That was probably around twenty years ago now. Around that time, I remember doing a wee tour of Ireland with Fionna Duncan. Ronnie Rae played bass, with Tony and myself making up the rest of the trio. The four of us, plus a PA, an electric piano, a double bass, a drum kit and 4 cases in one car. And Ronnie was the only one who could drive. There were many hours spent in the car, Tony and I in the back seat with our knees up around ears, we were so packed in. Tony more often than not had the wee ‘hauf bottle’ to pass the journey, and was rarely seen without a baseball cap on his head. We were also room-mates for that tour. I rarely needed an alarm clock sharing a room with Tony – he’d always wake up early and break the morning silence with a series of coughs, loud exhalations, burps, grunts, and the occasional ‘Fuck’s sake!’ thrown in for good measure. I never really got the measure of his home life, but remember the odd call home to his wife Janice he would make from the hotel room. I could only hear one side of the short conversation of course, but it went something like: “It’s me. Aye, it’s fine. How’s the dug?”

He was what you might call a rough diamond, but he was the real deal. I hadn’t seen or even heard of him for years and hearing he’d passed away wasn’t a complete shock. To be honest, if someone told me when I first met him he would live another twenty or so years, I’d have been surprised. But I’ve found myself thinking about him a lot since I heard the news, and I think it’s because I suddenly recognise the thing I admired about him; honesty. He was who he was and made no apologies for it. I like that. And he played the bejeezus out of the drums.

Rest in peace brother.

Norway, Shetland & Sardinia…

As we watch June whooshing by, I just want to take a moment to let you know about a few things coming up.

Next for me is a visit to the Førde Festival in Norway. I’ll be performing with String Sisters on Saturday 5th July. Always a joy to play with these guys – Annbjørg Lien, Catriona Macdonald, Liz Carrol, Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, Liz Knowles and Liz Doherty; six of the finest traditional and folk fiddlers you’ll find anywhere.

Following a wee spot of recording and writing in the first half of July, I’m looking forward to hooking up with Sardinian saxophonist Enzo Favata and his group for the first of two dates this summer. First up with Enzo is a concert at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival on July 18th where we’ll be performing with Colin Steele (trumpet) Danilo Gallo (bass) and U.T. Gandhi (drums).

Then it’s straight in to rehearsals for the Big Big Big Sing! This will be an incredible event held on Glasgow Green on July 27th. I’ve been charged (I mean appointed) as musical director of the 7-piece band that will holding down the grooves for an extraordinary afternoon of songs. Ever imagined what it would sound like to be in a choir of 10,000 singers? Well this is your chance. Check out the Big Big Sing website and come along! No experience necessary… and it’s free!

As August strides into view, I’ll be readying myself for some more exciting stuff. Not least my daughter is starting school. Wow. The shortest (and on another level, longest) five years of my life are giving way to the next phase… exciting times indeed.

Back to work though, and on August 10th I’ll be performing with Catriona Macdonald in Shetland – looks like a great night performing as part of the Fiddle Frenzy festival at Mareel in Lerwick.

I’ll be travelling to Sardina for a concert on August 14th with the Stone Islands again. Another collaboration with Enzo Favata, this time I’ll be taking fellow Scot Fraser Fifeld to join Italian musicians Filippo Vignato, Riccardo Pittau, Danilo Gallo, U.T. Gandhi and of course Enzo  himself.

Plenty more fun things beyond all this, but that’s enough for now don’t you think?

See you somewhere I hope.

Spring Can Really Fire You Up The Most

Here we are, Spring.

I spent last week at Ardkinglas House by Loch Fyne. I was  hanging there with some pals from the Pathhead Music Collective, writing, sharing & practicing music. Turned out to be a very creative and inspiring week. Not difficult for me when the view from the piano stool was this:

And, lucky ol’ me, heading off to another residential weekend in Galloway to do some mentoring for the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of The Year finalists.

So, one of the things I’m working on at the moment is a new solo piano album. Can’t say when it will appear, as I just don’t know. But I’ll do my best to make it sooner rather than later. But have to say I’m excited about it – it’s been a long time since I really connected with playing solo piano, but I feel like I have recently. And the decision to make a solo record  happened almost unconsciously.

Been playing the piano in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall quite a lot this last year.

I. Love. That. Piano.

If anyone knows of another piano to rival their Steinway, do let me know.

Also working a lot with choirs at the moment. (I didn’t see that coming).

Currently in the studio with the Big Big Sing project, recording choir resources with fantastic Stephen Deazley, Fraser Fifield, Graeme Stephen, to name a few. All very good for the soul, as are the Big Big Sing live days we’ve been doing around the country. (Next up: South Bank Centre in London on April 20th). The events are led by Stephen along with the incredible Eugene Skeef, who seems to be followed wherever he goes by awesomeness.

Very much looking forward to revisiting some projects and bands later this year: Playing with the Corrina Hewat Band (watch out for some TV we did for BBC Alba recently), returning to the great Førde Festival in Norway with String Sisters in July as well as renewing some projects with my friend Enzo Favata from Sardinia.

But let’s get April done first, shall we? Wonderful.

Stone Islands


Stone Islands is a collaboration between Sardinian saxophonist, Enzo Favata, and Scottish musicians, Colin Steele and Dave Milligan. A  special 11 piece group, consisting of six Scottish and five Italian musicians, all leading players. Their music is rooted just as much in European folk musics – from the Mediterranean islands to the North Atlantic islands – as it is in jazz, and their spirited playing finds constant connections between Italian and Scottish traditions, as well as inspiring beautiful melodies and some astonishingly moving music.

Dave Milligan (piano)
Enzo Favata (saxophones)
Colin Steele (trumpet)
Riccardo Pittau (trumpet)
Filippo Vignato (trombone)
Phil O’Malley (trombone)
Konrad Wiszniewski (tenor saxophone)
Martin Kershaw (alto saxophone)
Graeme Stephen (guitar)
Danilo Gallo (bass)
U. T. Gandhi (drums)




Rob Adams

July 29 2013

Stone Islands

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The spirit of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath hovered over this second instalment of a collaboration that was instigated for last year’s jazz festival.

McGregor’s troupe was an amalgamation of his fellow South Africans with some of the most adventurous players from the 1970s London jazz scene, while this team draws from Sardinian, Italian and Scottish talents, but the two bands share a taste for blending ethnic traditions into jubilant, hard-swinging jazz in a line-up that falls just below big band dimensions.

One short of the advertised dozen, Stone Islands nonetheless created a rich, vibrant sound. Trumpeter Colin Steele’s Kirsten’s Jig danced its way into a full-on Scottish boogie and his colleague, saxophonist Enzo Favata, brought a raw Sardinian introduction to David Milligan’s nominally small but sonically large and punchy Minor Bump.

There was plenty of space for improvisation and a high-quality cast of improvisers on trumpet, saxophones, trombones and guitar, as well as the co-leaders, but what impressed particularly was the way the music was arranged so the improvised sections carried each composition forward. Milligan’s brilliantly developed piano solo on Favata’s roaring Ballao became all the more exciting for being buoyed by the arrival of the full ensemble at a crucial phase and other configurations, such as duelling saxophones brought into action on a nudge and propelled by the marvellous whip-crack drumming of Umberto Trombetta and sumptuous bass figures of Danilo Gallo, added to the sense that what we were witnessing was both accomplished and pregnant with possibilities.



Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival: Stone Islands at the Queen’s Hall,
reviewed by The Scotsman’s Kenny Mathieson


The name doesn’t give much away, but the faces behind it are familiar enough.

This ambitious Jazz Festival project had its roots in an earlier collaboration featuring trumpeter Colin Steele, pianist Dave Milligan and Sardinian saxophonist Enzo Favata, but this time writ large in the shape of an 11-piece band (not the advertised 12) of Scottish and Italian musicians.

The line up of four brass, three reeds, guitar, piano, bass and drums fell just short of a full big band, but offered the three arrangers no end of variety in timbre and colour to play with, and mustered a very impressive sonic presence.

The music featured new arrangements for this line-up, although Steele added an as yet untitled fast and furious new piece as a contrast to his graceful Sunset Over Loch Indall.

While each of the three leaders had his own distinctive compositional signature, they shared some common traits, including lyrical, folk-inflected melodies, bright open harmonies and surging rhythmic energy.

Projects of this kind can sound short of a rehearsal or two, but not this one.

With what amounted to an embarrassment of riches in the way of soloists on stage, each piece offered a fresh
perspective, and added new dimensions to such pieces as Steele’s Kristin’s Jig and Milligan’s funky Fly, which made for an exuberant encore.

Favata’s Ballao opened up into a freer, more raucous mode, as did Milligan’s Made in the Borders.