Dave Milligan


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

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

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.

A Trip To Halifax

This is the story of a trip that the trio took for a gig in Halifax last
December. At least, as I remember it.

It’s epic, and possibly too long for a mere blog post but it kind of needs to be this long, and it’s all true. At least, as I remember it.

For the purposes of this tale and to avoid confusion, Tom Bancroft will be referred to as Tom, and Tom Lyne will be referred to as Tomtom. There is also a GPS navigation system in this story, and I am aware that Tomtom is also a popular brand name of GPS system. This is purely coincidental. 

The role of Geoff Amos will be played by himself, even though he only has one line. Thank you.


2.30pm: And we’re off. On our way to Halifax for a gig, looking forward to it. It’s gonna be good.

We were going to leave around 1 pm, but the journey has started a little later than planned. This is due, possibly, to the fact that Tom (designated driver for this particular trip) had very admirably and diligently opted to get his spare wheel replaced at a reputable auto repair centre before we left. Now that’s responsible behaviour in my book. Good work. I mean, it’s only an hour and a half delay… we can make that up.

Tom is driving his Daewoo, and in the Daewoo is Tom, Tomtom, Me, Tom’s drum kit, Tomtom’s double bass, 3 suit-bags, a few cases and an array of unlikely items that seem to live in the car. It’s a tight fit – I’m sitting in what’s left of the back seat, knees up around my ears and surrounded by instruments and bags. But we’re ok. We’re moving. It’s going well.

We’re heading south. It’s probably a total of 3 and a half hours journey so we should arrive about 6pm. The gig’s not til 8pm, so there’s plenty time. We also have the added bonus of travelling with Tom’s GPS sat-nav system, so nothing can go wrong. Tom has been telling Tomtom and me about how fantastic the sat-nav is, and how “you’ll never go back once you’ve used one…” Great stuff, I think. It’s going well.

2.40 pm: Ten minutes into the journey, Tom says: “Shit.” to no-one in particular.

Tomtom & I says: “What?”

Tom says: “I think I forgot my bass drum pedal”

Tomtom & I says nothing, and we all silently contemplate the implications of doing a gig with no bass drum pedal.

After a few moments, Tom says “Shit” again.

Tomtom & I says “What?” again.

Tom says: “I think my drums sticks were with the bass drum pedal”

“Well,” I says, “we’re just coming up to Hawick – there’s a wee music shop there, maybe we could buy some sticks and a pedal if they have them?”

There’s a general agreement, and we’re back on track. Everything is going well again.

2.45 pm: A matter of minutes later we roll into Hawick, and with expert local knowledge (having grown up near there), I guide us to the music shop. Tom pulls up on the pavement outside the shop. The kerb is a good 20cm high and the car hits it with quite a bump. As concerns for the well-being of Tom’s tyres are raised, talk briefly turns to the coincidental and fortunate trip he made to the reputable auto repair centre to replace his spare wheel, just a matter of hours ago. We are somewhat reassured.

2.55 pm:  We leave Hawick’s only music shop with four drumsticks but no bass drum pedal. It’s not the problem solved, but it’s something. We’re on the road again. It’s still going well.

Now, sat-nav systems mostly, to my knowledge (I still don’t own one), have an in-built pre-recorded voice that audibly gives you directions throughout your journey. You can choose from a variety of different voices and languages, and apparently you can also download various ‘novelty’ voices and character types. The voice guiding us on Tom’s sat-nav, for some reason, has Tourette syndrome, an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder, characterized by the presence of multiple vocal tics. In short, the voice on Tom’s sat-nav habitually shouts and swears at him when giving any directions. This fact has no direct effect on the story, but bearing in mind that the machine appears to give you advice whether you need it or not, it will give you a more accurate sense of the tension that will start to accumulate from this point on.

4 pm: We’ve just pulled on to the M6, the main artery south from Scotland and it feels good to be on the open road, travelling at speed. Tom’s phone rings. He answers, and Tomtom and I are quietly listening to one side of the conversation. Throughout the course of the 3-minute call we hear some of the following phrases: “Yeah, I collected it this morning…”, “No…”, “Really?…”, “Oh…”, “I’m really sorry about that…” .

4.05 pm: Tom hangs up. “What was that about?” we say. He tells us that it was the reputable auto repair centre on the phone wondering why he took the wrong spare wheel. “What do you mean?” we ask. Apparently, Tom had been mid-conversation with someone on his mobile phone when he arrived to collect his spare wheel from the reputable auto repair centre, and one of the mechanics had pointed vaguely in the direction of a pile of “ready to collect’ spare wheels. Being distracted by his mobile phone conversation, Tom’s attention perhaps wasn’t fully on the matter at hand. However it happened, he did not pick up the wheel he was supposed to.

4.06 pm: BOOM! doof-doof-doof-doof-doof-doof-doof-doof-doof-doof.

This is something like the noise we hear as  one of the tyres blows out and we limp on to the hard shoulder.

“What were the chances?” one of us said. Maybe we all said it. Maybe we just thought it. Or maybe it was just me. But what were the chances?

Tom gets out to retrieve the spare wheel… maybe it will fit anyway. Of course, we have to unpack the car to get access, and this is when we really start enjoying ourselves – it’s a brilliantly cold and dark december afternoon, and we’re standing on the hard shoulder, a few feet away from busy 80mph traffic with all the instruments scattered on the ground, and frankly, very inappropriate clothing.

4.10 pm: Tom skillfully and efficiently jacks the car up and gets the blown-out wheel off. The spare doesn’t fit. It’s for a small Honda. It so doesn’t fit, it’s nearly funny. If it wasn’t so cold it might have been really funny, but as it was, only nearly funny. We get back in the car, and Tom gets on the case. “We just need a garage.” he says, encouragingly and gets his phone out. We can see lights of a town nearby, so this is a good sign. From directory enquiries he gets the number of a garage. He calls them, but they can’t come out to where we are – they could fix the tyre if we can get to them, but they’re just too busy to send someone out. “Right, I just need to get the tyre to them then.” Again, Tomtom & I are encouraged. Tom calls a local taxi company, again with the help of directory enquiries. After a frustrating but short call, Tom learns that the taxi company won’t come on to the motor-way to collect him. “Not allowed” they said. Something to do with insurance.

4.30 pm: The police pull up behind us, and the inside of our car is suddenly illuminated with dancing lights, like beautiful blue rays of hope. “Hooray” I thinks, “the police will save us!”. The police do not save us. Seemingly they are not allowed to leave the motorway. The two vaguely sympathetic coppers depart in search of more serious motor-way related crime, but not before making some intensely unhelpful comment about it possibly being a different situation, had we had blonde hair and big tits. Us pointing out that, between the three of us, we do technically possess both of those physical attributes does not help.

4.40 pm: So back to the taxi company plan. After some intense negotiation Tom arranges to meet a minicab near the motor-way and they will drive him to a garage – a fine compromise we all thought. And without a word, and before we can say “There’s no business like it…”, he’s striding down the hard shoulder of the M6, into the dark, towards the next off-ramp wearing only a T-shirt for warmth and carrying the whole, broken wheel under one arm. In all my life I have never seen such an awesome sight, such determination, such a completely selfless act of courage in the face of adversity. It’s very moving.

He also has the car keys in his pocket.

5 pm – 6pm: Not being able to turn on the engine of the stranded, 3-wheeled Daewoo, Tomtom and I pass a very cold hour by trying to arrange a bass drum pedal to be delivered to the venue, as well as trying to alert the venue to the fact that we may be cutting it fine getting there in time for the concert. Also during this hour, we are unaware that Tom has done slightly more walking than he’d anticipated. The minicab driver had suddenly stopped the car, saying “I’ll just drop you here! I’ve got another fare to collect you see –  The Garage is just up that road there…”. As it turned out, it was just up that road, but he didn’t mention it was over a mile away. When Tom does eventually make it back to the car, the vision of him appearing out of the darkness with an intact wheel has all the power and awe of his departure, and more. We are watching the return of a hero. Somebody will write songs about this moment one day. We have an unspoken urge to get out of the car and salute him or something. We don’t salute him, but we do get out of the car. He has to change the wheel, and the extra weight would not be helpful at all.

6.10pm: New wheel. We’re good to go! As we finally pull out on to the motor-way again, Tomtom and I sense that Tom has had enough of the verbal abuse he’s been receiving from the sat-nav, as he calmly re-programs it. We are now being guided to Halifax by the voice of Yoda from the film Star Wars.

7.45 pm: After a further hour and a half of wonderfully eventless travelling, we reach the outskirts of Halifax. I make the decision to abandon the force, ignoring Tom’s plea just to trust Yoda’s advice: “turn left, you must, at next junction, hmmmm…” and I phone Geoff Amos, who booked the gig for us, and is waiting nervously at the venue. We are supposed to be on stage in 15 minutes. The ever-resourceful Geoff tells us that he’s got us a bass drum pedal, and that the venue is all set for us and ready to go. “We might just pull this off!” I thinks to myself. “How do we find the venue Geoff?” Now I’m sure Geoff gave us a perfectly good description of the building and its surroundings, but he doesn’t drive, so he can’t really give us the right road directions. We have the post code programmed into the sat-nav, and a vague idea of signs to follow, yet there are now five people involved in directing us to the gig; The three of us randomly pointing at signs, saying stuff like “Look, there’s a sign for the bus station – isn’t it near the bus station?”. Geoff saying stuff like ” It’s a massive building, looks like an old factory warehouse, can’t you see it yet?” And Yoda with the hard-to-take-seriously, but ultimately correct “prepare you must, for right turn…”

Then, suddenly, with a matter of minutes to go before we’re due on stage, we pull on to a road that stretches out before us, and is surrounded by buildings that look like old factory warehouses. And at the end of the road, arms waving, is Geoff. We’ve made it! As we draw nearer, we realise Geoff is gesturing in the direction of an alley off the main road, so we obediently follow his directions. Then we spot someone from the venue at the end of the alley beckoning us towards what seems to be a service entrance to the building. With his arms swinging briskly and enthusiastically to the right like some crazed disco dance, we follow his indicated direction at the speed of someone who is late for a gig, and turn in to an opening in the building and down a ramp. “Great!” we think. “We’re here! Straight to the door. WE’RE GONNA MAKE THE GIG!!” When we reach the bottom of the ramp, we realise that something is not quite right.

What nobody had thought about in the few seconds leading up to this point, was the fact that this service entrance ramp wasn’t really meant for cars. We have driven into what is effectively a dead end tunnel that is only a few millimeters wider than the car itself. Sure enough, there’s the door right in front of us, like some metaphoric finish line, a tantilising, wondrous portal that would magically evaporate all the struggle and adversity of the day simply by walking through it, the door that will take us to the gig, to the warmth and anticipation of an eager audience, sitting waiting patiently for the concert to begin. It’s just a few feet away… but there’s not enough room to open the car doors. We are well and truly wedged. The silence in the car is broken by a wise-sounding voice: “Reached your destination, you have. Hmmm.”

It only took about 3 seconds to drive down the ramp, but it takes us nearly 5 minutes to reverse up it again, inch by inch, so close is the gap between the car and  the sides of the high walls. When we do finally get out, a man appears with a trolley and as the car spews out the instruments and cases on to the trolley, we reflect briefly on the day’s events. “It’s going well” I think.

We rolled the trolley down the ramp, through the magic door and into one of the best gigs we’d done all year.

Real Shops

So I’ve just uploaded a few track excerpts as a wee preview to the CD “Shops” which will be released on December 16th. You can hear them here.

The Trio were commissioned by Gordon Maclean at An Tobar, The Tobermory Arts Centre on the Isle of Mull to write music for some of their local shops. Yes, I said shops. Gordon wanted to celebrate the fact that all the shops in Tobermory are still family-owned and locally run – a rare thing in these times. It was probably the strangest and most beautiful project we’ve ever done, particularly as part of the deal was doing a small concert in each of the shops we wrote music for.

And the CD will soon be available to buy. Excited? I don’t blame you. You will be able to get it at from mid December (yup, still time to add it to your christmas shopping), or why not pop down to one of Tobermory’s fine shops and buy a copy in person? (If you’re passing…).

Here’s a couple of dates we’re doing to celebrate the release:

16th December: An Tobar, The Tobermory Arts Centre, Isle of Mull.

17th December: The Jazz Centre @ The Lot, Grassmarket, Edinburgh.

T’would be mighty to see you there.