Dave Milligan


Musical Diversions

Okay, I suppose this is what happens when you don’t post anything on your own website for 22 months, but much has happened in that time and there’s a lot to tell…

First up, String Sisters. I’ve been playing with this group since 2001. Our first concert was at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival and while the gigs have been somewhat sporadic over the years that followed (only 4 of the 10 musicians in the band live in Scotland; the rest are scattered between Sweden, Norway, Ireland and the US), things have been a little busier of late. Last year, we recorded our 2nd album, Between Wind And Water – it was released in February of this year, and we’re off out to do some gigs to celebrate:

May 24-27: Orkney Folk Festival (tickets & info)
May 29: Eden Court Theatre, Inverness (tickets & info)
May 30: Queens Hall, Edinburgh (tickets & info)
May 31: Cecil Sharp House, London (tickets & info)


Next is the Colin Steele Quintet. This is also a group I’ve been playing with for the best part of 20 years. Last year saw the release of the quintet’s 4th album Even In The Darkest Places, and joining Colin and the ever-present-yours-truly are Michael Buckley (saxophones), Calum Gourlay (bass) and Stu Ritchie (drums). You can hear and/or buy the album here, or hear the story behind the recording in Colin’s own words by watching the video.

We did some beautiful gigs last month in Scotland, mainly west coast but with an appearance at Aberdeen Jazz Festival to boot. We have one more coming up in the Edinburgh Jazz Festival on July 21st… you know what to do.

Shortly after making Even In The Darkest Places, I went in to the studio with Colin again to make a quartet album, this time with Calum Gourlay on bass and Alyn Cosker on Drums. The result was Colin Steele Quartet Diving For Pearls.


Colin was approached by the Marina record label to consider recording an album of jazz versions of the songs of the Pearlfishers. He’d actually played on many sessions with them before, and shares many similar tastes in music with the Pearlfishers’ David Scott. The original brief was to record with Colin’s quintet, but he was quickly very sure that he didn’t hear the sound of saxophone as part of this project.

Colin and I talked through how the arrangements might work, then spent an afternoon playing through the tunes. All of the guys in the band are extremely busy, so we only found one afternoon to run through these tunes as a group, before going in to record for a single day. We recorded 2 takes of pretty much everything and almost every tune that ended up on the album was the 2nd take, with the exception of ‘You’ll Never Steal my Spirit’ which came out great on the first time of playing. It’s an album I like very much; you can get it from the usual outlets (iTunes, Amazon etc) – go check it out.

We’ll be playing the music of this album at Glasgow Jazz Festival on June 21st. See you there? Wonderful.


One other thing I’ve been meaning to post about for a while is a project that’s a little outside my normal world… Produced by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and The Old Vic, London, I’m very excited to be working as music supervisor on the world premiere of Local Hero, a musical stage production based on the hit 1983 film of the same name. With the stage adaptation and book co-written by The Lyceum’s Artistic Director David Greig, the production will bring together some of Scotland’s greatest artistic talents, including multi-award winning director and writer Bill Forsyth, and acclaimed composer and producer Mark Knopfler – founder of internationally celebrated band Dire Straits, whose album Brothers in Arms is one of the top 20 highest selling albums in UK history. It’s been a hugely enjoyable experience working with Mark on the original score over the last few years, and it’s finally all starting to come together!

The Lyceum’s Artistic Director David Greig says:
Local Hero is one of those great Scottish stories that has captured the imaginations of people across the world, it has been one of my favourite films since I first saw it as a teenager.

To have the chance to revisit these wonderful characters to help create a musical is an absolute delight, but to be working alongside Bill Forsyth and Mark Knopfler to bring this to The Lyceum and Old Vic stages is a dream come true –it really feels like the stars have aligned!”

The Old Vic’s Artistic Director Matthew Warchus says:
“Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero is high on my list of all-time favourite films. I have watched and re-watched it many, many times and never tire of its perfect mixture of situation comedy and romance, combined with a strong and important message. I’m absolutely delighted to be collaborating with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and this first-class creative team on what promises to be an unmissable stage adaptation.”

Local Hero is due to open at The Lyceum in Spring 2019 before transferring to The Old Vic.

A Scotsman, two Italians and a Russian walk into a bar…

In a few days time I will perform a solo piano gig at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. It’s kind of a first for me. 

Not the solo thing (although they’re something of a rare occurrence) – but it’s really the first gig that I’ll have done under my own name since – well, since a few things changed for me.

It’s been a significant year in many ways. On a personal level there’s been some major shifts. Some devastating, some positive.

But musically speaking, I now find myself on a slightly different path. Does it sound different? In some ways it does to me – it certainly feels different. And I’m not sure if I can articulate precisely what that is, but I’ll have a go at explaining why…

A little over a year and a half ago, I received an Artists’ Bursary from Creative Scotland. The aim was – over the space of a year – to take some time out to rethink, develop, practice and explore new music. But from all that happened in my ‘year of learning’, I did two things in particular that made a big impact on me: A recording session in Italy, and two days studying with Misha Alperin in Norway…

In June 2015, I travelled to Cavalicco in the Italian province of Udine, where I had booked three days in the incredible Artesuono recording studio with master engineer Stefano Amerio.

I invited bassist Danilo Gallo and drummer U.T. Gandhi to join me for what I really intended to be an experiment. These are two musicians whose playing I adore, and I was very excited to play some music with them – but I didn’t want the familiar pressure of producing an album. Before we started I told them that if we didn’t even record one complete track, that was fine – it was just about the process. It was a personal process for me, about letting go and being in the moment. We played for two days and recorded everything, and spent the final day listening and mixing. Ironically, we ended up with over twenty decent takes; some of the music was completely improvised, some were original compositions and some were improvisations based on folk songs.

Something changed for me over those few days – not so much in terms of my musical vocabulary or technique, but in terms of where the music comes from in performance, and allowing it to flow. Stefano recorded the whole session so incredibly beautifully and it turned out to be something I’m very proud of. (I intend to release some of this music as an album in the near future). But listening to that session a year on, it strikes me almost as a kind of travelogue of the musical journeys I’ve taken since I started playing music. I suddenly hear an array of voices that have influenced me over the years, some quite blatant, others less so.

Somewhere in there, however, is my own voice. I’m certainly not claiming it’s original, but I want to recognise it as something that’s personal and my own. It’s almost a little uncomfortable to notice the points in the recordings where it drifts in (and out again), but the point of what I’m striving for here is to get comfortable with it. If I’m honest, I can identify some of the pieces we recorded – whilst not unpleasing to the ear – as quite generic and evocative of lots of music I’ve listened to in my life; and somehow that in itself is starting to feel uncomfortable. I think a lot of jazz and improvising musicians regard the emulation of others as a form of accomplishment. “Yeah, man – you sound like Herbie!” or “Wow, you play great – you’ve really got that Brecker sound!” And so on and so forth… All well and good – copying is partly how we develop as musicians, and adopting styles is part of bearing a tradition. But as I hear some of those characteristics in my own music, I’m starting to notice what matters most to me: taking responsibility for the music you create and speaking it with your own voice. And I guess that is the new path. In many ways I’ve only just stepped on to it but I’m looking forward to finding out where it leads.

So there it is; somewhere around 100 minutes of music that is a sketch of a particular point in time. Arguably the definition of all recorded music? That’s another debate, but it’s a sketch that I’m fond of as it has come to represent a sort of bridge between two musical paths.

Well that was last year – where I’m at now, however, has more to do with spending two inspiring (and pretty intense) days in the small town of Asker, just outside Oslo. Misha Alperin has long been something of an idol to me. I first heard him play during the Edinburgh Festival in the mid 1990s – both in a solo setting and with his group the Moscow Art Trio. Since then, I’ve felt somehow connected to the way he plays.

My next birthday will be my 46th. It will also coincide with the 40th anniversary of me taking up the piano. I have been playing professionally (whatever that counts for) for almost 25 years, and that’s also pretty much the amount of time it’s been since I last took a piano lesson… Basically, I’ve been at this for a while. But there are things that have continually frustrated me about my own playing; things that I can’t articulate; things that I only ever experience as a feeling. I suspect I’m no different to any musician in that respect. It’s kind of like trying to finish a jigsaw with a missing piece and realising some of the other pieces belong to a different jigsaw, but they’re so similar you can’t figure out which ones. But listening to Misha’s music, there’s something about the diametric aspects of utter freedom and absolute control in his playing which which made me think they somehow relate to solving the puzzle… I just had a feeling he would be able to help me find the missing piece. So eventually, after a couple of decades, I finally contacted Misha. It was time.

Sometime perhaps I’ll write about what happened in those two days… for now I feel like I’m still digesting it. But some things are very clear to me after the trip to Norway, and if I were to distil some of them down to a few truths… then it might read like this: Making meaningful music is about taking responsibility for each and every note; My connection with folk music is stronger than I cared to admit in the past; My love for jazz improvisation doesn’t mean I have to improvise the way I learned from listening to jazz musicians; I find musical strength in simplicity – that’s often where the beauty lies for me; I can tell a more convincing story if I use my own voice.

Well – quite enough for now I’d say. I hope to record a solo piano album soon. Misha wants to produce it – I’m excited about that. I also hope to record again with Danilo & U.T. and perform concerts with them. Much to do… but in the meantime – hope to see you in Edinburgh.

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.