December, Nativity, Steinway, Tony…

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.