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Features / Arthur’s year of radio hits

Singer songwriter Arthur Nicholson.

THE VOICE of local singer Arthur Nicholson has spent much of 2013 sharing the airwaves with One Direction and Lady Gaga – on these shores at least.

With the aid of near ubiquitous commercial radio station SIBC, Nicholson neatly built up expectations for his debut solo album Sticks & Stones with three traditional radio singles.

It wasn’t planned that way – when Ian and Inga Anderson added Ready To Go to the SIBC playlist back in February, most of the original songs that feature on the album had yet to be written.

Since then Nicholson has garnered nearly 1,200 plays on the station. Its omnipresence on car stereos, at places of work, health centre waiting rooms and the like constitute a real boon for local artists who can reach the ears of more islanders than they could ever hope to through Facebook or Soundlcoud.

“A large part of the population of Shetland listens to it, it’s ingrained in them,” he said.

“SIBC is willing to play music by local artists alongside established artists with no real separation, so that’s a great opportunity for local musicians to be heard.

“I call [my music] acoustic pop purely because it’s been on SIBC. That, to me, is pop music – whatever way you look at it.”

It helps that Ready To Go, and subsequent releases Go For It and Part of the Frame, are readymade radio songs. Go For it, in particular, is a sublime composition – a paean to simply enjoying life for what it is and trying not to worry. Its breezy, easygoing feel is allied to the catchiest of choruses.

Nicholson has played in numerous bands over the years. He holds a major role in top notch covers group First Foot Soldiers, who have had a quieter 2013 having previously establishing themselves – along with The Revellers – as the isles’ go-to party band.

He has also been part of Michael Williamson’s band North Country Fair for the past 18 months – and covers the song Leaving, penned by Williamson and Gordon Gibson, on Sticks & Stones.

Nicholson decided to strike out alone after being involved in recording his father Brian Nicholson’s solo album Fae Da Crossroads, which was released 12 months ago.

“At that point I didn’t have anything really written,” he said. “Apart from one on the album, Lay Me Down, which is a reworked song I had ages ago, the other five original songs on the album were all written in the last year.”

The 28-year-old began performing at the monthly singer-songwriter night organised by Sheila Duncan, recorded and released Ready To Go (“after a long time of people encouraging me”). A mainland tour with Felsons singer Dean Owens also served as a “kick up the backside”, he said.

Encouraged by the response to his solo material, he decided to record 10 songs – including covers of a Ewan Nowak track, his compelling take on the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows and the lightsome Sunshine On Me, a song by Buddy Stewart which he discovered through the soundtrack to American crime drama Breaking Bad.

The stripped-down end result, 36 minutes featuring only Nicholson’s voice and his expert finger picking and strumming, is a supremely relaxed and engaging listen from start to finish.

To those who’ve seen Nicholson playing in various different guises down the years (“I’ve been ‘up and coming’ for as long as I can remember!”), the quality of his guitar playing will come as no surprise. But in some ways it’s the register of his vocals that impresses most on Sticks & Stones.

The cover art of Sticks & Stones, a "relaxed and engaging" listen.

“It’s fairly recent,” he said. “I would sing lead reluctantly [in bands] and sing lots of harmonies. I’ve always thought of myself as a guitar player first and singer second; latterly it’s starting to swing a little bit the other way.”

His songwriting influences generally hark back to the 60s and 70s – The Beatles, Tom Petty, Neil Young – along with modern day troubadour Willy Mason and dreadlocked English singing guitarist Newton Faulkner.

“I’m very picky about what I do,” Nicholson said. “I wouldn’t want to release a song unless I was really quite happy with it for the sake of the fact that it’s a song I’ve written.

“I don’t really sit down and go ‘I’m going to write a song today’. I think most of the songs are fairly optimistic. In some ways it’s difficult to write about positive things and happier subjects than sadder songs.

“Part of the Frame is kind of getting your head around everyday life, and thinking ‘this could be your lot, and if it is then be happy with it’. Go For It is about living in the moment, just not worrying about whatever’s going to come.”