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Arts / Norman has ‘all you need’ on new album

For All Your Needs sees Norman Willmore juggle jazz and traditional music in style

Norman Willmore.

THEY say inspiration comes from all sorts of places, and this is especially true of the title of Norman Willmore’s latest album, For All Your Needs.

The name was “lovingly” inspired by an old mug the musician picked up from the Nesting Scrapstore, which was made to promote the former Brae Stores and its various goods on offer.

Gifts, groceries, frozen foods, Calor Autogas, wines and spirits, Post Office and lottery, the mug proclaims. “Brae Stores – for all your needs”.

Willmore reworked an image of the mug for his album cover, with his name replacing Brae Stores and the seasons voar, simmer, hairst and winter replacing the goods.

Echoing the variety of what is advertised on the original mug, Willmore’s album is a rich tapestry of sound; of course, there is saxophone, the instrument he rose to prominence with, and jazz, but there’s folk, fiddle, keyboard, guitar…and even the sound of Rice Krispies snapping, crackling and popping in milk.

The largely instrumental album has one foot in the folk traditions of Shetland, and the other further afield – there’s even a track named after Broonies Taing in Sandwick, where he often spends time with family when visiting home.

“There is a great beach, that is quite sheltered and there are lots of caves and geos to explore in the kayak. I love spending time there in summer with my family,” he says.

“Also when I came back home to record my first album, we spent a week in Broonies Taing rehearsing all the music.”

There is also the track Da Day Dawn, a fiddle tune from Shetland which used to welcome in the Yule morning, and is said to be one of the oldest tunes in the local fiddle tradition.

But Willmore – who also plays in the Peatbog Faeries – likes to experiment, and the folk tunes are never straight-up trad, with embellishments and extras layered on top.

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Then there is the jazz side of palette, where Willmore’s sax, and the other instrumentation, is free to roam. All in all, the 13 tracks are a mix of folk tunes arranged by the musician, some emanating from Scandinavia, and original compositions too.

All the tunes were recorded and produced at home by Willmore with the help of collaborators Brodie Jarvie and Harry Gorski-Brown.

The record is also mixed and mastered by old friend and collaborator Hayden Hook, another Shetlander who has moved away from the isles. Willmore is now based in Glasgow, with Hook in Amsterdam.

“Me and Hayden have known each other since we were in our early teens,” Willmore says. “And even though we don’t spend every day in Haldane Burgess Crescent anymore, we still keep in touch and help each other out when we can.

“The mixing process was pretty difficult because Hayden was in Amsterdam and I was in China – the blocks on Chinese Internet made it extremely difficult to send files to each other. I ended up listening to the final mixes on a 14 hour flight from Shanghai to London.”

Willmore said most of the songwriting was done in two bursts, with around one year in between. To begin with, he decided what tunes he wanted to record – a process which can take a while given he needs to figure out things which work well on the saxophone, or “find ways of making them work well on the saxophone”.

“Then I recorded all the sax and fiddle parts together in my flat,” he explained.

“Once that stage was done I then started filling in all the other parts like sounds made from scratching pencils together, or the sound of Rice Crispies popping in milk to more conventional things like my piano and an acoustic guitar.

“I wouldn’t say I was prolific, but I do tend to do multiple different arrangements of the same tunes for different projects. Once I find a tune I want to play, I’m pretty set on it and will try to get as much mileage out of it as possible.”

The album is out digitally today (Thursday), and he is heading out on tour over the next few days to play in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh alongside a string of respected musicians.

Joining him will be Brodie Jarvie on bass, Laura Wilkie on fiddle, cornet player Laura Jurd from Mercury-nominated band Dinosaur, and Corrie Dick on drums.

On piano will be Willmore’s niece and award-winning trad musician Amy Laurenson, who also hails from Shetland.

“It’s great to see her smashing it and making brilliant music,” Willmore said. “It’s also great to see all the other Shetland musicians working away doing such brilliant things.

“With Arthur [Nicholson] and the Cullivoe Band up for awards at the Scots Trad Music Awards, as well as myself and Ross Couper in the Peatbog Faeries, and Amy is also playing at the awards.”

Norman Willmore performing in Shetland in 2020. Photo: Carol Jamieson

It may also not be too well known to the Shetland masses that Willmore was playing to the literal masses this summer as part of the touring band for singer-songwriter Beth Orton.

This included arena gigs supporting The War On Drugs, and a slot at the iconic Glastonbury Festival.

“Working with Beth was a whole different world for me,” Willmore reflects. “I loved it, got to see a lot of cool cities and play with some of the most amazing musicians in Europe.

“Playing at Glastonbury and on tour with the War On Drugs to audiences about the same size as the whole population of Shetland was mental. I will never forget it. Beth and her whole team were very encouraging, and I learned a lot from them.”

So what’s next? The busy musician said it will be “more of the same” – gigging and recording.

“I am coming back home with a drummer and a filmmaker in January to spend a week in the Shetland Archives to find material for another piece of music which we will be recording at Mareel in April,” he says. “There will be a concert in Mareel around that time too.”

Willmore and his band will perform at the Blue Lamp in Aberdeen tonight (23 November), the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall’s City of Music studio on 24 November and Edinburgh’s St Brides Church on 25 November.

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