Brian McNeill
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Brian McNeill


Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


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"Live USA"

There are simply not enough superlatives to describe McNeill’s solo set. After a slow air, Lady Livingston, McNeill had the good judgement to launch without pause into four reels, sparing the audience the decision of whether to applaud or merely sit in stunned silence after his breathtaking rendition of the complex, brooding tune. The reels, impeccably played at breakneck speed, required no such decision, and both audience and band members cheered McNeill’s performance...

- North Carolina Spectator

"Live Australia"

...One reel of seemingly endless choruses and ever-ascending modulations showed McNeill at his best, even to tossing in a few unexpected jazz-blue notes. And the audience lapped it up. - Perth (Australia) Sunday Times

"Live Back O' The North Wind USA"

...If the show had been made of nothing but the wonderful songs, songs that have that turn of phrase that stamps them as surely as a signature in ink and sung in Brian’s warm voice, a voice like Scotch whisky itself, it would have been memorable. But Brian, like a painter, filled in the spaces between the songs with a series of slides showing scenes from every phase of Scottish history... ...In watching the show, I was reminded of all that I have ever read of the bards who passed along the heritage of their culture in story and song and felt glad to have seen such a bard as Brian McNeill... - Dirty Linen

"Live Scotland"

...The solo set gave ample opportunity for Brian to display his virtuosity on a variety of instruments, including guitar, fiddle and mandocello, otherwise known as "the tank" which, despite the. affectionate nickname, Brian was able to coax into a gentle fade-out. He even picked up the concertina for that hardy perennial, The Dark Island, turning the tables on the audience who hummed or sang along with the familiar tune but if -unlikely as it seemed- he did make an error, Brian was modest enough to provide an alibi. "If I make a mistake, it's jazz," he quipped. His songs show that he has not mellowed with age, however, and still finds much to be angry with, not least New Labour. A newer song, War of the Crofter attacked the system of landownership in the Highlands, while No Gods and Precious Few Heroes savaged the tartan mythology of Scotland. Brian finished with a rousing jazz-tinged fiddle set which somehow managed to combine the Perennial "Mason's Apron" with "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Grieg's "Peer Gynt" suite and to survive a fiddle bow collision with a microphone. Someone of McNeill's experience and talent could not fail to deliver a good show and he will be welcome back to Inverness any time.

- Inverness Courier

"Album Review Unstrung Hero"

Brilliant new solo album by one of the founder members of the Battlefield Band. Brian has not only written all the songs and tunes on this album but also plays all the instruments which include fiddles, mandolin, bass, guitar, concertina, hurdy gurdy, etc. But this is no mere exercise in technical wizardry -Brian is a sensitive and talented musician who writes and performs beautifully. The tunes have, for the most part, a Scottish feel to them, though they were inspired by Brian’s travels throughout the world as a member of the band -airs, reels, polkas, etc.-all of which have that melodic quality that makees them so listenable. The two vocals are excellent -I particularly like The Laverock Sang, based on the reminiscences of traveller and singer Betsy White -I’m sure many people are going to be singing this wistful and catchy song in years to come. Highly recommended. - Down Home Music NEwsletter

"Album Review The Busker And The Devil's Only Daughter"

...As with anything he has recorded, it is the arrangement of the music which really stands out. Brian plays with a skill and an ease which would make anyone who has ever held a fiddle weep. He has indeed stolen every tear the fiddle has ever let fall and gathered pain and pleasure both, to all who listen closely enough to hear the heartbeat of tradition.
All the sets are so good, it is impossible to single one out as being the `high point’ of the album. Whether you like waltzes or jigs, slow airs or marches, McNeill has them all. the only thing I can suggest is that you buy this album and enjoy it for what it is -a snapshot of Brian McNeill’s soul. The man is a fiddler -nothing more can be said, and nothing less could do him justice.
- Stornoway Gazette

"Album Review The Back O' The North Wind"

The Return Of The Time Traveller

In his years with the Battlefield Band, Brian McNeill may have come across as a cheerful extrovert, not taking his music too seriously, but anybody who heard his first solo recordings would have been in no doubt that McNeill possesses the kind of skills that should be taken very seriously indeed. A fine, fiery fiddler and an exquisitely poised guitarist, he is also a songwriter who can pack a man’s lifetime into a few bustling verses and an ear-tugging chorus and give you the feeling that he has said all that needs to be said.
Eric Bogle, who knows a bit about these matters, says: `It’s Brian’s songwriting talent that cuts closest to my heart. His songs of Scotland’s heritage are so authentic, so evocative of the period of which he’s writing that you’d swear he kept a wee time machine in his attic, and every so often he wheechs back to the past to pick up some period colour to brush into his songs.’
The time machine has clearly been working overtime for McNeill’s latest solo album, The Back O’ The North Wind (Greentrax), in which he tells the stories in song of various Scots heroes, heroines and adventurers, from Flora MacDonald to Andrew Carnegie, who sailed to America in search of a new life. As well as the songs there are occasional instrumental tracks, the best of which, Bridal Boat, a masterly, resonant guitar piece, is the album’s final track. Destitiution Road, a slow air featuring concertina, is another beautiful composition, beautifully played.
McNeill is a good singer, not yet a great one, although he has a robust, no-frills manner and a firm voice -ideally suited to the boldly-go spirit of lines that bristle with narrative and imagery.
He is heard at his best in the Flora MacDonald song, Strong Women Rule Us All With Their Tears, where the unmistakable tones of Dick Gaughan chime in as backing for the marvellous, moaning chorus. Muir And The Master Builder is delivered with a big, rocky band sound, with Gary Coupland on trombone. And the angry, questioning lines of the Carnegie number, Steel Man, are vividly complemented by the powerful clatter and clutter of electric guitar, pipes and synthesiser.
In addition to Gaughan and Coupland, the hand-picked team of musicians includes Dougie Pincock (pipes), Neil Hay (bass) and Mike Travis (percussion). This is bound to figure among the folk albums of the year, and in terms of musical inventiveness it surely puts Brian McNeill in an unrivalled position at the top of the league.

Alastair Clark. - The Scotsman

"Album Review Monksgate"

...the music itself is a joy from beginning to end. McNeill is joined by nigh on a dozen musicians, resulting in various odd but enchanting instrumental combinations. Gorgeously baroque, the guitar-led title track (better known in its hymnal guise) is a masterpiece in sensitivity, in both playing and arrangement. A rare balance of integrity and personality throughout, the warm production never shows its age -and better still, nor does the music. ***
- Q Magazine

"Album Review No Gods"

A solo album from Brian? Well, if you count an album with ten backing musicians as a solo album then this is the solo album with the most. It is Brian McNeill through and through showcasing his talents as musician, singer, writer, arranger, producer, recording engineer and more. This is the McNeill supergroup, probably never to be seen on stage, but supergroup none the less. The complete spectrum of Brian’s songwriting is revealed from the political Any Mick’ll Do, the historical Montrose, the personal Trains And My Grandfather (for me one of the highlights of the album) to the social comment of Steady As She Goes together with a clutch of new tunes from Brian. The “Theme” of the album is heroes, with a few villains thrown in for good measure.
The title track is given an uptempo treatment which I personally feel detracts a little from the power of the song. Brian is not quite convincing as Mr Angry, but the uptempo numbers provide a variation and contrast that ultimately makes the album such a satisfying performance. For me the jewel in the setting has to be the song Trains And My Grandfather, a personal song yet one which many will be able to empathise with the emotions superimposing their own story, The piano accompaniment from Gary Coupland is the only support to Brian’s voice on this track
and it works beautifully. Ian Green gave Brian complete freedom in making the album and his faith has paid dividends. The musicians sound as if they were having a ball in the studio. This is a mature album from a master musician and a great writer revealing yet more of the depth of the McNeill talent. The broadening of the writing suggests that there is more to come and that we can look forward to a future McNeill epic, in the meantime this one will give plenty of pleasure. John Muirhead - The Living Tradition

"Album Review To Answer The Peacock"

...Once again Brian puts together a set of tunes that will wow his many fans, based on or related to incidents in the book, a rather sombre roman policier (I can say this, as it's set largely in France) dealing with fiddles in both senses of the word. Some of the tracks are best listened to after reading Brian's own idiosyncratic notes - Czarlie Is My Darllng?, for example; I bet the Brothers Sobieski wish they'd thought of it first, so they could design a tartan for it and sell it. Likewise there's a tune with arguably the longest title in showbiz, offering condolences to the Outgoing Tory government in 1997. This album demonstrates Brian's stupendous musical virtuosity. - Freelance Review


Major Albums Only
The Road Never Questions - The Best of Brian McNeill Volume One
Mad River
The Crew O' The Copenhagen (with Drones and Bellows)
The Baltic Tae Byzantium
Greentrax CDtrax 341
Mad River MRCD 1018
Live And Kicking
(with Iain MacKintosh)
To Answer The Peacock
FMS 2084
No Gods
Greentrax CDtrax 098
Stage By Stage
(with Iain MacKintosh)
Greentrax CDtrax 101
Horses For Courses
(with Tom McDonagh)
FMS 2048
The Back O' The North Wind
Greentrax CDtrax 047
The Busker And The Devil's Only Daughter
Temple COMD 2042
Unstrung Hero
Temple COMD 2017
FMS 2045

Brian McNeill also appears on all Battlefield Band recordings 1975 - 1990, and many other samplers, compilations and joint albums.



A career spanning more than 40 years has established Brian McNeill as one of the most acclaimed forces in Scottish music. ??
Brian has been described as ‘Scotland’s most meaningful contemporary songwriter’ (The Scotsman). Add to that his work and influence as performer, composer, producer, teacher, musical director, band leader, novelist and interpreter of Scotland’s past, present and future and you have an artist who has never stood still. “I find myself always looking for the next challenge.” he says. In search of that challenge he has performed around the globe, both as a soloist and with some of the era’s most influential groups, including two of Scotland’s seminal bands, Battlefield Band and Clan Alba. ??
Brian was born in 1950 in Falkirk, Scotland, and began his musical training in his early teens with violin lessons, but soon forsook that for various electric guitars. “I wasn't a great lead player, but I had a natural affinity for bass,” he says, “and above all those early years instilled a love of performing in me.” A comprehensive musical education and a mildly misspent youth followed, until his student years brought him to Celtic music. As a direct consequence, in 1969 he formed the Battlefield Band, one of Scotland's best known ensembles. He left the band in 1990 to concentrate on writing and solo projects. Since then he has toured with Dick Gaughan, Clan Alba, Kavana, McNeill, Lynch and Lupari, Iain MacKintosh, Feast of Fiddles, Drones and Bellows and as part of the Celtic Fiddle Festival with Martin Hayes and Natalie MacMaster.??
The importance of Brian's writing, mostly about Scotland's past and future, has long been recognised. The Yew Tree, The Lads O' The Fair, The Snows of France and Holland, Strong Women Rule Us All With Their Tears, Any Mick'll Do, No Gods And Precious Few Heroes and Bring The Lassie Hame have established him as one of the Scottish scene’s leading songwriters. In addition he has three published novels, the first of which, The Busker, came out in 1989, with the sequel, To Answer The Peacock, arriving almost a decade later. Both books have the same hero, the panhandling drifter Alex Fraser, and both have albums associated with them. “I couldn't write about a busker without giving him his music as well,” Brian says. ... In The Grass, the first novel of a new series, with a new central character - a heroine sleuth! - was published this year, and the next novel of the Busker series, No Easy Eden, is in its final stages.
??In addition, Brian’s production skills are evident on many of the best albums to come out of Scotland over the last twenty years. Eric Bogle and John Munro, Heather Heywood and Jock Duncan have all benefited from his talents, as have many of the new wave of traditional performers, including The Paul McKenna Band, Tony McManus, Ruairidh Macmillan, and Lorne MacDougall.
His audio visual shows, The Back O' The North Wind, about Scottish emigration to America, and its sequel, The Baltic Tae Byzantium, which explores the influence of the Scots in Europe, have - along with their accompanying CDs - won wide praise from both audiences and critics.
The worth of these shows has also been recognised in the world of education, and this is of the greatest importance to Brian. “There’s no bigger job for the traditional musicians of my day,” he says, “than making sure that the next generation of performers is grounded and encouraged.” For this reason he spent six years as Head of Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. When the demands of his first love - performing - made that impossible to continue, he sought and found other avenues to keep up his support in this field. He is now the lead instrumental tutor for SPAE, the St. Louis-based Scottish Partnership for Arts and Education, and he was given the first ever FATEA Lifetime Achievement Award, not only for his musical skills, but also for his services to education and the effort he puts in ensuring that folk music remains a vibrant, living, tradition. The citation for the award described him as ‘a genuine Scottish renaissance man.‘ ??
Over the years, other awards and prizes have also recognised Brian’s achievements. He has won Britain's National Songsearch competition. He’s been given the coveted Ernie King award at Ontario’s Goderich Festival. He’s the recipient of the Texas Celtic Music award - in fact, his continuing work for Scottish music in America's Lone Star State has led to him being made an honorary Texan. And he’s even become part of the fabric of his home town - the line Stand here and I’ll show ye - there’s the toon below ye, from The Lads O’ The Fair, has recently been carved into a Caithness stone path at one of Falkirk’s viewpoints. It’s something of which Brian is immensely proud!
In fact, he’s conscious of the honour in all of these cases, but the greatest accolade of all for him is, and always will be, the audience