Aberdeen singer-songwriter Craig John Davidson hit all the right notes in his time in lockdown – learning to play the piano to help create his hotly-anticipated new album.
He is set to release a new single, Best You Ever Had, on August 6 as a taster for the upcoming album – his ninth – which is scheduled for release late this year.
Craig, one of the most talented and emotive artists in Scotland, plays piano on a number of the tracks – having quickly learnt to play the instrument during lockdown.
This time last year Craig had never sat down at a piano before but his feel for music allowed him to quickly master the instrument which he played during a recent performance at The Blue Lamp.
Craig said: “I got the piano last summer and didn’t even have the basics – it was as good as putting one finger on a key at a time.
“I couldn’t play any chords or any kind of melody at all.
“With the piano, it’s strange because if I think when I’m playing it, and really concentrate on it – I can’t play it.
“It’s the sort of instrument you have to feel. When I feel it, I can play it.
“Being a guitar player did make it easier because once I learnt the notes in my mind I was able to play the piano.
“It was strange to play the piano at The Blue Lamp because I didn’t know how I would react and I am nervous on stage anyway.
“It was surprising and proof that if you practice enough at anything you get good at it.
“The new album will be full production with drums, keyboard and guitar but there will probably be two or three pure piano songs on the new album.
“It will be the first first time I have done that.”
Collaboration with an American legend
The first release from the imminent new album was Down at Dawn in April, accompanied by the additional track Just So You Know – Piano Version.
Best You Ever Had features guest guitar work from American alt rock legend Peter Klett who topped the album charts in the United States with Candlebox in the nineties.
During his time with Candlebox Klett racked up sales in excess of four million.
Klett was scheduled to mix the track at his City Sessions Sound studio in Florida and Craig admits adding his unmistakable guitar solo was an unexpected, and very much welcome, bonus.
Craig said: “I recorded all the parts here and then sent it raw to Pete in Florida for him to mix.
“The track seemed to be a bit more pop/rock sounding so I thought getting Pete to do the mixing would do it justice.
“However Pete also put one of his solos in which was pretty cool as he has a unique sound with his guitars and pedals.
“When Pete left Candlebox I think a lot of their fans around the world missed that sound which is pretty recognisable.
“I always got on well with Pete and had done a few European and UK tours with him (in support of his band Lotus Crush).
“Pete had some free time and stuck the solo on it. I didn’t expect him to put his guitar on it and it was great to get his signature sound on one of my tracks.”
‘My songs are usually quite cryptic’
For anyone unfamiliar with Craig reference points would be the emotional raw, lyrically honest and stark beauty of artists such as Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), Elliot Smith, Daniel Johnston and Jandek.
Craig admits the themes of his songs can be difficult to pin down, even for himself.
Ultimately it is up to the individual listener to put their own interpretation to the lyrics.
He said: “It is hard to explain the themes because my songs are usually quite cryptic.
“I don’t mean it to be that way but lines that sound nice come together.
“Sometimes it can take me a year to finish off lyrics as I am putting little sayings and phrases into the song and it makes a story.”
The magic of Cherry Row studios
Recorded in Craig’s home studio (Cherry Row Studios) the single and upcoming album further expand the singer-songwriter’s sound.
Craig has embraced technology in recent years having constructed the home studio that has allowed him to record more quickly than before.
An album of acoustic studio sessions was also released in 2019.
Since the lockdown hit in March 2020 he has released three EP’s prior to Best You Ever Had.
Craig said: “I have always been quite prolific and it has just been a case of getting better at the recording process.
“Having all the gear makes it a faster process.
“Up until 2015, I recorded on old school tape decks then I started working on a computer.
“I had to bite the bullet and start doing that because I can’t afford to rent studios.
“It is a wee studio in my house that is soundproofed and has all the gear.”
Finally, a return to the stage
After more than a year away from the stage due to the coronavirus pandemic, Craig finally performed live when playing a behind closed door show at The Blue Lamp in April.
As part of a scheme to give a platform and voice to musicians during the lockdown The Blue Lamp shows were streamed on the venue’s YouTube channel and reached a global audience with views as far afield as the United States and Brazil.
Earlier this month Craig was finally able to play in front of an audience, albeit in reduced numbers when performing again at The Blue Lamp.
Craig also has plans to play shows in Finland later in the year with two previous tours of the Scandinavian country cancelled due to Covid.
He said: “Playing The Blue lamp was great.
“It was like my ideal gig – quiet, people seated with candles on the table compared to a rocking, loud venue. It felt like before the pandemic.
“I have always loved The Blue Lamp and now there is a real freshness to it.
“It is really good for Aberdeen and I would put on an album launch there.”