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Colin Macleod: Crofter by day, international music star by night

Colin Macleod aberdeen
When Colin Macleod isn't working his croft on Lewis, he's recording with Sheryl Crow or playing alongside Bruce Springsteen and Robert Plant.

When Colin Macleod is not lambing, fishing, or out on the moors of his Lewis croft, he’s recording duets with Sheryl Crow, playing live on The Late Late Show with James Corden in LA, or just hanging out with Bruce Springsteen.

“It seems a bit mad looking from the outside looking in, and I do often think to myself that it is mad, but it kind of works in a strange way,” said the acclaimed musician who is about to release his new album, Hold Fast.

It’s a follow up to his Bloodlines album of 2018, which won him an army of fans and also brought him to the attention of superstars like Sheryl Crow and even rock legend Robert Plant, supporting both on tour.

Colin Macleod has struck up a friendship – and musical partnership – with superstar Sheryl Crow.

In fact, he became firm friends with Sheryl, who joins him to duet on two tracks on Hold Fast, which is due for release on June 18.

Colin said: “I met her a few years ago when I supported her in London and we just hit it off. We got on really well, and I got on really well with her band, they are lovely people.

“She’s just very down to earth and really supportive so the last three or four times she’s been in the UK she’s always asked me back to support her.”

Facetiming with Sheryl Crow in wellies

While his latest album was recorded in London before lockdown, Sheryl’s contribution – on the tracks Old Soul and 33 –  came via the “magic of Skype”, recorded in her home studio in Nashville.

“It was a funny day on the croft when I was Facetiming Sheryl Crow,” said Colin. “It was like a horrible October day and I was milling around doing things around the croft, so I was basically standing in my wellies somewhere on the moor when I got a Facetime from Sheryl singing my song.

“She phoned me and I missed her call because I was, as usual, somewhere without any phone reception.”

He still has reception issues – it took a couple of goes before this interview got under way.

And that simple fact of island life might account for Colin being so grounded. He takes in his stride touring with Robert Plant and appearing on one of America’s biggest chat shows with James Corden on the same bill as Jamie Lee Curtis – “There were five guys from the Highlands who were more excited about the free sandwiches.”

But it’s clear hanging out with Bruce Springsteen left an impression on the gifted singer-songwriter, who met the Boss at a music gig in London, where Colin was the first act on stage.

Hanging out with Bruce Springsteen was a “good day” for Colin Macleod.

“By some weird quirk of fate my dressing room ended up next to his, so I was sitting there in the morning thinking, ‘oh that door says Bruce Springsteen on it… ah, there’s Bruce Springsteen coming up’.

“So I ended up just sitting in the sunshine in London having a yarn with Bruce Springsteen and wondering how this happened in my life. It was a good day.”

Lambing, fishing… and making albums

And that is the question… how did Colin end up being a crofter and a music star, all at the same time?

The answer to the first part lies in his roots. “My dad’s family as far back as I know were all crofters and all Hebrideans.

“It’s something that when I was younger I wasn’t interested in it, but as I have become older I have become really passionate about it. It’s really important to me. And it’s also really important and informs the way I write. I don’t think I would write the songs I do in the way I do if it wasn’t for the fact I live the life I do.”

Colin caring for one of his lambs during his busy crofting life on Lewis.

In the timeless tradition of the crofter, Colin has many different jobs depending on the time of year. In summer he is a ghillie, taking people out on the moor or salmon fishing. In the winter he tends to his sheep, leading up to lambing time, after which the sheep go out to pasture and he returns to being a ghillie for the summer.

“And in among all that I find time to make albums and go on tour and stuff,” said Colin.

The music career side of his life came about “completely by accident”, he said. Always keen on music and writing songs, he decided to defer going to university for a year to try play gigs and tour to see if he could crack the industry.

Colin returned home to Lewis to make music while following his family’s crofting heritage.

Playing a gig in Aberdeen, he was spotted by Dougie Bruce, an A&R scout for Universal publishing.

Signed alongside Adele and Lily Allen

“He had development deals from the publishing company to invest in young people to basically give them an apprenticeship and see how they shape up. Myself, Adele and Lily Allen were all signed at the same time to this development deal on Universal,” said Colin.

“I got paid to move to London and write songs, to go to studios and meet all these people. It was a fantastic apprenticeship on how to write songs.”

Colin’s new album, Hold Fast, explores life on the island.

Living and working in London for three years he produced his first album under the name of The Boy Who Trapped The Sun in 2010, but then became burnt out on city life.

“It wasn’t really for me. I was too much of an island boy, so I moved home and settled down here a bit. I had a little break from music for a year or two, and then started writing a new album – Bloodlines. Since then, in my mid 20s, I have been furrowing my own little path of making music and living the sort of life I want to live.”

And that life includes creating Hold Fast, full of big, earthy Americana sounding tracks, mingled with softer reflective acoustic folk songs and love letters to island life and features his new single, Runaway.

“It’s kind of a follow up from Bloodlines in themes, but going a bit deeper, specifically into life on the island, loss and religion, that sort of push and pull between the island and the mainland,” he said.

Is Colin Macleod a crofter or a musician?

“There’s a bit of a culture of people going away to pursue their dreams then coming home a little bit jaded, that’s the kind of general theme in the album,” said Colin, adding it’s not an autobiographical piece, but reflects the stories of people he knows and what has happened to them.

“I hope it resonates with people. I hope they hear the stories and hear a little bit of what I’m trying to say about island life, the good and the bad.”

With his fingers crossed that he can get touring again, Colin is still fully focused on his life as a crofter. When we were talking he was “out on the moor”.

Which raises the question of what he sees himself as, a crofter or a musician?

A pastoral scene on Colin’s croft – his lifestyle informs his songs and music.

“It’s all kind of wrapped in a big sort of knot to be honest. I don’t think one is more important than the other. They are not really separate in my life, they are all together,” said Colin.

“They say that old thing about a crofter being like a multi-faceted thing. My life feels like a modern version of that. Instead of weaving and stuff, I’m doing music, going on tour and singing about what I do.

“I guess I’m just me.”

Hold Fast, out on June 18, can be pre-ordered here.