“…a Jack of all trades and a master of all,” is how the radio broadcaster, and host of BBC Radio 2’s Folk Show, Mark Radcliffe describes the Scottish musician Gary Innes.
It’s a good way of describing the incredibly charismatic Innes, who hails from the small Highland village of Spean Bridge. Accordionist, music writer, radio host, shinty player, firefighter. You can see why Radcliffe refers to him as a “Jack of all trades”. Indeed Innes is infuriatingly a master of all as evidenced by his considerable success. Not only a successful musician he is also a former captain of the Scottish shinty team. Although extremely well-known in his native Lochaber, he’s now gathering a worldwide audience.
I first came across Innes’ musical talents over a decade ago. He agreed to play at the opening ceilidh of the new school campus in our village. Playing alongside his Gary Innes Band it seemed the whole area had turned out to hear him play rigs and reels on his accordion. He had already released his first album How’s the craic in 2005 but his career was still in its early stages. However, the crowds thronging the school hall that evening was testament to his local fame. They clearly recognised him as one of the brightest talents on the Scottish music circuit at that time.
Innes started playing the accordion when he was 8 years-old and turned professional when he was 22. Initially this was with his regular session band. Since then he has formed the Celtic group Manran. He also plays in the all-accordion band Box Club. As a result, Innes seems to straddle a variety of music genres, from traditional-style Scottish dance music. All the way through to what some would describes as “folk-rock” or even “Celtic-rock”. What is central to all the styles he deploys is that they are rooted in the Celtic, and particularly the Gaelic culture of the Highlands.
Since 2016, Innes has reached an even wider audience in Scotland. Taking over the longest running show on Scottish radio – Take the Floor. In doing so, he brings his gentle lilting voice to listeners as he introduces the best of Scottish dance music and musicians.
If you haven’t come across Gary Innes then I recommend listening to his 2017 album Era. In particular, the consecutive tracks of The Road to Lochaber, The Caman Man and Crazy Street that illustrate his diversity in styles. Out of the three my favourite would be the shinty-inspired The Caman Man, which starts with the fantastic lyrics,
You’re old and historic, evolved and mature
Like cask strength whisky, so strong and so pure.
and the chorus continues:
It’s the game of the Gaels,
The language of our clans
No place for fear, or to commandeer
The heart of the caman man.