Fraser Anderson - More than A Year in Provence


A musician goes into see his bank manager and says: “I’ve got no money but I’ve seen a house I’d like to buy and it needs quite a lot of work done to it.” And the bank manager says … possibly not what you’re thinking. The musician leaves the bank with a mortgage, some extra money for renovations and the bank manager’s praise for his new album.


Maybe the French do – or did, this was 2007, just before the credit crunch - things differently. Maybe they are more inclined towards patronage of the arts. Or maybe it was the Fraser Anderson effect. Because Edinburgh-born, Midi-Pyrénées-based Anderson’s music does tend to be persuasive. Radio 2 presenter Bob Harris, never shy of lavishing praise, admittedly, has waxed super-lyrical about Anderson’s second album, Coming up for Air, and French promoters have taken to booking Anderson as support to Chuck Berry, on merit, certainly, but possibly also to mellow out the crowd should Chuck do a runner as he did on his last trip to Glasgow.


Anderson’s sojourn in France has something of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence about it, except with a different location and a longer time span. It began when the former guitarist with singer-songwriter Dougie Maclean’s band and his artist wife, Grace, were looking to finance Coming up for Air.


“We didn’t have the funds to record, manufacture and distribute it but we did own a house and we decided to sell up everything and use the money to invest in ourselves,” he says. “Originally we thought we’d rent some place in Scotland but we found this cottage in Bordeaux, near St Emilion in the wide-growing region, that looked just right.”


So the couple and their three children set off in a camper van for Bordeaux. The cottage was indeed just right but a few months into their stay, Anderson was booked to play at a festival four hours’ drive to the south. Arriving in the Pyrénées, he immediately felt homesick but then fell in love with the French mountains. Grace felt the same way, so they decided to move and rented the first of a series of places before alighting on the house the bank manager rubber stamped.


“It turned out that nobody had lived here for forty years and no-one seemed to know who owned it but we eventually traced the owner, who after some persuading agreed to sell, and we were able to move in.”


Meanwhile, Coming up for Air had been recorded in Paris and Anderson was creating a groundswell of interest. Reviews back home cited Nick Drake as his chief influence, although Anderson puts Dougie Maclean, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell well ahead of Drake as sources of inspiration.


“It’s maybe because I used to be a drummer [he played with Scots rock band Mama Kazoo] and I’ve developed this percussive style on the guitar that reminds people of Nick Drake,” he says. “But there was certainly no attempt to copy him. I think I’m more like John Martyn but as long as people enjoy what I’m doing I don’t mind the comparison.”


Living in France and listening to the eclectic musical menu of French radio (the family don’t own a TV) has made his songwriting freer, he says. He has a new album due out in July, 151, which gets its name from his five year old son’s insistence that “151 is the most you can love someone”, and he’ll be playing songs from that at his Celtic Connections concert as well as older songs and the one cover version that he sings and that he’s picked up in his adopted home.


“The French are generally very receptive towards Scottish people and although I don’t speak good enough French to tell audiences stories like I might have done in folk clubs back home, I find if you make the attempt, they appreciate it,” he says. “However, there’s one French singer, Anais, who takes the mickey out of Scots and imitates the bagpipes with her voice. So I bought an electronic looper and I’ve developed this song she does so that you get layers and layers of bagpipes and I’m going to create a whole pipe band – with just my mouth.”


From The Herald, January 27, 2010.


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