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After his critically acclaimed 2018 debut album Bloodlines led to support gigs for legends such as ex-Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and Van Morrison, as well as a performance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Lewis native Colin Macleod could have been forgiven for trading in his quiet Hebridean life for at least a few years of jet-setting and the adulation of his growing legion of fans.
But Macleod, who’s new album, Hold Fast, is due for release in January and sees vocals on two tracks provided by Sheryl Crow, is still more likely to be found at home on his croft at Swordale, tending a flock of sheep with his dad Callum, surfing or doing a bit of fishing, than schmoozing on the music business party circuit – Covid-19 lockdown not withstanding.
The first single off the new album is Old Soul, on which Crow lends her shimmering vocals, and which has been available for a few weeks and is already garnering praise and new fans.
And whether it is Old Soul with its plaintive tale of a man who feels born out of time, or the lush stringed Queen of the Highland, or his paean to his island home on This Old Place, MacLeod has struck gold with Hold Fast.
With echoes of Springsteen’s panoramic rock fables to quieter, more introspective numbers such as 33, on which Crow also features, Hold Fast is MacLeod’s love letter to his ancestral home and the life he has there.
Speaking on the phone from his Hebridean home to the Lochaber Times one night this week, after finishing work on the croft, MacLeod graciously gave up a large chunk of his evening to chat about his new release, how his island home colours his music and how he managed to get one of the US’s biggest female rock stars to sing on his new album.
‘We finished the album about a year ago and I’m very happy with it. It’s exciting to finally have it coming out for sure. I think it’s doing alright – I don’t keep up much to be honest. There’s been lots of nice comments. My pal in the local shop really liked it, so it’s all good!’ Macleod confided.
As for why he picked Old Soul to be the first single, Macleod says it pretty much encompasses most of the new album’s sentiments and ideas.
‘It just seemed to be the best song for kicking things off,’ he said down the phone, while fending off the attentions of his new Border Collie puppy.
Nine-times Grammy winner Crow has remained a fan and supportive of Macleod’s work since the couple toured together in 2018.
‘Still feels a bit funny saying it out loud – “me and Sheryl Crow”. It’s pretty cool,’ explained Macleod in a tone that lets you know the appreciation is mutual.
Crow recorded her vocals in Nashville, where she has a horse farm and raises her two sons. Macleod recorded his part in London, although there was still a bit of what he calls ‘to-ing an fro-ing’ to get things right, which saw him Face-timing the multi-award winning singer at her home in Tennessee from his croft in the Hebrides.
‘It sounds bonkers when you say it, that you can record a song with someone and not even be on the same bit of the Earth, with an ocean in between,’ said Macleod, now 35.
Hold Fast tells the story of a man who grudgingly comes home to where he is from, then slowly realising everything he needs and wants is right there.
‘I think you can overlook what you have on your own doorstep,’ said Macleod.
And while the coronavirus lockdown postponed the album for a wee while, Macleod says he was fortunate to be living where he does.
‘I know it’s been really tough for a lot of people, but I am very fortunate being up here. Lewis is definitely not the worst place to be during the lockdown. I’m more self-contained here and life has gone on pretty much as normal.
‘When lockdown started I was actually going into my own yearly lockdown for five weeks with the start of lambing. Life consisted of being in the barn or in my bed.’
And he still considers himself a crofter as much as a musician, and loves working on the land with his dad.
‘If someone had told me when I was 18 I’d be crofting and be at home – I’d be like, away man, I’m gonna be a rock star and get away from this place. But there’s something about it, it’s in your blood, and as I got older, I became more keenly aware of my heritage, where I was from and the importance of it.
‘When you come from a little village and see that line of your relatives coming for you, there’s a sense of pride and responsibility to maintain that way of life. I’d not go out of my way to do it, if I didn’t enjoy it – but I love it. It’s a very rewarding way of life for me and definitely feeds my creativity.’
Macleod released the Fireplace album under the moniker The Boy Who Trapped The Sun back in 2010 and says when he got his first record deal, he tried not to reveal to people he was also a crofter, fearing people simply would not understand as it was too different a lifestyle.
‘But my life is so wrapped up in where I am from, I couldn’t be one without the other,’ he said. ‘ It might seem a funny thing to some, but it feels the most natural thing in the world to me.’