North Sea Gas : A Brief Band History
1980 Autumn/ Winter White Hart Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh.
Colin McKenzie came into the White Hart Inn with his mandolin and played along with myself ( Dave Gilfillan) and Peter Farrell who were playing a regular weekly gig. This had become a regular occurrence over a past few months during which the idea of forming a band to play good entertaining folk music with rousing choruses for the public to enjoy was discussed over a few pints of beer .
Pete was happy playing just for the fun of it and once a week was fine by him. He was not that keen on playing and travelling and with the music emphasis being traditional material, so he made it known he would stand aside if another member could be found.
During this period the name of the band was discussed with “North Sea Gas” being one of a few ideas, “Brewers Droop” being another if my memory serves me well !!
1981 February Wally Allan joins Colin and myself on St Valentines Day to form what was to be called “North Sea Gas”
Dave, Wally, Colin and some fans !!
While playing in the White Hart Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh we are approached by Jim Arbuthnott who asked why we did not have an album for sale. Explaining the high costs involved (this was back in 1980 remember ) Jim kindly offered to pay for the recording. So after further discussions a business agreement was made and we went of to the “Pan audio” recording studios Forth Street Edinburgh and recorded our first album.
Those So Dearly Held” which was released in 1981.
The album was a great success proving very popular with the public and in business terms it sold well.
So we quickly returned to the studios to record “Spirit Of The Banished” which was released in 1982 and proved to be equally as popular. “We were up and running”.
During these early years we were very fortunate to take part in many Scottish Television programmes recording 6 Hear Hear shows in the old Gateway studios which used to stand in Leith walk, took part in the “Thingimajig” shows, appeared many times in numerous afternoon magazine programmes and even made a guest appearance on “Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade.” The children’s show of it’s day. We dressed as pirates !! (If Anyone has a copy of this on video please let me know)
1981: We had moved our regular nights from the White Hart Inn to The Caledonian Hotel at the West End of Edinburgh were we played what was then called“ The Lothian Lounge” the hotels main entertainment area.
1982: Saw the Caledonian hotel open a new entertainment bar called “Platform 1”.
We were the first band to play the new venue, and we played there for 13 years. For most of that time we appeared twice a week Wednesday and Friday nights.
1982 :Around this time we also started doing a series of Late night concerts in the “Caley Cinema” in Lothian Road, Guest artists included Hamish Imlach, Tich Frier, Madeline Smith, Clem Allan and Johnny Cunningham.
We also supported Gene Pitney in the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre, during which Wally told the audience that we had been digging around in our song bag and came up with a little number appropriately called “Twenty four hours from Pumpherston”
We have supporting many well known artists and famous bands and performers during the bands career, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Alvin Stardust, Showwaddywaddy , Frank Ifield.
1982 : During the summer of this year we were instrumental in starting the Scottish show in the Caledonian Hotel
“Hail Caledonia” which later moved to other premises but continued to run for many years.
1983 : We were brought to the attention of the promoter Drew Taylor and asked to headline The White Heather Show” which was to tour England, Colin and myself were very keen to do this but Wally was not so keen (having a good job with British Telecom at the time). He decided it would be better if he stood aside. Wally’s last gig with the band was Saturday the 20th February 1982. Fortunately for us Wally is a man for his diary and was able to tell me that during his stay with the band of 2yrs and 6 days we played 526 shows if you think of the fact we also recorded two albums and with all the TV appearances it’s unbelievable.
1983 February 20th Wally Allan leaves the band and Ronnie McDonald joins “North Sea Gas” for the first time on Wednesday 24th of February and we headlined the “White Heather Show” tour.
During the tour we played the Brighton Dome Theatre and were introduced to Dame Flora Robson who came to our dressing room to meet us, but Mac’s visit to the band was to be only a brief spell of (four months).
1983 : June Mac was replaced by Colin Ramage. It was a very busy introduction to the band for Colin as within the first 6 months we played the 40’s Field celebration were we recorded a video with Barbara Dixon, Noel Edmonds, Peter Sarstedt and Noel Murphy. We also recorded 4 cassettes called the “Legends of Scotland” telling the stories of Robert Burns, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. We provided the music and they were narrated by Bill McCue, then to top of a very busy spell we recorded our third album “From Fields Afar” released in the same year1984. Now that’s busy !!
1986 : Gerry McKenna joined the band. He played bass guitar, keyboards and awesome banjo and with that line up we recorded the Album “Live from Edinburgh”at the Churchill Theatre Edinburgh.
Live From Edinburgh received a Silver Disc in recognition of albums sold from the Scottish Record Industry Association .
1986 Colin Ramage decided he wished to try a solo career. He left and recorded a solo album.
1988 : Bobby Miller replacedGerry. He played the double bass and bass guitar. Over the years Bobby has been a great friend and asset to the band.
From then Colin McKenzie and myself continued to worked as a duo with Bobby playing with us in Platform 1.
The compilation album “The Collection “ was released in 1988.
We also took part in the Brian Matthews Round Midnight shows being recorded live during the Edinburgh Festival, appearing with Tom Roberson (of War Baby fame) and on another occasion Peter Ustinov was the special guest.
“Embo’s Golden Shore “
A song written byColin McKenzie.
BP released a floppy disc with the songs
North Sea Gas and Black Black Gold.
To Celebrate the Trillionth Cubic ft of
north Sea gas coming ashore in 1985.
We also began our Hogmanay shows which we held in various venues Platform 1, L’attache, Carlton Studios and The Merlin (for many years).
We were also invited to the London Barbican theatre and performed with “Dame Edna Everage” (Barry Humphries ). A very memorable occasion evening.
1988/9 Colin McKenzie for personal reasons (getting married and settling down) decided it was time for him to call it day. We had agreed to make a live album in “Platform One” which was now the entertainment lounge of the Caledonian Hotel and “the” live venue of Edinburgh at that time. We played there twice a week every week for over 13 years.
The album was “Caledonian Connection” released 1989.
This was recorded live and was a huge success but as agreed shortly after it’s released Colin McKenzie bowed out !!
“Caledonian Connection”received a Gold disc in recognition of album sales
Knowing the situation and needing continuity I had invited Colin Ramage to return to the band, he agreed and joined the band for the recording of the Caledonian Connection album.
1989 : Colin McKenzie leaves band and Colin Ramage rejoins band.
We continued playing Platform 1 until 1994 when we decided to move to The Balmoral Hotel Princes Street Edinburgh were we played our regular Friday nights. We later moved to the Belford Hotel Edinburgh.
Colin Ramage and myself worked as a duo, with Bobby Miller Joining us on bass when required.
During the period 1989 until November 1998, Colin Ramage and Dave Gilfillan recorded the following Albums
“Keltic Heritage” 1991. Keltic Heritage received Silver Disc Award.
“Scottish Destiny” 1993. Scottish Destiny received Silver Disc Award.
“Power of Scotland” 1995. Power Of Scotland received Silver Disc Award.
We toured Germany extensively including what used to be the GDR. We also toured and played in Holland , Austria , Switzerland, Denmark, America and Canada .
1998 : November of this year saw myself and Colin Ramage part company. This not being a planned or organised event and being left with the situation where contracts must be fulfilled I needed a band.
1998 December . Fortunately with friends like Gerry McKenna and Bobby Miller I had no trouble solving this problem. We did need a lead instrumentalist and we persuaded Kirsty Mclean to play fiddle for us.
So, from 1998 till early 2002 this was the band. We recorded the album “ Spirit of Scotland” which was released in the year 2000.
Bobby Miller . Kirsty Mclean. Dave Gilfillan and Gerry McKenna.We worked mostly in Scotland during this period but we did venture across to Germany and the The Channel Islands.
During this period of time Bobby and Kirsty were married and with the pressure of work their continuing time commitment to the band was proving very difficult. I was keen to go back on the road again . It was time to change again !!
2002 : February saw the return of Ronnie McDonald to the band “Mac” had been in Australia and on returning I asked him to join the band and along with Tim O’leary we recorded “Dark Island” in the same year. Gerry McKenna also returned to the fold adding banjo and keyboards to the line up. Dark island received a Silver disc Award
The pressure of the work load led to Tim (never happy touring once he had met his wife to be Fiona ) with the decision to leave the band.
Organising shows in Scotland, Ireland and England we have always done by ourselves but for further afield help was needed.
Germany has been a great place for the band. We have toured there regularly for over 35 years.
We (Colin McKenzie and Myself) started visiting the military bases doing shows for all the Scottish regiments and when we were invited by Liz Holtmann to play “Herford folk club” we were delighted. We met Liz Holtmann in the Attic Folk Club. RAF Gutersloh. The transition into the folk circuit went very smoothly. It was in “Herford folk club”around 1991 we met a young man who asked if we would like to have a band web site ? We said “yes please “ the young man was Uwe Schuerkamp who has been our web master ever since.
Over the years the band has been blessed with people who were willing to help.
After a while we began working with Music Contact Rainer- Zellner. This was around 1991 and we enjoyed many fruitful years with him which included Austria, Switzerland and Germany. When the Berlin wall came down (Nov 1991) It was through “Music Contact” we began playing/ touring in what used to be the German Democratic Republic ! Maybe the first Scottish folk band to do so ? We were befriended by Katja Stock and Jan Blummel who were instrumental in the band playing even more shows in what used to be the GDR and through this a few years later we met Holger and Elke Zimmer who have become our Germany Agents.
Around 1992/3) we began touring in Canada with Scot Erin Promotions – Jim Osbourn. Great times with so many memorable nights.
Organisation of Austria fell to Bernard Adam, then Susanne Molin took over the running of things.
In 2002 I was contacted and asked if we would consider coming over to America for a few shows, I said I would if things could be organised. The person asking the question was Linda Zelenski. In Feb 2003 we went over to the states and played a few gigs ! It was only a few gigs as the snow was ankle deep and most shows were cancelled ! Anyway we have been touring the USA on average twice a year ever since and Linda Zelenski is still organising the tours.
There have been so many people who have helped the band over the years. Too many names to mention. They are our friends and always will be and we thank them all and will forever be indebted to them.
2004 : This was the year Tim was replaced by Cameron Gaskell or Cammie as we all knew him. We recorded the album “Lochanside” with Cammy and this was released in 2005.
With Cammie we tour the USA , Canada, Germany and Austria
We also visited Estonia for the first time and had a great time meeting and playing for the Scottish business community. That and the subsequent repeat trips were organised by Iain Lawson former Vice Convenor of the SNP and good friend of the band. We will always be indebted to Iain for the help he gave us.
2006 : Cameron Gaskell leaves the band and was replace by Grant Simpson.
2006 : Grant Simpson : I was in the Royal Oak bar in Edinburgh one night (not a rare visit I must admit) when this young lad came into the downstairs bar. There was a session going on but it needed a fiddler. Grant grabbed the bar fiddle (not a Stradivarius it must be said) but he made the piece of plywood he was playing sing. I was impressed so say the least and mentioned it to Mac who later discovered that Grant was also working in the Royal Oak as a barman. I met him a week later and discussed his joining the band to which he agreed (something I think he feels is penance for something he did in a past life).
2007 : Sadly on the 25th of January 2007 Cameron Gaskell died.
A great wee man with a big personality who is sadly missed by all who knew him. I will always remember being in Estonia when we received the news. A sad day.
Over the years in the USA we have performed at many of the famous music festivals, Clan Gatherings, taken part in so many Television and Radio programmes it would be impossible to mention them all (because I can’t remember) !!
- 2007 : the compilation album ” Glencoe Masacre”
2007 “Rosslyn” was also recorded and released.
2009 Edinburgh Toon . Was recorded live at the Lot in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket just a few metres from where the band started.
Tak A Dram Afore Ye Go 2011
For the last 3 years we have been very fortunate in being invited to Istanbul to celebrate St Andrews Day !!
The Fire And The Passion of Scotland. 2013
This was Album of the year in Celtic Radio USA 2013 !!
Gerry McKenna : 1953-2013
Band member ,Bass, Keyboards and Banjo and a very
good friend who we unfortunately lost in 2013.
2014 Dark island : Received Gold Disc Award
2014 Lochanside : Received Silver Disc Award
2014 Edinburgh Toon : Received Silver Disc Award
2014 Glencoe Masacre : Received Silver Disc Award
Working in Scotland : Playing the small village /town halls and Art Centres has been something the band has always wanted to do and we have done as much as possible considering our schedule.
We will endeavour to play more but sadly these venues are suffering from lack of sponsorship and rely on tireless individuals for their survival.
We thank them all.
Astley Hall Arisaig
We have had the privilege to play a few concerts in the wonderful Rosslyn Chapel .
We have also played concerts in Colditz Castle and hope to do more as once again there is something very special not only for ourselves but the audiences.
2015 Fire In The Glen released.
We have now received 14 silver/gold disc awards from the Scottish Record Industry Association.
We are very proud of the albums and the awards.
2016 .The Fire And The Passion Of Scotland : Receives Silver Disc Award.
Another castle another great night.
2016. Rosslyn : Receives Silver Disc Award.
When We Go Rolling Home: Released 2017
We have been very fortunate to be part of the musical entertainment for the Royal Highlands Show . Playing sets on the various stages over a four day period has been great fun.
Over the years we have continued to have sell out shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe AMC. (Acoustic Music Centre) . Our tours in Germany and America continue to grow. (there is not enough days in the year to do more).
Wally Allan : One of ther original members of the band sadly passed on.
1951- 2019. Missed by all.
Hearth & Homeland : Released 2019
We tour constantly in Germany (three to four times a year) America (twice a year), Canada, England and of course our own native Scotland which we have tried to cover extensively in these last few years. I can proudly say there are not many places in Scotland we have not visited at some time in the bands history.
For those places we have not yet played “Give us time we are working as hard as we can”
This brief history was compiled by Dave Gilfillan with input and information from Colin Mckenzie, Gerry McKenna and Bobby Miller. Photos from band members and friends .
2020 : The present line up of the band : Dave Gilfillan , Ronnie MacDonald, and Grant Simpson is the longest serving line up in the bands history. The continuity has allowed the band to go from strength to strength.
Throughout the bands history there have been various musicians who have played with the band on the odd occasion. I would like to thank them all for their help and talent.
Thanks to everyone. Dave.