Beelines, debut solo album from Robin Miller
With the end of lockdown (sort of – here’s hoping) we shut down The Howff our fictional sticky-carpeted lounge bar which brought Saturday night playlists, poetry, music and art to your fuzzy minds while we were all locked in domestic hell/utopia (delete as applicable). You can pour yourself a McEwan’s Export and take a leisurely glance over the Howff’s back-catalogue as you reminisce on the lockdown experience here.
The Howff started on 29 March 2020 with the epic Groove On playlist, our first featured artist was Iona Fyffe, and we had other music from Chemikal Underground’s Holy Mountain and an Optimo playlist of On U Sound plus a new film from Angus Farquhar’s new arts charity Aproxima, poetry from Jim Monaghan and a Creative Tool kit to “share ways of being creative for those who find themselves in isolation” from Alec Finlay. Other glories included a Bella exclusive of Kid Carpet’s Van Halen cover of Jump with Ivor Cutler – a digitalised version of Hanna Tuulikki’s Air falbh leis na h-eòin | Away with the Birds – epic degree show artwork from Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen – and Pondlife and #DOCAM080 amongst much other corona-culture ephemera
But if the Howff has called last orders for the last time this doesn’t mean we won’t be continuing to bring you shedloads of music and good stuff every weekend profiling artists surviving and navigating these strange times. First up is South-Uist-born Robin Miller formerly of Glasgow world music act Zuba. Their acclaimed 2005 album ‘Allez’ was the JPF African Album of the Year award and was described by Bob Harris as ‘truly brilliant’.
Here solo and acoustic, Beelines’, is Miller’s hypnotically beautiful debut album, which was recorded in Glasgow in a single afternoon. Robin was born on South Uist and grew up in a remote part of Islay. “Half the island would go to the monthly auctions – these started off with livestock and finished off with second hand goods like old LP’s. When I had some money from stacking peat or chopping logs this was where I bought the records that opened my imagination. This is how I first heard Bert Jansch and Nick Drake.”
Moving to Glasgow in his late teens, Robin busked at night (“I loved the sound of the guitar bouncing off the buildings and empty streets”) and played with folk bands eventually touring in France and Italy as a session player.
‘Beelines’ features thirteen tracks of deft melody-driven fingerpicking guitar. It is kind of shocking to listen to pure raw natural sound with no post-production. The tracks hint at the fingerstyle guitar of Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, and John Renbourn, with notes of Hebridean heritage without shedding any of Miller’s worldly background.
The title track ‘Beelines’ references Robin’s father’s lifelong beekeeping passion. The Moorish ‘Jessie’s Kaftan’ started life in Glasgow and was completed after a trip to Morocco. ‘Rainer’, is a moving slide guitar tribute to the much missed Arizona musician Rainer Ptacek. ‘Tigh-na-Beart’ and ‘Birthe Marie Sails to Lunga’ reference the western isles – the metallic ‘Wyre Majestic’ is a musical sketch of the famous rusting shipwreck caught on the rocks between Islay and Jura.
Buy the debut single from the album here. Listen to the album on Soundcloud here: