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Calum Baird – Singer-songwriter and live musician

Meet Calum Baird, a Scottish singer-songwriter and musician who intertwines social, cultural, and political themes into his indie-folk/folk-rock music.

Learn more about Calum, his latest single, advice for musicians at the start of the road and his unique musical style in this blog-interview.

A rising Scottish folk star – Jim Gellatly, Amazing Radio

1.Tell us about your latest single

My new single is called It’s 4 am… The song was first written and recorded as a demo many years ago but it I shelved it because it sounded too much like other songs I was writing at the time. However, I always planned to return to it one day as the message and ideas it communicates never really lost its meaning to me.

This version is out on April 21st and the track is a break from that demo as well as a slight twist on the style in all my other music to date. The composition is grounded by a colourful, big and resonating piano arrangement which is accompanied by various instruments as the song builds to a crescendo for the final chorus. These include an acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, drums, mellotron, strings and glockenspiel. Its 4am… employs a vintage sound to interrogate contemporary issues and invokes the sounds of The 1960s, including slight nods to The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever.

This song was recorded in collaboration with Tobias Thiele, a friend of mine from Germany and a fellow musician. We recorded the track at his studio, Blue Lizard, in Funkenhagen (Germany), back in February 2023. I played the song for Tobias, who then began to build the piano arrangement. I updated the old lyrics from 2013 and, then, sang the vocal line. From there, we worked together to construct the rest of the arrangement. Tobias added the track’s bass line, mellotron, strings, percussion, electric guitar and glockenspiel. The sum of these parts brings the song to life and makes an eclectic addition to my music. Tobias collaborated on my last three singles, and we recorded several more tracks together during a week of recording which we will release later this year.

For the artwork, I made use of my galaxy projector and my iPhone’s live image function to produce a distorted and anxious picture to encapsulate the song’s lyrics and exacerbated atmosphere.

Its 4am will be released on 21/04/2023 and will be available for streaming and download on all online stores and platforms. It can be pre-saved today using this link here:

2. How did your musical career start?

I’ve been involved in music from a very young age and have been writing songs since I learned to play the guitar when I was 15. However, I began taking writing more seriously and getting involved in live music in venues around 10 years ago. I started off by touring around Edinburgh’s Open Mic nights – using the Edinburgh the Gig Guide – and, then, I played at various venues during the 2013 Fringe Festival playing in Free Fringe venues, including the Tron Kirk and The Cowshed.

Later that year, I recorded an EP, which I released in 2014. After that, I began booking and getting booked for shows around Scotland in Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness, Aberdeen, the borders and in Edinburgh as well. From there, I started to get picked up by radio as well as getting booked for shows down in England, playing my first show outside the UK in 2016 at Festa do Avante in Lisbon.

3. What do you like/find challenging about the Edinburgh music industry?

Edinburgh has a wide variety of music venues as well as bars that host live music. Wherever you go in Edinburgh, you’ll find somewhere doing music. As I mentioned before, the Gig Guide was a great tool for me to get to know the live music scene but it was also great for me in terms of getting to know the city in a whole pile of ways from venues, musicians, the people and, even, getting to know my way around – which is useful during the Edinburgh Festival when the streets are busy! Getting to know the city through live music was a really enjoyable experience and, even now when I play in the venues, I remember what it was like ducking and diving, trying to get a slot here and there.

The advantage Edinburgh offers musicians is an abundance of places to play.

Some venues have music every day of the week as well, so, there are a lot of opportunities to perform and this helps to be able to build a career in music. Over the years, I’ve put together various different “circuits” of venues in the city that I play in and, from what I’ve learned from friends elsewhere in Scotland, the UK and cities in Europe like Berlin and Barcelona, this just isn’t possible like it is in Edinburgh.

However, it’s not without its challenges. The overwhelming majority of slots in Edinburgh are for musicians who can play a 2-3 hour sets of cover songs. If you want to make a career as a musician, I have found having a set of covers is pretty much a must. It’s useful as an economising tactic – especially in times like these – as well as for getting out the house and making sure you’re keeping in touch with the general public (being a musician can be quite isolating at times so this is important!). However, what this means is very little space for performing original material. What spaces exist are in short supply, expensive to hire (so little chance of earning any sustainable amounts of income) and booked up months in advance. That’s not to say it’s impossible to perform your own material in the city, it is doable, of course, but with so many musicians in the city writing their own material and so few spaces, it’s inevitable that you will lose out at some point.

Like most cities, Edinburgh is very transient. I’ve built up numerous networks of contacts and musicians that I’ve been immersed in and depended on, only for them to fall apart when someone moves away or takes on another job in another industry altogether. I’ve learned over the years not to be static in my approach to networking but this can be exhausting. Particularly now in the aftermath of a global pandemic and the cost of living crisis where the ground is shifting all the time.

The primary challenge I’ve found in Edinburgh is getting gigs where I can perform my own music because of its political content. There are so few places that will entertain that kind of music, even the venues, promoters or music nights that consider themselves to be open-minded when it comes to political content in songs are very particular about what sort of politics they will work with. My music has anti-war, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist themes in it and, for some, this is too extreme. I find this disappointing because there has been a large up-tick in radical political ideas in this country, certainly since I started performing, but this hasn’t really been reflected in the music scene. I think there are signs this is shifting but it’s glacial and not without contention, too.

I think the fact that political music – perhaps even political art in general – struggles for air in the city speaks volumes about the level of gentrification and commercialisation of cultural spaces that has taken place since the turn of the century. Edinburgh has a proud history of political song but I think musicians like Dick Gaughan – an inspiration of mine – would struggle to make a career in music in the city if he was starting out today. Rather tellingly, the most political shows I have played have been outside the city, outside the UK itself. For a city that prides itself on values of openness, liberty and celebrating cultural diversity, I think this is really problematic, particularly as all the signs are there that our society is going to become more politicised, our spaces are going to be more widely contested and our liberties are going to be more broadly affronted. We badly need political song to find its voice.

4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I hope to still be writing music, touring, performing and being an active participant in Scotland’s cultural and creative arts industries!

5. Can you recommend any organisations that help musicians/any that you receive help or advice from?

I’m a Musicians’ Union member and would always recommend that musicians join the MU. They have helped me out on numerous occasions with general advice but also with retrieving fees from venues who refused to pay me or didn’t pay me on time. The union has grown in recent years and has over 33 000 members. Being part of an organisation like that is really important and can be a big help to musicians no matter what point they are at in their careers.

In general, I am close to the trade union movement in Scotland and the wider UK. I have played at events sponsored by different trade unions and, also, organised events in the city centre where the trade unions have sponsored the event to help cover performers’ fees and expenses. I would encourage performers and artists to think about ways they can involve the trade unions in the events/shows they’re organising and, vice versa, would encourage the trade unions to think about ways they can work with artists in their campaigns and/or at their rallies and events. My experiences tell me there is potential here for collaboration between the live arts and trade unions which could help up push back against some of that gentrification and commercialisation of cultural spaces that I spoke about before.

6. Who inspires you?

A host of people from political, cultural and music backgrounds including Antonio Gramsci, Angela Davis, Pablo Picasso, Dick Gaughan, Phoebe Bridgers and Phil Ochs. More and more, though, I am trying to pay closer attention to the independent music scene and the songs/trends emerging out of it. There are a plethora of top quality artists making music, experimenting with different sounds and I want to be able to draw on that wherever possible. Over the years, I’ve tried to turn away from idolising big time artists/celebrity types – they get enough publicity without me fawning over them! What does the independent musician have to say? How do they use their instruments? Those are things that I am finding more interesting these days, which is cool!

7. What advice would you give a musician at the start of the road?

When you go out to play your first gig, leave your naivety at your door on the way out! Don’t allow people to take advantage of you and your talents. This could be promoters who want you to sell a certain amount of tickets before you can play a gig – this is known as “pay to play” – or gig organisers who will just pocket all the cash after you got all your mates to come out to see you play and they didn’t even lift a finger.

Don’t play for free; it won’t lead to a better gig, it won’t lead to fame or glory. It will, however, lead to you being out of pocket and make people think that, if you did it for free once, you’ll do it for free again. By playing for free, you’re also setting the bar pretty low and signalling that you don’t think you’re very good or that you should be taken seriously as a musician, performer and – crucially – a working person with rights.

Similarly, never pay for promotion either for a gig, a single review, Spotify playlisting, or radio play. You’ll end up out of pocket there as well.

Music isn’t about fame and glory. It’s about connecting with people, sharing ideas, meeting folk and participating in creativity – building a culture, essentially!

The assumption is that, when you take up musicianship, if you’re not selling out Wembley by the time you’re 25, you’re a failure. This is a toxic way to look at music and creativity. The music industry, sadly, has a history of people presenting themselves as genuine and essential for the scene to grow and flourish but really they’re just trying to rip musicians off for their own financial gain. These sorts of people are hoping your head is filled with glorious fantasises so that you’ll do anything for a gig, a review and/or playlisting all the while knowing they are stringing a million other musicians like you along to fill their own pockets. The best thing you can do is kick all of that toxicity into touch right at the beginning, refuse to see music as a competition, a race to the top and, instead, write the music you want to write and build your audience from there.

If, after 10, 20, 30 years in the business, you haven’t played Wembley but you’re still going while hundreds of other musicians you knew/met along the way have been burned out and given up because they didn’t have that Billboard number one album, then, congratulations: you’ve made a career in music! If you get to the top, then, cool. That’s a bonus, though, not the objective.

8. What do you have coming up this year?

As well as recording and releasing new music, I’ve performed at festivals and events around the UK and into Europe as well.

In January, I played at the Burns and Beyond Festival in Edinburgh as well as releasing a single called Few and Far Between which received a lot of recognition and praise when it came out.

In February, I travelled to Germany where I recorded several new songs which will all be released later this year, the first of which coming in late April! As well as this, I performed two shows in Berlin at Baiz and Artliner’s while over there.

In March, I delivered a talk on the arts and culture in Edinburgh, specifically why it is important that access to art and culture be democratised and how the cultural industries can be made more sustainable. This was a timely discussion given the scale of the crises facing the cultural/creative arts right now and it’s something I am deeply passionate about. I hope to be more involved in these debates throughout the year.

In the Spring, I will be releasing new music and performing at the Great May Day Cabarets in Edinburgh (April 30th) in The Stand Comedy Club as well as in Glasgow (May 1st) in Oran Mor – my first time playing there! I will be playing at the Edinburgh and Lothians May Day Festival on May 6th, too.

This summer, I will be playing in The Red Shed in Wakefield for the first time in early June. The Red Shed has hosted great performers from across the arts and music such as Mark Thomas and Attila the Stockbroker and I’m looking forward to playing there myself. From there, I will be travelling to Glastonwick Festival down on the Sussex coast to play a slot there on June 4th. I will also be playing at a folk and roots music festival in Hebden Bridge in June before flying out once more to Germany in July to perform at this Year’s Rudolstadt Folk and World Music Festival for the first time. After Rudolstadt, I will embark on a short tour of Germany with Tobias Thiele where we will play in Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin before ending the tour in the north-eastern town of Feldberg.

Looking further ahead into 2023, I will be releasing new music in June, September and December (I hope) as well as continuing to perform around Scotland and the UK. I will perform a run of shows at the year’s Edinburgh Festival including at a very special, one-off show in mid-August – more details to follow soon!

Calum's musical journey has been nothing short of inspiring 🎶He has shown us that with passion and dedication, anything is possible.

Let's give Calum a round of applause for all he's achieved. We wish him all the best for the future! 🎉



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