Picture by Hamish Macleod.
Primarily recognised as session musician, and former member of the Paul McKenna Band, Seán’s ambition to launch a solo career was first fully harnessed when he was commissioned to write and perform a suite of self-penned work for the New Voices concert series at the Celtic Connections 2017 festival.
Throughout his writing for this new body of work Seán collaborated with Scots poet Rab Wilson who has a shared passion for Ayrshire’s mining history.
The Great Stariski is a follow-on from this creative partnership and sees Seán adapt Rab’s poem ‘The Great Stariski’, inspired by a famous Ayrshire mining story, to create a powerfully moving debut single that is underpinned by Seán’s rich Scots vocals and intricate guitar playing.
On this debut track, Seán’s vocals document the incredible story of Johnny Stariski, a miner with Polish origins, who worked at the Barony Colliery for much of his working life.
Rab worked alongside Johnny in the mid-late 70s and early 80s.
Johnny’s father and grandparents emigrated to Scotland just before the First World War.
Johnny was born in Scotland in 1928 and went on to marry a local Ochiltree girl.
A champion high board diver and bodybuilder, Johnny famously performed a handstand on the top girder of the Barony Colliery “A” frame.
This is the massive steel structure that is now preserved as an important piece of Scotland’s industrial heritage, and which still commands the landscape at the site of the Barony Colliery.
The “A” Frame holds the ‘Horrals’, the mighty wheels over which the winding ropes would be spun by the winding engines to raise and lower the miners almost 2,000 feet to and from their place of work.
With The Great Stariski beginning and ending with the echoing sounds of the pit’s winding engine, Seán Gray’s vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and wooden flute are accompanied by Joe Rattray (Admiral Fallow) on bass guitar and Stuart Brown (Blue Rose Code) on drums.
Speaking of the inspiration his heritage gives him, Seán said:
“The story of Johnny Stariski is legend where I come from and Rab’s fantastic poem captures the incredible feat beautifully so I really wanted to pay homage to the great endeavour and to Rab’s fantastic words with this debut release.
“Most of the poems I have used in my music are on the subject of Ayrshire mining and are all written in Lallans Scots.
“My Ayrshire upbringing is an incredibly important part of who I am as a person.
“I grew up in the village of Coylton speaking Lallans Scots and I have a long history of coal mining in my family.
“I also served an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer in a 100-year-old manufacturing factory that created equipment for mines, so the story and poem really spoke to me and I hope it will resonate with others too.”
A sought-after guitarist, flute player and singer, Seán has spent most of the past decade playing with the award-winning Paul McKenna Band who were cited by New York Times as “The best folk band to have come out of Scotland in the last twenty years”.
Also, an in-demand music teacher and session musician, Seán has played with a variety of high-profile acts across the world including The Outside Track, Shane Cook, Caroline Keane & Tom Delany and The Treacherous Orchestra.
The debut single was recorded by Joe Rattray with additional recording by Seàn and mixed by Joe at Seán’s shared studio space in Shawlands.
The track was mastered by Chris Waite.
The Great Stariski is available to download and stream now.