"Spindrift" - An Album is Born

The place was a concert stage in Folkets Hus at Järntorget in Gothenburg, Sweden. Celtic Connections was just finishing a highly appreciated concert before a full house, as a part of the 1995 Gothenburg Irish Festival. The endorphin flowed on stage, the Guinness flowed in the audience, and the happiness was overwhelming.

”Thank you very much and goodnight” said the pianist Greg McDermott in his microphone. ”See you next year” added the guitarist Emil Pernblad.

What nobody knew at this point was that there wouldn't be any next year for Celtic Connections. Shortly thereafter Greg McDermott had to leave the band due to time constraints. The band leader Jonathan McCullough and I (i.e. the fiddler Jonas Liljeström) looked for a replacement for some time but couldn't find anyone suitable, with the result that the band dissolved.

Shortly before the dissolution of the band, we had recorded a full length album with the working title ”Spindrift” at a studio called Bohus Sound Recording in Kungälv just north of Gothenburg. When the band broke up the project was shelved, and when Jonathan passed away in 1999 the rmaster tapes on which the album had been recorded went missing. Life went on, and to be honest none of us gave much thought to the unfinished album.

The idea of releasing the album after all these years came originally from my wife Marita Johansson, who is a singer herself with Jewish and Romani folk music on her repertoire (among other styles). I had told her about ”Spindrift” - she became enthusiastic and thought we should mix and release it. Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I began investigating the whereabouts of the lost tapes.

I started by contacting Greg McDermott. I knew that he was the band member who had been most frequently in touch with Jonathan's family after his death, so it seemed most likely that he knew what had become of the tapes. Greg did in fact have a tape in his possession which he believed contained ”Spindrift”, but on closer examination it turned out to be the master of Celtic Connections' first album – an EP which we released in 1993.

Greg did however have a cassette tape on which we had recorded a raw mix of ”Spindrift” which I borrowed. I felt quite tense when I sat down to listen to the recording – it had been more than twenty years since the last time I heard it and I wasn't sure if the music would still be up to scratch after all these years. Much to my relief and delight, it sounded fantastic!

Emil Pernblad had become a very talented recording technician over the years – I told him of the idea to release the album and asked if he'd be willing to help mixing the tracks. After having listened to the raw mix, he became enthusiastic as well and happily agreed to engage himself in the project.

The idea was originally to release ”Spindrift” under very modest circumstances – as a completely digital release intended for streaming and downloading, and not as a physical album. At this stage we felt that the main priority was to make the album accessible to the general public, and a strictly digital release was the cheapest and easiest way of going about it. However, even the cheapest way of going through with the project would come at great expense. Consequently, I contacted Mikael Ringlander of the Church of Sweden, who had been a co-organizer during the Gothenburg Irish Festival, to ask if he would be interested in co-financing the project.

Mikael, it turned out, became thrilled by the prospect of releasing the music. Not only did he agree to co-finance the project, he also wanted to release ”Spindrift” as a physical CD. Svenska Kyrkans Kultursamverkan – a cultural organization for which he was the project manager – had developed out of the Church of Sweden's co-operation with the Gothenburg Irish Festival, and to participate in releasing the album would be a way of paying homage to the roots of the organization. Jonathan McCullough had also been a close friend of Mikael Ringlander, and he saw the release of ”Spindrift” as a way of honouring Jonathan's memory.

At this point I also got in touch with the other two band members in Celtic Connections – trumpeter Kristin Lidell and tin whistle-player David Stiernholm – to ask if they wanted in on the project too. They enthusiastically agreed.

The main question remained however: what had become of the master tapes? It seemed likely that one of Jonathan's siblings had them. Aided by contact information given to me by Mikael Ringlander, I phoned Jonathan's brother Derek McCullough in Northern Ireland – it turned out that he had the tapes and agreed to mail them to me.

When the tapes eventually arrived, some confusion arose – there were ten tunes on the cassette tape with the raw mix, but there were only eight tune titles written on the boxes where the tapes were stored. It appeared that one of the tapes might be missing. I called Derek again, explained the situation and asked if he was sure that he'd sent all the tapes he had. He could only confirm that this was the case; he was positive that the three tapes he'd posted to me were the only ones in his possession.

I already knew that the tapes would require quite a bit of preparation before the music could be mixed. They needed to be digitized in a studio, but I had also been informed that the particular model of master tapes we'd used had a construction fault which caused the top layer of the tape to start sticking together after approximatly twenty years. Consequently, they needed to be ”baked” – in effect be placed in a baking oven and exposed to high temperatures and then slowly cool off again – before they could be used. The digitization would then have to take place within two weeks after the baking. So at that point, it was impossible to know for certain what exactly was on those tapes – I could only wait impatiently until the tapes could be baked and digitized before I could find out.

It was with great excitement that I brought the freshly baked tapes to the Swedish Gramophone Studio in Gothenburg to have them digitized. To my relief, all the tapes had been well preserved and sounded good, but as I suspected two of the tracks we'd recorded were missing. It was obvious that one of the tapes had gone missing and could not be recovered. However, we came to the conclusion that the tracks that were missing from the master tapes were so beautiful that it would be a shame to discard them. Instead, we've recreated them from the cassette tape with the raw mix to the best of our ability, and they are enclosed as bonus tracks at the end of the album.

So this is the story of the "Spindrift". We're delighted that this lost Celtic music can finally be presented to the world, and we hope and trust that you'll enjoy it!

Jonas Liljeström, 2018