Musical success is a surprise to ‘Paddy’
Norman, who was raised in Manor Park where he was known to friend and foe alike as ‘Paddy’, has been causing a bit of a stir on social media in recent months.
His wistful and charming acoustic songs – many of which centre on his early years in Lewis – have attracted a growing army of admirers. He only started writing seriously two years ago during the pandemic but slowly the buzz around his work has grown.
Iain Anderson of BBC Radio Scotland described ‘The Alchemists,’ his debut single about the Lewis herring girls, as “fascinating” and Norman has also recently been the focus of a two-page feature in The Herald newspaper.
On the eve of the release of his first album Torn, Norman, a youthful-looking 65, reflected warmly on the influence Stornoway has had on his work. “The place you grew up in will always be where you consider home.
“My memories still live there. Stornoway was a wonderful, safe and happy place to grow up in. The Castle Grounds was like our adventure playground. On Torn, there's a song called ‘Two Rivers’ about the Glen and the Creed rivers and the part they played in my childhood.
“From the age of nine, I lived on Portrona Drive. Our bit was the top half of Portrona and the bottom half of MacLeod Road. That's where we played three-and-in every night.
“As teenagers, we had the YMCA and Town Hall for dances, Maciver and Dart and DD Morrison’s for records and George Stewart’s, Nazir Bros, Sardar and Abdul for jeans.
“The town was always buzzing at weekends and on weekdays we had the Renden (Rendezvous café) and the YM to go to.
“I was lucky to have had loads of pals through the YM and through football (Norman starred as a skilful left-winger in the excellent Stornoway Rovers side of the early 1970s). I got to see a lot of the island playing football in places that townies rarely went to like Ness, Bragar and Harris.”
Always a music fan, with a wide taste from old favourites like John Prine and Bob Dylan to newer artists like Keb’Mo’, Blue Rose Code, Willie Campbell and Fin Napier, Norman was inspired to try his luck at songwriting when an old friend and fellow Sy songwriter Martin Flett posted a song on Facebook.
“I just thought that's so cool. It must take guts to do that,” he recalls. The horrors of the Covid pandemic which claimed the life of Colin Montgomery, a close friend from the Nicolson Institute days, also encouraged Norman to write.
“There's a song on my next album Stornoway called ‘Plenty Days’ which is about Colin's passing and about attending his socially distanced funeral.
“It starts with the lines ‘I'm sorry for your loss. We were pals back in the day’. We had reconnected on Facebook and met up in Inverness… had a great afternoon yarn, and promised to do it again but we never did. We just ran out of days.”
Norman’s own health also played a part in his songwriting development – last August he was struck down by a heart attack. “That came right out of the blue. I don't smoke, I rarely drink, I walk each day and I’m not overweight. Yet bang…it hit me.
“As you get older and as the reason for trips home changes from weddings to funerals you start to think about how long you might have left.
“You start doing mental sums…not in a morbid way but more about how you want to spend the last quarter of your life and to be as healthy as can be.
“There's a song on Torn about that called ‘Tides They Turn’ which I started writing as I was blue-lighted from Wishaw Hospital to Hairmyres Cardiology Unit. It's about how quickly things change.”
Though he now lives in Blantyre, where he and his wife Angela run Energy Bug a successful renewable energy company, Norman tries to visit Stornoway two or three times a year to meet friends and family – especially his mother Chrissie who is still going strong, aged 91.
His next visit will be extra special with an appearance on stage at An Lanntair on July 21 to tie in with the official release of Torn.
The album was recorded in the Borders and sees Norman backed by musicians such as Angus Lyons of Blazin’ Fiddles on accordion and keyboards, Anna Massie on guitar and mandolin, Suzy Wall, and Fin Napier. The end result has “a traditional acoustic feel,” says Norman.
The songs – many of which manage the not inconsiderable feat of being both melancholy and joyously uplifting – are showcased in a lovely sleeve by Stornoway artist Heather Afrin.
November will see the release of Norman’s second album, which was recorded at the Wee Studio on Lewis by his nephew Keith Morrison and has Astrid-frontman Willie Campbell as musical director.
“I've written twelve songs about growing up in Sy for my next album, which will simply be called Stornoway.
“They mention places like the Renden, The Lido cafe, The Flicks, Cromwell Street, Friday night pipe band marches, the Mitchell buses and people like Kenny Fags, Donnie Caesar, Jack in the Neptune and Chico in the Carlton.”
All this success coming relatively late in life has been a surprise to Norman and it makes him wary of predicting how his new career will develop.
“I started off with Willie Campbell's help and with me only writing words that he put to music. Then I fancied adding melodies so I bought a guitar. Then I wanted to get some of the tunes recorded and suddenly there is an album.
“Recently I've been throwing myself into live gigs around Glasgow and I also have two charity concerts in An Lanntair at the end of the year. But really, I’m just happy to take each step as it comes.
“There is no master plan.”
For more information visit www.normanpaterson.com