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  • Writer's pictureKate Clarke

Big Road, The Caithness Sessions

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

The sleeve notes to Terry Clarke's album: Big Road, The Caithness Sessions.

During August 2005 I toured as part of The Unholy Trinity with Wes McGhee and Ronny Elliott. We did a lot of miles, didn't make a lot of money and we did have a lot of fun. Saw some old friends and made some new ones. One of the highlights of the tour for the three of us was a concert we played at the Lighthouse at Dunnet Head, in Caithness, Scotland.

Dunnet Head is the northernmost part of mainland Great Britain. It looks over the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands.

I have travelled extensively in Scotland for twenty years and I lived on the edge of the Western Highlands for three years, from 2002 until spring of 2005. It has many moods, colours and subcultures but I found Caithness a truly amazing experience. The lighthouse is now the home of John Sutherland, aka 'Johnny Fats'. John and his son, Isaac host concerts and run a recording studio/production

company there.

The performance space has been created in the area that once housed the turbines to power the foghorns. The waters of the Pentland Firth are some of the most hazardous for shipping around the coast of Britain.

John and Isaac were keen for us to stay and do some recording, but we had to drive down to Stranraer and catch the ferry to Belfast for some Northern Ireland shows. However, we became good friends and kept in touch. In May 2006 I went back to this beautiful headland

and stayed for a week. I did another show there, this time accompanied by John and Isaac and began work on what is now Big Road, The Caithness Sessions.

Sutherland Blues features the stunning voice of 23 year-old Mina Taylor, from Tain, Ross and Cromarty. She is also currently at work on and album there with John and Isaac. Kodiac is based on family letters graciously shared with me by my friend Jason Marshall, a Caithness man, now resident in Dunoon, Argyll. Loch Carron is for Joseph Clarke, my dear, beloved father, who passed away in April 2004.

Maggie Fraser's Loch Fyne Rambles and Go 'long Lonnie show the influence of producer Brendan O'Brien (Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, among others) on Isaac's production work. Maggie features 32 snare drums. I've produced several of my previous albums but for this project I was completely happy to let Isaac take that role. As well as having a great intuitive imagination as a producer he is a truly wonderful young musician (26 years old at the time of writing this.) The aural landscape he created for Go 'Long Lonnie and Going Down to Campbelltown still amazes me every time I hear them.

John Sutherland's lead guitar lines remind me of the dream trajectories Jerry Garcia used to take flight on - Highland Blues, that draws on ancient Scottish laments as we all the surf guitar of the Ventures' Nokie Edwards, and the jazz of Gabor Szabo and John McLaughlin. From the 'Atomic Town' bars of 1950's Thurso into the 21st Century, John plays the soundtrack of that journey.

Between May 2006, when we started this album, and now, I have made three journeys from West Wales to the lighthouse at Dunnet Head, a 1400 mile round-trip each time. Every step, jumping over the lighthouse beam sweeping the ground in the wee, wee hours as I crept to bed, and every mile of the road, was worth it.

John, Isaac I thank you.

Terry Clarke, Carmarthenshire, West Wales, September 2007.

Album dedicated to Joseph Clarke 1915 - 2004 and remembering Jesse 'Guitar' Taylor and Les Daniels.

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