He’s been showered with awards and critical acclaim, his music has cropped up in countless TV programmes, he’s a respected writer, and yet Tom McRae remains something of a best-kept secret.
No doubt about it, he is one of the very best singer-songwriters to emerge from the UK in many a year - and he has a hugely loyal fan base who’ll travel many miles to see his shows which mix heartbreaking ballads and stories rich in humour and warmth.
I first encountered McRae when a friend took me along to his Hotel Cafe project as it rolled into what was then the Waterloo Bar in Edinburgh, circa 2007. She knew most of the crowd there already thanks to the online network who exchanged views, gig info and forged friendships that led to catch-ups in the front rows of venues across the UK.
Hotel Cafe was a concept which a rolling review of musicians share the same bill, perform each other’s songs evens, act as the backing band and then have their moment in the spotlight.
Back then, McRae was joined by a raft of amazing performers - Jim Bianco, Greg Laswell and and the fabulous Brian Wright and the Waco Tragedies
During breaks in the show they’d mingle with fans, chat about music and you’d go ho,me with a CD or two - or, in my case, a CD plus a pic of me with Brian Wright whose musical links with McRae have endured over the years
The last time I saw him was in The Arches at Glasgow accompanied by a string quartet. Again, his music soared round the brick tunnel of a venue.
His albums are rich with memorable songs - ballads which can be sombre or a powerful confessional, as well as stirring the senses with rousing, swirling choruses.
He’s had all the comparisons - Nick Drake, Dylan, Nick Cave etc - while his growling lyrics on his 2015 album ‘Did I Sleep And Miss The Border’ brought to mind the remarkable Tom Waits.
His seven albums released over a decade and more have undoubtedly merited much more attention, but to his fans, they showcase a truly outstanding singer-songwriter.
If his music is new to you, then check out ‘My Vampire Heart’ or the thundering ‘Bloodless’ on Youtube - and if you like them, then time spent unearthing his past work will be richly rewarded.
While the songs may often by serious and even sombre at times, McRae - like so many other singer-songwriters - is witty and engaging on stage. He’ll make you laugh and then he’ll make your jaw drop with song from the heart.
And if you think you’ve heard him somewhere then .. you have.
His songs have cropped up in numerous TV shows - take your pick from Hollyoaks to Skins, from Buffy to Six Feet Under, and even Holby City have all turned to his playlist to capture a moment of anguish, loss or a life-changing event.
He’s also songwriter with lots to say - on social media and in print and blogs, McRae is eloquent, witty and direct. His open letter to Russell Brand on the eve of the last General Election simply started “Oh, shut up…”,
A festival such as ButeFest is surely the perfect setting to be introduced to his music and his wonderful live shows.
*Click here to visit ButeFest’s website for further information and to get your tickets.