Sandy Brechin is one of Scotland’s best known accordionists, famous for his lightning-fast playing and hilarious on-stage humour. He has developed his own unique approach to the art of accordion playing and his innovative style is instantly recognisable: a combination of slick, incredibly fast finger-work on the melody and a revolutionary method of syncopation on the bass. Sandy was the first in Scotland to play professionally the small 48 bass size of accordion, which is now pretty much his trademark. Despite its small size and range, Sandy gets a huge sound out of it.
Sandy grew up in the village of Kirkliston, West Lothian, just outside Edinburgh, and was taught accordion from the age of eight, firstly by the late Chrissie Leatham for many years and then later the free bass five row chromatic accordion by her son Owen Murray, now Professor of Accordion at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
From an early age Sandy played in public for his sisters’ highland dancing performances, and also at local events and accordion competitions. As a teenager, Sandy was very fortunate to join the Queensferry High School Country Dance Band, where his love of playing for ceilidhs began. Later, while studying at Edinburgh University, Sandy started his own ceilidh band, Ceilidh Minogue and the Fierce Bad Rabbits, with the Marwick brothers. Towards the end of his university career Sandy joined folk rock band Burach and started another group with the Wrigley sisters called Seelyhoo, both of which went on to secure records deals with the prestigious Greentrax label. Over the following years, Sandy appeared on many Greentrax albums (three with Bùrach, two with Seelyhoo and a solo album, plus guest appearances as a session musician on several other albums) and toured all over the world with Bùrach, Seelyhoo and The Sandy Brechin Band to USA, Canada, South America, Russia, Middle East, Far East, Australia and most of Europe.
In the early 90s Sandy formed his own ceilidh band, The Sensational Jimi Shandrix Experience, which has grown into one of Scotland’s best known ceilidh bands. Sandy also still regularly plays part-time with several other ceilidh bands such as Ceilidh Minogue, Cranachan and Ceilidhdonia.
In 1996, Sandy founded his own record label Brechin All Records, which has now grown into one of Scotland’s most successful independent folk music labels.
In 1997, Sandy almost made it into the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Do Re Me with Kerry’ and the song ‘Yodel in the Canyon of Love’. They played Live on The Lottery in the final of the Song for Britain contest, but were pipped at the post by Katrina and the Waves, who went on to win Eurovision that year with ‘Walking on Sunshine’.
A talented composer, Sandy has published a book of his own compositions, Out of His Mind, in conjunction with Taigh na Teud music publishers. Many of his tunes have been recorded by other bands such as Blazin’ Fiddles, Give Way and Iron Horse, and some of his tunes have been used recently in the new Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Scottish Music Graded Exam books. In the Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2014 competition on BBC TV, Tiree accordionist Ian Smith performed one of Sandy’s tunes ‘Sonically Justified’ in the final.
In 2014 Sandy was commissioned to compose a tune called ‘Stromash for Shelter Scotland’ to commemorate 45 years of the Shelter charity and played it in front of an invited audience as part of a celebratory performance along with actors Alex Norton and Claire Grogan.
Sandy is an Equity member and over the years has been involved in several theatrical productions: The Accidental Death of An Accordionist, The Miniatures, The Tour-a-Rural Ceilidh Band, A Victorian Christmas and Tales of a Grandson.
Sandy is a highly experience piano accordion tutor with a long history of teaching, both privately and for a variety of organisations in the UK and around the world. He has developed his own fingering method for the keyboard and a unique syncopated style of bass accompaniment, which many students have learnt to their benefit. He is the full-time accordion tutor at the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton, a government-funded post he has held for many years. He has produced two accordion DVD’s (again in conjunction with Taigh na Teud) – ‘Play Scottish Accordion’ Beginners and Intermediate versions – which have been ordered by accordionists all over the world, and is currently writing an accompanying teaching book. Sandy has taught workshops in America, Australia, New Zealand and in Europe, and at home teaches at several Feisean every year, such as Fèis Rois Inbhich (Ullapool), Fèis an Earraich (Isle of Skye), Fèis Dhùn Èideann (Edinburgh), Fèis Inbhir Narainn (Nairn), Fèis Lochabair (Fort William), Fèis sa Mheadhan (Stirling) and Fèis am Ploc (Plockton).
Sandy taught the accordion workshop at Celtic Connections Concert series in Glasgow for the first 15 years of the festival and has also taught Short Summer Courses at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye at the Traditional Music BA Course on the Isle of Benbecula and is a guest lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, Newcastle University, Edinburgh University and Tinto Summer School in the borders.
As well as managing the record company, Sandy still has an incredibly busy touring schedule all over the world.