Tall and slightly ungainly with a seemingly laid-back approach to both music and life, Kris Drever seemed an unlikely figure to be acclaimed in 2007 as one of the front-line new young heroes of Brit folk. Yet his gently relaxed singing, dexterous guitar accompaniments, and subtly inventive arrangements not only made an immediate impression on his peers, they struck a chord with a new young audience searching for music of roots, substance, and identity. Yet, despite being the son of Ivan Drever (singer with folk-rockers Wolfstone) and being raised in a folk music hotbed on the Scottish isle of Orkney, he initially rejected it all in favor of the pungent metal guitar sounds of Pantera and Metallica. He was 13 when he started playing guitar, but it wasn't until 1995 when -- at the age of 17 -- he left Orkney for Edinburgh and became embroiled in the thriving weekly sessions at Sandy Bell's pub that he started to take his music seriously. He also started playing banjo and double bass at the Tron Ceilidh House, and his versatility and mastery of a variety of styles -- including jazz, trad, and rock -- made him a popular figure on the exploding Edinburgh session scene. He was soon being asked to perform professionally with various Scots-based bands and musicians.
During regular Friday night sessions at Sandy Bell's, he met Irish singer/flute/whistle player Nuala Kennedy and Edinburgh fiddler Anna-Wendy Stevenson and formed the band Fine Friday with them, mixing traditional material with songs by contemporary writers like Boo Hewerdine and Steve Tilston. They toured Europe and Australia, recorded two CDs together, Gone Dancing (2002) and Mowing the Machair (2004), and were nominated for Best New Band at the 2004 Scottish Folk Awards. With Kennedy, he also joined the acoustic band Harem Scarem (playing on their album Let Them Eat Fishcake, 2002) and went on to form a partnership with another Harem Scarem bandmember and fellow Orcadian, fiddle player Sarah McFadyen, also a member of pop band Aberfeldy. Drever and McFadyen made a duet album, Sarah McFadyen & Kris Drever, and launched their own weekly Sunday afternoon music session in Edinburgh at the Royal Oak.
Drever also worked with the Battlefield Band, Cathie Ryan, John McCusker, and Karine Polwart, and further widened his musical horizons on tour playing jazz fusion music with Canadian fiddle player/trumpeter Daniel Lapp and English accordionist Martin Green. There was also a high-profile tour through the U.S. and Cuba with the dance stage show Celtic Fusion, featuring music composed by his father, Ivan. Other collaborations included the Gaelic band Tannas, and duets with Irish accordionist Leo McCann and Irish-American singer/songwriter Tim O'Brien. He also joined Kate Rusby's band and, at a concert one night in Derby in 2005, Rusby invited him to play a solo song. That song was enough to convince one member of the audience, Tom Rose -- founder of Derby indie label Reveal Records -- that he was ready to make a solo album.
Drever had never played a solo gig in his life up to that point, but jumped at the chance. Produced by John McCusker, the album Black Water featured a top-quality lineup of Brit folk supporting musicians, including Eddi Reader, Andy Cutting, Roddy Woomble, and Donald Shaw, and made an immediate impact when it was released late in 2006 with its enlightened arrangements of trad classics like "Patrick Spence" and "Green Grows the Laurel" and interesting choices of contemporary material, like Boo Hewerdine's "Harvest Gypsies" and Sandy Wright's "Beads and Feathers," which was released as a limited-issue single. Drever went on to win Best New Act at the 2007 BBC Folk Awards, where he also played live with Rosanne Cash, and at the age of 28 was hailed as one of the brightest lights on the Brit folk scene. By then he was already looking ahead, having formed yet another new band -- LAU -- with Martin Green and Aidan O'Rourke, who released their own debut album, Lightweights & Gentlemen, to great acclaim. All three members of LAU are also part of the occasional left-field seven-piece folk-jazz fusion band Parallelogram. ~ Colin Irwin