Scottish musician Neil Armstrong is making music and enjoying life in rural Andalucía. / JASON P. HOWE

From the west coast of Scotland to rural Andalucía

Neil Armstrong. The classically trained musician talks to SUR in English about his latest album, and how his name has been a blessing and a curse

TONY BRYANT

The lockdown in 2020 caused confusion and disruption for people all over the world, but there were those who found the forced confinement the ideal opportunity to concentrate on projects they had not previously had the time to fulfil. One of these people is Neil Armstrong, a 45-year-old classically trained multi-instrumentalist who seized the opportunity to produce his first album, Nearly Life. The lockdown gave Neil the excuse he needed to dedicate time to the project: being a father of two young children while also holding down a full-time job had until then prevented him from fulfilling his dream of recording his first solo album.

It was by coincidence that he met a lyricist called David Will Mitchel just before the pandemic hit, and the pair began working together on a collection of soulful rock songs.

Another turning point came when he met renowned Spanish musician and producer José María Sagrista, former guitarist with Andalusian rock band Triana. José played on, and produced, the recording, which received critical acclaim. The success of the first recording prompted Neil and his creative writing partners to begin work on a second album, which will be released on 22 September.

"This sounds terrible, but the lockdown actually gave me a thinking space I really hadn't had in years. This is when I set up my home studio and started working with David and we launched the first album, Neil explains to SUR in English.

Born in Oban, Scotland in 1976, Neil began singing in the local church choir at an early age. By the age of eight, he was learning to play classical piano, and at the age of 14, he got a scholarship to go to a private school in Perthshire, which is why, as he points out, he has a "plummy accent".

His parents are both music lovers, so Neil was surrounded by music practically from birth.

"My parents were always singing because they both have beautiful voices. We always had a piano in the house, so singing was always a unified thing in our home," the 45-year-old musician says.

Neil enrolled at St Andrews University to study French, and it was during his time at the seven-hundred-year-old facility that he began mixing with folk musicians and recording for the first time.

However, Neil's musical career was put on the back burner while he trained to be a chef, a trade that originally brought him to Spain.

He quickly gained a reputation for his professionalism, securing work in top restaurants and hotels in London, Italy and France. He eventually opened his own consultancy agency, so he had little time for his music. One of his regular catering private client contracts was at a 'cortijo' in Gaucín. Neil started working at the country estate in 2008, and eight years later, he was offered the position of managing the complex full time.

By then he had fallen in love with the area, the people and the lifestyle, so Neil accepted the position and came to live in Spain in 2016.

"I feel very at home here. We bought a house in Gaucín, the children go to a Spanish school and the local people are so helpful. It is a great thing from a family point of view, because the place where you have your family becomes a real home," he declares.

Neil is now excited about his second album, Finding a Way Home, a collection of songs that explore themes of darkness and light on a journey homeward. He is hoping that the new album, released next Wednesday, will have the same, if not better, response as the first, although, as he says, having such a famous name will not necessarily be a defining aspect of the recording's success.

"My parents christened me Neil simply because they liked the name, not because of the astronaut. Of course, they realised the implications. This has been a blessing and a curse on my musical career. Many people who are searching for the speeches of the first moon landing come across my music, which is the upside. But, because my music is nestled in with the clips of Armstrong's speeches, I never reach the top of Spotify," he concludes.

Find out more about Neil's music at https://ditto.fm/finding-a-way-home