When Ranald Macdonald has a mad idea, he goes through with it. “I’m mad about all things that are a little bit mad,” he tells me.
He has conquered London’s social scene with his Boisdale restaurants and a matching magazine. But what’s next on his list?
It turns out that Macdonald wants to get an album into the charts. The vinyl charts that is.
“I’m mad about vinyl,” he says. “I love collecting it, I love the feel of it, and the sound is so much better.”
He’s not alone. The latest figures from the BPI show that vinyl sales now make up one in 10 purchases of physical music formats in the UK.
Some combination of nostalgia and music purism has combined to make the market ripe for someone with a keen sense of the good old days to launch something special.
Enter Macdonald and his new friend Rebecca Ferguson. The singer, originally known for her soulful performances as runner-up on the seventh series of The X Factor, has since gained acclaim as a master vocalist of jazz and blues, with four albums reaching the UK’s top 10.
After she performed at Boisdale last year, Ferguson and Macdonald struck up a somewhat unlikely partnership, with Ferguson even joining the Macdonald clan for Boxing Day.
Together, they came up with the idea of a series of live dinner shows at Boisdale and a vinyl recording of one of the performances.
Ferguson tells me in a conversation snatched amid her hectic rehearsal schedule that fans have previously asked her why she has never released a vinyl record. Her warm vocals seem to be begging for the full package of an LP, with a sophisticated piece of cover art to match.
“I’ve always liked vinyl artwork, I used to get album sleeves and look at the beautiful art,” she says.
Now she will have her portrait painted in watercolour, evoking classic designs of the vinyl golden age.
But the record is only one part of the plan; Macdonald hopes the venture will be the first in a series of residencies at Boisdale and matching vinyl releases, to be called “The Boisdale Sessions”.
Macdonald is full of confidence that Ferguson will kick off the project in style: “She’s an amazing singer and songwriter, what better way to start?”
Performing in the cosy environment over dinner and drinks is an enticing prospect for both performers and audiences alike, Ferguson explains.
“Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, all those singers, even when they were doing really well they’d still do the club circuit. They’d sing and interact, they might go to the cigar room or have a drink with the audience at the bar afterwards. It was very social.”
And just as music fans see the possession of a respectable vinyl collection as the antidote to the mass-produced global industry, so Ferguson is excited to exercise her creative freedom with this new project.
“I came from a bit of a processed version of music and now I’m in a place where I’m creatively free and getting to do things that I enjoy.”
Though the performances will be intimate, Macdonald sees the potential for a wider take-up of the album. “I’m hopeful we may capture people,” he says, adding that he’s “quite excited by the way the market might react”. Around 10,000 sales could even put the album into the UK’s weekly vinyl album charts.
He’s confident too that this has the potential to appeal beyond the circle of Boisdale regulars. “It’s [for] anyone who’s got a record player who loves great music.
“This is very accessible, with some of the greatest songs ever written, sung by one of the greatest jazz singers of our time.”
For the next two weeks, Ferguson will be the resident songstress of Boisdale in Canary Wharf. But who will come next if the project proves to be a success?
Macdonald wants to keep Ferguson in the spotlight for now, but promises rock and roll and country acts are both on the cards.