Scottish Trad band plays at Arden
Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 01:46 pm
Saturday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m.
5 St. Anne Street
Tickets: $35. Call 780-459-1542 or purchase online at ticketmaster.ca
Most people think of tradition as something that lives in the past. Not so Alasdair White.
“Tradition is something that keeps going. There is something added to it all the time, and therefore it stays current throughout its existence,” says White, a fiddler and small pipes player for Battlefield Band.
The four-piece has been Scotland’s flagship band for well over four decades, and continues to lead the charge with a rousing fusion of ancient and modern traditional music and song.
To date, Battlefield Band has released well over 30 albums. But they are no museum piece.
Strong proponents of music that is Gallic in origin, they have received embracing welcomes in 18 countries throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America.
On Saturday, March 29 the group arrives for a first-time performance at the Arden Theatre. Accompanying them is a fleet of instruments ranging from small pipes, whistles and bouzouki to guitar, bass and the fiercest of all – highland bagpipes.
White chuckles when it’s mentioned that some folk grit their teeth at the sound of high-volume bagpipes.
“If you hear them played badly, it will put you off. But if you hear them played well, it is a great musical instrument,” he counters.
The band is on a promotional tour of their new album, Room Enough For All, an 11-track that shows Battlefield at the top of their game as relevant contemporary composers and interpreters of Gallic music today.
The recordings, produced by Robert Morton, parades the band at their best using fiery instrumental dynamics, intuitive interplay and a deep consciousness of Scottish history and culture.
For instance, the opening song Bagpipe Music is drawn from a 1930s Irish poem written by Louis MacNeice about the modern age imposing on the older Scotland. On the surface, it’s a nonsense song. But it reflects the dilemma many folk artists face. Do they sell out and go mainstream, or do they continue chasing old traditions?
Farewell to Indiana is instead what White calls “a reverse immigration song.” A Scottish immigrant to the United States opts to return home to his roots after a prosperous life in the Americas. “It’s a bittersweet journey.”
Reflecting on the past, The Eight Men of Moidart regales the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.
“Many songs have been written about the uprising. But in this one, seven men in a field heard the news that Bonny Prince Charlie had landed. So they made a dance. But they needed eight men for a dance, so they stuck a shovel in the ground and made the eighth man.”
Since 1969 the group has been part of the great revival in Scottish music. Named after the Glasgow suburb of Battlefield, it was formed by four student friends living in the area at the time.
During the years there have been lineup changes and none of the original members remain. Instrumentalist-songwriter Alan Reid, the last remaining founder, departed in 2010 to pursue solo projects.
“We still feel connected to past members,” explains White. “Everyone brings new ideas. Hopefully musicians come through and leave their repertoire, their way of looking at things and their sensitivities. Everyone benefits from previous incarnations.”
Rounding out the current cabal is Mike Katz on bagpipes, Sean O’Donnell on vocals and guitar and Ewan Henderson playing fiddle, bagpipes and piano.
As top dogs, Battlefield Band has received two highly esteemed Scots Trad Music Awards. However, the accolades appear to be secondary to the music.
“We play music we know and love with an authenticity we find very satisfying. When we play music we love, everyone knows it and has a good time.”