The great Scottish band the Tannahill Weavers to appear near Harrisburg, PA, April 7, 2013

Tannahill Weavers images, smOn Sunday, April 7, 2013 the great Scottish traditional band the TANNAHILL WEAVERS will be making their way to the Harrisburg, PA area for a 7:30 PM concert at the Camp Hill United Methodist Church located at 417 South 22nd Street, Camp Hill, PA 17011. The concert will be preceded by a 6:30 potluck dinner. Tickets are available online at or at the door.

Since their first visit to the United States in 1981, the Tannahills’ unique combination of traditional melodies on pipes, flute and fiddle, driving rhythms on guitar, and powerful three part vocal harmonies have taken the musical community by storm. As Garrison Keillor, the host of “Prairie Home Companion”, remarked, “These guys are a bunch of heroes every time they go on tour in the States”.

I had an opportunity to speak recently with one of the Tannahills–Roy Gullane– on Skype from his home in the Netherlands. We talked about the band’s history, music and upcoming concert on April 7th.


FOLK MAMA: We’re looking forward to your performance on April 7th at the Camp Hill United Methodist Church just outside of Harrisburg, PA. You’ve played for the Susquehanna Folk Music Society before, maybe six or seven years ago at the Whitaker Center. Don’t know if that strikes any memories.

GULLANE: Ohhhh…It all becomes a little bit of a blur after 45 years.

FOLK MAMA: So, that was my first question. How long have the Tannahill Weavers been together?

GULLANE: This current lineup (Roy Gullane-guitar/vocals, Phil Smillie-flute/bodran/whistles/vocals, John Martin-fiddle/cello/viola and Colin Melville-highland bagpipes,/Scottish small pipes/whistles) has been together for about 12 years, but the band has been going for about 45 years.

FOLK MAMA: Are you one of the original members?

GULLANE: Well, to all intensive purposes, yes. It gets a bit too complicated if I say more. We’re only dealing in minutes. So yes.

FOLK MAMA: I’m sure our readers won’t care about all the little nuances! Is it fair to say that there are two original members?

GULLANE: Yeah, Phil and myself.

FOLK MAMA: OK, we’ll just go with that. But the current lineup has been in place for about 12 years. Including your bagpipe player… he looks too young.

GULLANE: He’s the young guy, he’s the new boy. He’s only been with us for 12 years.

FOLK MAMA: And he studied to be an engineer first?

GULLANE: Yes, he got his degree in Civil Engineering. But he doesn’t have the slightest interest in doing engineering now. There are not a lot of folk musicians that are qualified Civil Engineers so there you go.

FOLK MAMA: So, 45 years is a very long time. I think our readers would be interested in hearing about some of the milestones of the band or things that happened during that time that you thought were particularly interesting.

GULLANE: Oh the whole thing has been interesting. The major thing has been that we won a Scotstar Award in the early days for one of our albums and we won an American award for the CD Capernaum. In 2011 we were inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame which I personally consider to be the pinnacle of the career so far. Yes, we’re bonafide Hall of Famers now!

FOLK MAMA: I also see on your website that there are certain countries that you visit with some regularity (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland& USA) , but where were some of the most exotic or different places that you’ve toured?

 GULLANE: Mexico and Cypress probably.

FOLK MAMA: So, in those two countries in particular, how much interest is there in Celtic music?

GULLANE: To be honest, not a lot. Those are not places that we’d expect to be going regularly. They are probably one-off visits but I must say when we went to Mexico we were playing in a couple of festivals and they wanted some Celtic music that particular year and it was fabulous. I don’t know if they ever had anything like our band before but they had huge audiences and people seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

FOLK MAMA: So, you band has been together for 45 years, and you’ve had all these great milestones and toured all over the world, and it seems like you have had some turnover in members. Has the style of music that you’ve played changed over the years?

GULLANE: We’ve had our share of changes of personnel, especially in the early days. But apart from the change 12 years ago, you’d have to go back a long, long time for another one. The music style has stayed pretty much the same. There’s a thread that runs through it. When you replace a member you try to do “like” with “like”. I certainly believe there has been a constant improvement in musicianship but there has never been a radical change

FOLK MAMA: And it seems like you have had a consistent commitment to including the Highland Bagpipes.

GULLANE: Yes, that’s true. That’s the kind of bagpipes that most people know. They are the pipes used for military parades in Scotland.

FOLK MAMA: I’ve always been curious about the differences between the music of the Highland Scots and the Lowland Scots; the Highlands being more the Gaelic, and the lowlands being the Anglo-Scots. In your biography you say that you perform the “duality of Scotland’s musical heritage” so I imagine that you are referring to these two distinct cultures?

GULLANE: Well we actually try to perform music from every part of Scotland. You know there is also the North east of Scotland which has a very Scandinavian kind of influence—the Vikings had a huge influence in Scottish culture. It’s not just been a Gaelic thing. And we just like to include a bit of everything in our show. The only thing we don’t do is we don’t sing in Gaelic. We play dance melodies from the Gaelic region, but we don’t sing in that language.

FOLK MAMA: So, what would people expect to hear if they came to one of your concerts?

GULLANE: Well, traditional music from all parts of Scotland, and we like to have a bit of fun while we are doing it. We like to raise a smile, earn a few chuckles.

FOLK MAMA: It’s all acoustic instruments. Is your repertoire all traditional or do you mix it up with some contemporary?

GULLANE: It’s for the most part traditional, and if we choose to do a contemporary number you probably won’t spot it because the songs that we write we write in a traditional style using Scots for the lyrics. That’s the language of my grandfather, old Scots—not Gaelic. The traditional songs that I sing are sung in the same language.

FOLK MAMA: So, they are not in English as we know it?

GULLANE: You’d be able to spot the English words there, but they are mixed in with words from the old Scots language. That’s always been the case. It’s from right around the Edinburgh area, that’s the dialect I am most familiar with.

(Here’s an example of traditional lyrics written in Scots:

I’m a stranger to this country, from America I came

There’s no one here that kens me nor yet can tell my name

I came o’er tae this country tae wander for a while

Far frae my bonnie dearie, aye monie’s the weary mile

Some say that I am rakish, some say that I am wild

Some say that I am guilty the lassies tae beguile

But I will prove them lying folk gin ye’ll come alang wi’ me

And be my leesome lassie on the plains o’ Americay )

FOLK MAMA: So, you do a mixture of songs and tune, and you do a lot of harmonizing?

GULLANE: Yes, three of us sing. The fourth one usually has his bagpipe in his mouth!

FOLK MAMA: Your latest CD is in 2006. Are you thinking of doing another one?

GULLANE: We’re always thinking of doing another one. Now if we could just get the time to do it! We do have a few projects going on at the moment. The flute player is at the point of releasing a solo album and I’ve got a project with a young accordion player that I have been chipping away at, and I’m at the mixing stage right now. But these are things that will appear at some point next year.

FOLK MAMA: And do you physically live in the Netherlands yourself?

GULLANE: Yup, that’s where I am right now.

FOLK MAMA: And why is that?

GULLANE: It’s a long story but it involved a woman!

FOLK MAMA: Does it make it challenging, getting together?

GULLANE: Well, it takes me longer to get to the airport than it does to get from the airport to Scotland. It’s not really a challenge though. We just set time aside to do things together.

FOLK MAMA: Is everyone else in Scotland?


FOLK MAMA: So you have an upcoming tour in the United States. We’re first on your tour so we’ll get you when you are a little jetlagged!  Anything you want to tell us about your tour; highlights besides coming to see us?

GULLANE: No, you’re definitely going to be a highlight of the tour! We’ll be visiting a lot of old friends;  revisit a lot of places, thankfully. We like that people want to have us back!

FOLKMAMA: Well thank you so much for speaking to me and it’s been great being able to see you too. We’ll be able to recognize each other on April 7th!

GULLANE: Yes, these things weren’t possible the last time that you booked us. My goodness, when I started coming to North America we used to go to a bank during the week and we would get a bag of quarters so that we could phone home on a Sunday at the cheap rate. You physically had to put all these quarters into the phone to phone home. Isn’t that amazing? We used to get like $20 in quarters back then and now you can talk for hours and see each other for nothing!

–March 26, 2013


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