March 26, 2017: The Outside Track to perform Celtic music in Harrisburg

The Outside Track, a Celtic group performing Scots, Irish, and Cape Breton tunes, songs, and step-dance comes to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 26, 2017, at 7:30 p.m., at the Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street. The group features vocals, electric harp, flute, whistle, fiddle, and guitar.

For information on the band members visit http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/OutsideTrack.html

The Outside Track was named Group of the Year in both the Live Ireland awards and the TIR awards and was nominated for a Scots trad award. The group’s latest CD, “Light Up the Dark,” was nominated for Best Album in the 2016 Indie Acoustic Project Awards.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

We had a chance to speak to the band’s accordion player Fiona Black about the origins of The Outside Track and what audiences should expect.

FOLKMAMA: I understand that throughout the history of the band you have had members from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and the United States. Did you start out with the idea to become a Pan-Celtic band?

FIONA: It really didn’t start out as a concept band. We met in Limerick in Ireland at University. Originally it was myself and Ailie (we are the two Scottish members) and we also had a couple of Irish members at the very beginning and a Canadian member.

It has always seemed natural that we would play music from the countries that we were from. That’s how it came about and we have continued to do that.

FOLKMAMA: Would it be easy for an audience member to figure out the country of origin for the tunes or songs that you play?

FIONA: We all play music from our own regions and our own countries, but honestly there are many more similarities than differences between the music from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton.

FOLKMAMA: Can you describe your performances?

FIONA: Well, they are really quite lively. About half of what we do are tunes and the other half songs.  We do different arrangements of tunes; some traditional ones and some that we have invented. Each instrument is showcased at different points and we all work together on harmonies and chords. The fiddle player is the dancer. She does Cape Breton style of dancing which is really close to the floor and really beautiful.

FOLKMAMA: Who is in the band and where are they from?

FIONA: Teresa Horgan is the lead singer and flute and whistle player. She’s from County Cork in Ireland. And then Ailie Robertson is the harp player in the band—she plays electric harp. She creates a lot of the bass lines and a lot of the texture as well. And she’s from Edinburgh in Scotland. My name is Fiona Black and I’m from the Highlands in Scotland and I play the piano accordion. And then we have Emerald Rae who’s from Boston. She’s the fiddle player and the step dancer in the band. She spent a lot of time in Cape Breton. And then Eric MacDonald is also from Boston and he’s the guitar player in the band.

FOLKMAMA: How long have you been playing together?

FIONA: We started about 10 years ago. Ailie and I are the two original members left.

FOLKMAMA: Anything you want the readers to know?

FIONA: We just put a new music video out on Facebook. We have another week in the tour and then off we’ll go to Germany. We’ll be back in the US in August!

FOLKMAMA: Is this the main gig for everyone?

FIONA: We tour about six months out of the year. We all have different side projects, other bands and different teaching projects and composing project—but for everyone this is the main band.

 

 

 

Master Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas to delight audeinces in Harrisburg, PA on Sunday, April 27th!

By John Hope

Alasdair and Natalie, smallMaster Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and dynamic young American cellist Natalie Haas, who have teamed up for appearances in Scotland, Spain, France, and throughout the U.S., come to central Pennsylvania on Sunday, April 27, 2014, for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society matinee concert at 4 p.m. at Appalachian Brewing Company’s Abbey Bar, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg

 

“People may be familiar with the gorgeous, melodic cello sound,” Fraser says, “but they’re surprised to learn that the cello used to comprise the rhythm section in Scottish dance bands. Natalie Haas unleashes textures and deep, powerful rhythms that drive fiddle tunes. We can ‘duck and dive’ around each other, swap melody and harmony lines, and improvise on each other’s rhythmic riffs. She has such a great sense of exploration and excitement for the music; it’s a joy to play with her.”

 

Alasdair Fraser, hailed by the San Francisco Examiner as “the Michael Jordan of Scottish fiddling,” is a consummate performer whose dynamic fiddling, engaging stage presence, and deep understanding of Scotland’s music have created a constant international demand for his solo appearances and concerts with a variety of ensembles for more than 30 years. He is credited with being a major force behind the resurgence of traditional Scottish fiddling in his homeland and the U.S.

 

Fraser has been featured on more than 100 TV and radio shows in the UK and on several US national broadcasts, including Prairie Home Companion and Thistle and Shamrock. He has released several critically acclaimed albums, including the Indie Award-winning Dawn Dance (Best Celtic Album of 1996).

 

Haas is a Juilliard School graduate who is accomplished in a broad array of fiddle genres in addition to her extensive classical training. She was encouraged to explore the cello’s potential for rhythmic accompaniment to Celtic fiddle tunes while a student at Fraser’s Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School. Fire & Grace, her 2004 album with him, was awarded Best Album of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards. She also has toured extensively as a member of Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz Trio. She teaches privately, at workshops and fiddle camps, and at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

 

In addition to their concert, Fraser and Haas will present an Arts in Education program at Harrisburg School District’s Foose School, with support from the Hall Foundation, the Lois Grass Foundation and the Foundation for Enhancing Communities.

 

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com. Funding is provided by the Cultural Enrichment Fund and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, administered locally by the Cultural Alliance of York County. “Your Name in Lights” sponsors for this event are Fred and Kathy Fries. The concert is presented in collaboration with Greenbelt Events. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

Dynamic Acadian Music and Dance with Vishtèn, 7:30 February 16th in Harrisburg, PA

imgallery-VISH_Trio-1cropped

Vishtèn is a traditionally oriented group of musicians who members are from two different Acadian communities in Canada—onefound on Prince Edward Island and the other on the Magdalen Islands. The group draws from the Acadian heritage of the area, as well as from the Irish and Scots immigrants who the Acadians co-mingled with. The group creates a lively up-beat dance hall fusion sound that’s frequently punctuated by foot percussion and step dancing.

Vishtèn features twin sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc who join forces with Pascal Miousse.

Vishtèn is scheduled to play for the Susquehanna Folk Music Society at 7:30 PM, Sunday, February 16, 2013 at the Abbey Bar of the Appalachian Brewing Company located at 50 N. Cameron St in Harrisburg, PA 17101. This is a sit-down concert in a listening room environment.  Free parking is available behind the building.

Tickets are $23 and are available in advance at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/436456 or at the door.

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I had a really interesting conversation with Vishtèn member Pastelle LeBlanc about Acadian music and dance and what their band is doing to refresh and enliven the Acadian traditions.

FOLKMAMA: So for this concert coming up, what will people see and hear?

PASTELLE: We’re going to be doing some music and dance from the Acadian tradition. My sister Emmanuelle and I have been step dancing for quite a while and we’ll be presenting some Acadian steps which are a totally different style than Irish stepdancing. There will be a bit of sitting down dance, which is foot percussion done with actual steps.

So the people will be able to see some of that as well as hear high energy Acadian tunes.

We’ll  also be singing some songs.  Most of the songs are kind of old songs that we have reworked, keeping the nice melodies but adding some modern influences. All of us sing and there will be about 12 instruments on stage.

FOLKMAMA: Which instruments?

PASTELLE: There’s fiddle, guitar, mandolin, octave mandolin, accordion, harmonium, whistles, piano, bodhrán, jaw harp, moog, and electric guitar.

FOLKMAMA: And you compose a lot of your pieces?

PASTELLE: Yes, we create a lot. We try to mix the old and the new and keep it interesting.

FOLKMAMA: Could you please give us a little history of the Acadian culture?

PASTELLE: The Acadians were from France and about 400 years ago traveled to start a new life in Acadia which was in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Islands. They got established there for about 150 years before there was a great deportation so a lot of Acadians got deported back to France or to many parts of the United States, especially Louisiana.

Many of the Acadians that remained after the deportation didn’t have the money to buy instruments, but a way for them to keep the music alive was through “mouth music”, so that’s a big part of the Acadian culture. The foot taping was used to help keep the beat and to help the dancers. There is also very distinctive swing to the Acadian style. So the bowing is kind of a “shuffle” bowing.

There is still a strong connection between Acadians throughout the world. We have Acadian congresses– this summer there’s one. It’s a reunion of all the Acadian cultures–Cajun cousins in the United States, Acadians in France and Acadians throughout Atlantic Canada.

FOLKMAMA: I’m curious about that distinctive swing style that you were just mentioning. Has Acadian music always had that swing, or is it a new development?

PASTELLE: I think it is a bit more recent. One of the stories that Pascal tells is from the Magdalen Islands. A lot of the fishermen play fiddle and so they say that the syncopated rhythm kind of imitates the sound of the engines from the fishing boats. So the fiddler would be on the fishing boat the whole day and get back on the island at night and it would make sense that they would still have the engine’s rhythm in their ears.

FOLKMAMA: What about your growing -up years? How has being a set of twins influenced your music?

PASTELLE: We grew up in a household where there was lots of music. Hearing the same music and having the same influences has definitely affected the way that we create arrangement. We don’t notice it but people say that we talk basically the same and even our singing voices are very similar. It’s kind of a twin thing of knowing what the other thinks or is going to say and I guess that kind of transpires into the music as well.

Pascal is from the Magdalen Islands and he started playing fiddle when he was about four or five years old. He actually has a twin brother and sister so he understands the twin thing. He has a very instinctive traditional feel. He’s very creative, and he composes a lot. He plays the fiddle but also guitar and mandolin, anything with strings. He’s a big force in the band.

Irish music with CILLIAN and NIALL VALLELY along with ALAN MURRAY , Sept 15, Harrisburg, PA

niall and cillian hiresThree of the greatest names in traditional Irish music today, all acclaimed soloists in their own right, are coming together this fall for a unique U.S. concert tour, and Harrisburg will be one of their early stops. Brothers CILLIAN and NIALL VALLELY along with ALAN MURRAY will appear in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg.

Known worldwide for their work with the Irish acts Lúnasa, Nomos, and Karan Casey, the Vallely brothers hail from Armagh City in the north of Ireland. They are being joined by Scottish guitarist and singer Alan Murray.

Cillian Vallely is the uilleann pipes and low-whistle player with Lúnasa, praised by Irish Voice as the “hottest Celtic band on the planet. Niall Vallaly has been recognized throughout the world as one of Ireland’s greatest concertina players. Alan Murray is a highly respected guitarist and singer who has toured extensively across Ireland, Britain, Australia, and the U.S.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS members. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at www.BrownPaperTickets.com. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society web site at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

The interview below with Cillian Vallely was conducted and edited for Susquehanna Folk Music Society by Lesley Ham, Sept 2, 2013

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Lesley: First of all, we’re looking forward to you coming here; we’re excited to hear you.

Cillian: Yes, I was there about seven years ago with Lunasa. We had a nice time, it’s good to be going back there now.

Lesley: Usually, we’re used to seeing you with Lunasa, but this is the first time I’ll be seeing you with your brother.

Cillian: Yes, we grew up playing together. We both started when we were very young. We started playing formal concerts and tours about 2001-2002. We decided to record an album together, Callan Bridge. We put together tunes to record and went on the road.

Lesley: Callan Bridge is the only one you’ve done together, right?

Cillian: Yes, it’s about 10 or 11 years old now; maybe we should get cracking on another one.

Lesley: Yes, you should. It seems surprising that you haven’t.

Cillian: In the last year and a half we started playing a bit more together, we’ve got some new stuff.

Lesley: That’s great. It’s also surprising that it took so long to put an album together since you’ve been playing together since you were kids.

Cillian: Niall left Armagh when he was 18 to go to Cork (Niall got his Bachelors of Music degree from University College Cork) and two years later when I was 18 I went to England and then from England to America, so I wasn’t really around much for 10 years after that. We’d meet up at Christmas or whenever. We’d only play with our parents, we never played formally. We didn’t have set tunes or a program that we could do. That only came about for the album. We had barely played as adults until that point.

Lesley: Your parents started the Armagh Pipers Club over 40 years ago. That must have been fun growing up in such a musical family.

Cillian: Yes, it was always there; I don’t know anything else. That was just the reality of growing up. My parents ran a club of about 100 kids, we just went to the classes with everybody else. There was always music and concerts. We even did a few tours as a family when I was 10 or 11 years old. I remember we went to Switzerland and France. So I had an early feeling for going on tour and going on stage.

Lesley: That’s quite young!

Cillian: I only have one upbringing, so I don’t know how to compare not having that music.

Lesley: So, when it came time for you and Niall to put together your album, how did you choose what to put on it?

Cillian: There are few different elements. We got a few sets of things we’d always played, things we learned from our parents, standard tunes; and then both of us had a lot of tunes we knew that nobody else played, old, traditional tunes, so we did a bit of research and found tunes that suited the instruments; and then Niall also composes tunes, so he had 5 or 6 tunes that he hadn’t recorded with anyone else that suited the pipes. So a mixture of new stuff and very old stuff from manuscripts; a varied program.

Lesley: Do you also compose tunes?

Cillian: Yes, recently I’ve written quite a few tunes that Lunasa did on the last album. Some of them I wrote 10 to 15 years ago, but only recently got the confidence to let them loose.

Lesley: I’m glad you got brave enough to let us listen to them!

Cillian: I don’t do it a lot, but sometimes you find yourself doodling and then develop a melody. It’s always a bit nervy playing for someone else; it can be a humbling experience.

Lesley: Do you still have that session in New York?

Cillian: No, but there are always sessions most days of the week in Manhattan I can sit in.  But when I’m back home I play. Most of my friends play; it’s as much as a sociable evening out as a musical one. When I’m home for a while I like to get out and see everybody and have a few drinks with them.

Lesley: Your parents’ philosophy is that listening is just as important as learning how to play the instrument.

Cillian: At the Piper’s Club, they were very against the competition angle of music for children, in favor of putting together groups and doing concerts and arrangements. They’ve always been keen to stress that element of music, listening to each other; fiddle players play with pipers and flute players. Everybody is taught as a group. The focus is on the music itself and the ensemble and social aspect of it. Pipers tend to be all around musicians instead of solo pipers. I think that’s a healthy way to teach young people. People can play with all instruments and all styles. You get a balanced musical education at the Pipers Club.

Lesley: You have an album with Kevin (Crawford from Lunasa, On Common Ground). How did that come about?

Cillian: We’re always playing a certain style with Lunasa so we decided to do something different, a little less arranged, with lower instruments called flat pipes, that give a mellow sound. It’s a relaxed album. I enjoyed doing that; it’s a different style of music than I play with Lunasa or Niall. For a few years we did a lot of concerts, just myself and Kevin, or myself, Kevin and a guitarist.

Lesley: That sounds nice. We’ll have to bring you back with that ensemble! I notice that Karan Casey is your sister-in-law. Your family holidays must be fun.

Cillian: It’s more social; we all get together and our children play together while we chat. I often play with Niall and Caoimhin (his younger brother, who plays the piano, tin whistle, and fiddle) and Karan. Karan often sings with Lunasa, so I end up doing quite a few gigs a year with Karan, but we don’t do a lot of casual playing. It’s the nature of when it’s your profession. We’re usually playing formally, so it’s nice when we have a casual night.

Lesley: Do your daughters play?

Cillian: Not yet. One is three and one just turned six. I want them to play forever, so I’m not going to force them yet; let them run around the park. When they’re ready for an instrument hopefully they’ll take it serious.

Lesley: Thank you. We look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

Cillian: See you around.

 

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 http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/303049 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.

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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?

GULLANE: Yes.

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

Scottish Music from the Paul McKenna Band Performing October 1 in Camp Hill, PA

PAUL McKENNA BAND STORY

By Kira L. Schlechter

Paul McKenna’s self-named band has been given all sorts of
accolades – racking up comparisons to the Boys of the Lough and taking home the
title of Best Up and Coming Act at the 2009 Scots Trad Music Awards.

Believe the hype: They’re that good. They are the best of
traditional music, holding fast those traditions while rooting their sound in
modern, forward-thinking arrangements.

McKenna, who sings and plays guitar and bouzouki, is joined
by mates David McNee (bouzouki, tenor guitar), Sean McGray (flute, whistles,
guitar), Ruairidh Macmillan (fiddle), and Ewan Baird (percussion). Based in
Glasgow, the band has been together since 2006 and released a debut album,
“Between Two Worlds,” three years later.

They perform Saturday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Camp Hill
United Methodist Church, 147 S. 22nd St. Tickets are $20 for general
admission, $16 for SFMS and Scottish Society of Central Pennsylvania members,
and $10 for students ages 3 through 22. A potluck dinner will precede the show
at 6 p.m.

McKenna answered e-mailed questions about the band’s latest
album, this year’s “Stem the Tide” – a lovely, energetic  mix of tunes and songs sung in McKenna’s
airy, burring tenor and featuring glorious harmonies – after taking part in Bethlehem’s
bustling Celtic Classic festival.

Q: You cite
traditional musicians like Paul Brady and Dick Gaughan as influences, but can
you explain how Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin filter into your musical mix?

A: I have listened to all types of music and played in
different bands over the years, including rock and indie (ones), so many
musical styles have influenced me. The mighty Zep continue to be one of my
favorite bands of all time, but of course, musicians like Paul Brady and Dick
Gaughan are probably more evident in the music we play today in the band.

Q: You graduated with
a degree in
Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow—what
do you plan to then do with your degree (teach, maybe, do research)?

A: At the moment, I am concentrating on
performing with a little teaching mixed in. Perhaps I will do some research at
a later date, but for now, touring is the main thing for me.

Q: To back up a little, how did you get interested in music in the
first place, when did you start playing, what inspired you first? Was it
playing that came before singing, or the other way around?

A: I came from an Irish background, so
singing was always around me from a young age. I began playing piano and
guitar, then started to sing in my early teens. I became more interested in
traditional music after listening to people like Christy Moore, which led me to
Planxty and to taking up the bouzouki and mandolin.

Q: Having been named Best Up and Coming Act back in 2009 might
seem to put some pressure on you (it’s rather like winning the Best New Artist
Grammy, it seems) – do you see it as such and why or why not? How do you deal
with accolades like that in terms of forging ahead, as it were?

A: Winning the Best Up and Coming Act in
2009 just gave us more ambition to drive forward with our music. We didn’t see
it as pressure, but as an opportunity.

A few questions about the album:

Q: “Again for Greenland” and “The Mermaid” are set to original
melodies – do you do that often, set words that already exist to a new melody,
and what do you enjoy about doing that? Can you speak a little more about the
words, what both songs are about?

A: We do write new melodies for traditional
words quite often – it has become more popular in recent years and is a great
way to use older songs and breathe some new life into them. “Again for
Greenland” is a song from John Ord’s Bothy Ballads and is about a time when men
would leave home for six months to fish and earn money hunting whale. Many men
took part in this, not only from Scotland, but from Scandinavian countries,
too.

“The Mermaid” is basically about the
hardship at sea, and the chorus features a mermaid, for some reason. I’ll have
to look back at that one, I think!

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about Lionel McClelland, whose song
“Silent Majority” you do on “Stem the Tide” (you describe him as a great friend
and include your own “Lionel’s Farwell” in tribute to him)?

A: Lionel McClelland was a great friend and
mentor to me and others in the band. He always had good advice, which kept my
feet on the ground. He was a prolific songwriter and a great instrumentalist. I
think ‘Silent Majority’ will be a song which will be important for many years
to come. It’s one of the finest songs I have ever heard and been privileged to
sing.

Q: The story behind “John Riley” (the deserter who goes to fight
for Mexico) is definitely compelling – what inspired you about that tale?
Whatever made him and the other soldiers go to the other side, do you
know?     

A: I was instantly drawn to the story, like
many others that deal with immigration. I’m a huge Tim O’Brien fan (he wrote
the song). I believe Riley and around 200 other Irishmen left the U.S. army
after being treated terribly. They were also all Catholics and shared this with
the Mexicans, so perhaps that played some part in it, too.

Q: Did you write “Dreams of Darien” to draw attention to that
tragic, misguided event because it was so little-known? I’m guessing it was one
of those get-rich-quick schemes that never work out for the poor folks taken in
by it – why do you think people were so compelled to participate in it?

A: I did write the song for that reason. I
wouldn’t say it was a get-rich-quick scheme, as it would have taken a
substantial amount of time to actually set up a trading colony in Panama. The
problem was that they were just not prepared for the conditions (there), and it
didn’t help matters when the English stopped all aid getting there when they
started to fail.

What people must remember is that at this
time in Scotland, nobody had any money. There was famine. And everybody wanted
this to work. Unfortunately, many people died and the scheme completely failed.
(Its) failure is one of the main reasons Scotland is part of the United Kingdom
today.

Q: What’s next for the band in general and perhaps for you
personally? Are you gathering material for another album, and if so, where is
the search taking you? How about maybe other projects apart from the band, if
there are any?

A: We intend to just keep doing what we’re
doing and try to progress even more. We won’t be recording another album for at
least nine months, so we haven’t put too much thought into it yet. What we do
know for certain is that we will be working with Brian McNeill again as
producer.

Personally, I will be doing some duo gigs
with a singer from back home called Siobhan Miller – this year, we will play a
few shows in Scotland and Denmark to get the ball rolling.

The Battlefield Band: a Phenomenon in the Scottish Music World

BY KIRA L. SCHLECHTER

Money makes the world go ‘round. Money is the root of all evil. Money can’t buy happiness. All of these ideas, clichés though they might be, are at the heart of the Battlefield Band’s most recent album, “Zama Zama”: how the pursuit of wealth often turns people into unrecognizable, heartless beings – or destroys them completely.

Founding member Alan Reid, at the helm of the venerable Scottish folk band for 41 years and soon to end his affiliation with them, spoke about the album and its theme prior to the Battlefield Band’s Nov. 6 Susquehanna Folk Music Society show, slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Camp Hill United Methodist Church, 417 S. 22nd St. (A potluck dinner will precede the show at 6 p.m.)

His answers to e-mailed questions are as follows: 

Q: You said “Zama Zama” started as a collection of songs about gold, as you put it—first of all, why did that concept intrigue you at the onset of the project? Had you collected the songs first and then realized there was a concept, or did you have the concept first and then find songs that would realize it?

A: We were looking for a concept to hang an album around and the topic of gold came up. I started on a couple of songs, but the other boys thought the idea too restrictive, especially for the tunesmiths. So the suggestion was made to widen it to the pursuit of wealth in different forms of human activity.

Q: So did you then have to perhaps look for more material that would suit a concept like that, or did the material you have work for that idea as well?

A: Having settled on a broader, looser concept, we then had to look for more material, and, in a sense, think outside the box. It made for interesting choices of material and approaches to the music. Widening the net meant we could think less parochially, i.e., not confine ourselves to Scottish material.

Q: Do you read special or different meaning into a song like “The Auchengeich Disaster,” or even “Zama Zama Boys” for that matter, now perhaps considering the successful rescue of the 33 Chilean miners (perhaps reiterating their themes of the dangers of mining, no matter the recent good news from Chile)?

A: We can look at our recent history, when there were many mines in Scotland and the U.K., and find a link with recent disasters in other parts of the world, especially China. It proves things don’t change. In the West, our coal industry has all but disappeared. Why? Because it’s mined cheaper elsewhere. Cheaper coal, lower wages, more hazardous working environments, etc. So the mining disasters have moved elsewhere as well. And it’s all due to the pursuit of wealth.

Q: You relate “Robber Barons” to current times most effectively —when did you write this song, as the scandals in the banking industry and the British Parliament were going on, or how did it work?

A: I wrote it in the summer of 2008, thinking that by the time the album came out later in the year, it would be old news. It wasn’t. No we are all facing cuts, and working people are looking at banks and saying, ‘Hey, they’re still not lending, they’re still paying out big bonuses to themselves and carrying on just as before and we’re suffering for their bad speculations.’ So the song’s relevance sadly still holds.

Q: The same with Alasdair’s tune, “Bernie’s Welcome to Butner”—was that written before or after the fact (before or after – or during – the whole sordid Bernie Madoff affair)?

A: Not sure when it was written, but it was named after the affair had come to prominence. Too tempting not to, I’m afraid!

Q: How easy or difficult was it to adapt “Plain Gold Ring” to your own style — it seems to fit into the Celtic thematic canon perfectly?

A: It’s one of those lovely songs that doesn’t fit into any category. As a consequence, you can do it in (any) style. We found it pretty easy to arrange – and fun!

Q : Needless to say, you do not have a high opinion of the pursuit of wealth, it seems, or at least the pursuit of excessive wealth apart from making an honest living (like the third brother who stays behind and becomes a cobbler in “Three Brothers,” who comes out as the real hero)—true?

A: I like making up stories about little people. Most of us are ordinary people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have a story to tell. I tend not to write political songs, or songs that push a particular point of view. I prefer to try to be more subtle and let the audience make up (its) mind. Of course, ‘Robber Barons,’ a song I kind of wrote to order, is an exception.

Q: And also needless to say gold is back in the news because of its skyrocketing price and the rush to invest in it—do you have a theory on why that’s happening?

A: Ah, it’s economics. Historical cycles. In hard times when stocks are low, unemployment is high, and house prices are falling, the speculators turn to the sure commodities, like gold and silver.

Q: You’ve been working on tracks for a new album — will it also be based around a theme, and if so, what, or don’t you know yet? How far along are you; what’s the status of the process? Do you have a release date in mind?

A: That’s all the work of the new band and I am not involved. But I know they are more than halfway through and it will be a regular album, released probably early next year.

Q: You are hanging up your touring shoes after this swing is over—why now, and will you still be part of the group even though you are no longer touring with it, and if so, in what capacity?

A: I’ve been in this outfit for 41 years and in the last couple felt a bit restless. I’m a Taurean, so I take a while to make up my mind. I decided around 18 months ago I should think of making a change. I won’t be part of the band, but I’m happy to offer them songs, if they want. And if they’d rather not and want to go their own way, then that’s fine.

Q: You now want to focus on your duo work with Rob van Sante — can you talk about that more and why you feel you want to work on that type of scale rather than a larger band-type scale? What will happen with that project once you’ve finished touring with the Battlefield Band (do you have an album or tour planned)?

A: Temple (Records) are bringing out an album of my choice of my songs spanning my (Battlefield Band) career. This will coincide with a U.K. tour I’m doing with Rob, which begins at the end of January. I’ve worked with Rob on a limited basis for a few years, and I felt I’d like to develop that work more, play in smaller, intimate venues, and feature my own songs more. And hopefully tour in a less hectic manner! It may not turn out that way.

Rob and (I) already have brought out two albums in the last few years and we have another one in the can. It’s another themed album on the life of the sailor John Paul Jones. I’ve written all the music, so it’s somewhat of a pet project (almost obsession!) of mine. But we’ll give the Temple album some breathing space and hold the JPJ album for release later in 2011. And of course, the duo plan to come Stateside. 

Q: Did you select Ewen Henderson to replace you (and was it a band decision), or how did that whole process come about? Why is he the right man for the job, do you think?

The boys decided on Ewan; I had no input in that. Ewen is a friend of Alasdair, so it was a case of a personal contact and Ewen being willing and available. That’s the way it usually works in our music scene, because in a small country, so many musicians already know each other.

Ewen comes from a large family of outstanding musicians. He is a completely different kind of musician from me, which means he won’t be compared to me. I think that’s a good thing. It means the band will change in style a little and perhaps be more instrumentally oriented, but there will still be a large element of continuity.

The Batties have evolved and endured for the last 41 years. Now there is a new generation, and who knows how long the band will exist? Maybe another 30 years? It’s a phenomenon.

The Battlefield Band will be performing on Saturday, November 6 at CHUM in Camp Hill. The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society. Information at http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/BattlefieldBand.html

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