Battlefield Band brings the enduring spirit of bagpipes
Believe it or not, the bagpipe didn't always belong to Scotland.
“Bagpipes are all across the world, and most musical traditions have their own bagpipes,” says Alasdair White of Scotland's Battlefield Band, which is playing Oct. 3 at the First Unitarian Church of Shadyside.
“Bagpipes originated in Asia Minor and kind of spread throughout the world. The Scottish bagpipe is by no means the only bagpipe in the world. It's just perhaps the most famous, which has to do with the British Army, really — their adopting it and taking it around the world.”
On the battlefield, of course. The irony of a conquered people (the Scots) having their music adopted by their conqueror, then used to terrify their opponents from South Africa to the Western Front, is sort of profound. But that's not really the reason these icons of Scottish traditional music are called the Battlefield Band.
That name comes from the Glasgow suburb of Battlefield, where the original members lived when the band was formed in 1969. None of the original members are still in the band 40-plus years later, but their sound and spirit endure.
White, originally from the remote island of Lewis, is perhaps the band's senior member. He plays the fiddle, whistle and bouzouki, along with the Highland and small pipes.
“I've been with the band 13 years now,” White says. “I started with the band when I was, like, 18.”
Over the years, the Battlefield Band's music has shaped him almost as much as he's shaped it. But in the Scottish folk/traditional music scene, change is best adopted very slowly.
“The music is there, it's always been there, and it's always going to be there,” White says. “People put their own spin on things, but that's never going to change the actual music.”
Battlefield Band songs are heavy on themes of friendship and drinking, of course, and the hard times, immigration and political battles of past and present.
“We have a lot of different facets and moving parts to the music we play,” he says. “We play a set with a couple of quick-steps that are like marches and a couple of reels, as well. That pretty much sums up the instrumental side of things — driving, energetic. But we also do a number of songs from our main singer, I suppose, to be followed by Ewen (Henderson) here, who's getting a reputation as a top Gaelic singer. So, we've got songs in Gaelic and in English.”
The music itself has evolved ever-so-subtly, and isn't completely removed from outside influences.
“Trends ... I think it's best not to be too conscious about it,” White says. “You (can) get very concerned with either keeping away from musical trends or following them — I don't think you can really do either. You have to just sort out what you like about the music, what's good about it, and do that.”
So, don't expect electronic beats or hip-hop samples anytime soon.
“No, although we do have some killer dance moves.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Moondog’s owner the force behind Pittsburgh Blues Festival
- Review: Buffett keeps faith with fans on ‘This One’s for You’ tour
- Jason Aldean headlines big country show at PNC Park
- Review: Summerfest concert fitting honor for founder
- Holidays set to perform at Vandergrift’s Casino Theatre
- Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble letting music speak for itself
- Pop star Perry brings high-energy world tour to Consol
- New synthesizers make sounds musicians want
- Parrot Heads reflect on carefree Buffett concert culture