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•Past and present members of Battlefield Band on stage
at the Celtic Connections 2009 Classic Album Concert.
From left Alan Reid, Ged Foley, Sean O’ Donnell, Brian McNeill,
Alasdair White, Duncan MacGillivray and Mike Katz.
Photo by John Slavin @
Celtic Connection’s Classic Album Concert
Home is wHere tHe vAn is
new tune writing was in the of years before ‘A Controversy of Whilst there may have been some as the fact that the harmonium
piping or fiddle music canon. A Pipers’, an LP which featured six controversy about the pipers was in ‘old pitch’ and couldn’t be
Falkirk man himself, Brian used pipers who were at the forefront from a narrow section of the varied electronically to tune in
his knowledge of local history of the introduction of Scottish piping establishment, there was with the pipes.
for his first venture into song bagpipes into a folk group nothing but support for Battlefield
writing. The song featured the setting. from the folk clubs. The myth Three years on from ‘Home is
Falkirk Tryst which began in the of the purist still rears its head Where the Van Is’, they released
18th century as a cattle fair but Duncan was the first piper to occasionally in promotional ‘Story So Far’, an LP to celebrate
gradually changed into the purely be a core touring member of material or the press, but claims ten years of Battlefield Band.
social occasion it is today. Battlefield, rather than appearing that ‘the purists won’t like this’ That LP came over as a cohesive
as a guest musician. He received are more in the mind of PR whole rather than a disjointed
A consistent feature of Battlefield much inspiration during his people or advertising copywriters sampler of a band seeking
Band has been its use of the early years in piping from his trying to fabricate a story angle direction. Every change of line-
pipers and a succession of truly father D. P. MacGillivray who where there is none, than in up may have brought fresh ideas
great pipers has been in the was a well-established piper reality. but the consistent hallmarks
ranks of the band over many and gold medallist from Ross- were quality and a respect for
years. Battlefield has also shire. Duncan himself was a Recent press comments have the tradition. Battlefield have
contributed to the music of the medal winning piper and was included “Home is Where the always kept to their feet close
wider Pipe Band scene, their having a hard time on Radio, Van Is, is now justly regarded as to their roots, something that is
influence being a two-way street accused of wasting his time in a landmark in the contemporary not always easy when aiming
in terms of arrangement and folk bands. History has shown evolution of Scottish folk music. to make a successful career as
harmony. that rather than ‘wasting their Its pioneering integration of musicians, and their consistency
time in folk bands’, the pipers in non-traditional instruments of approach has contributed
The story of the arrival of the ‘folk Battlefield have had a significant like synthesiser, electric piano to their longevity. While
group pipers’ is a complex one, influence on the wider piping and harmonica with fiddle and their original audience never
but most of the key players had scene. Playing in folk groups bagpipes proved an enduring abandoned them, economics
a direct or indirect relationship brought more tunes into the inspiration to countless other dictated a change in touring
with Battlefield Band. At that piping repertoire as pipers played musicians.” This certainly is patterns. Whilst the folk club
time, technical difficulties the more fiddle related repertoire true but that innovation was not circuit may have been where
encountered with balance, of the folk groups. An example restricted to this album alone, they learned their trade, it was
volume and timing were being on ‘Home is Where the Van Is’ is it was and remains part of a never going to sustain a band
overcome by modifications to Dick Gossips Reel, an Irish reel steady evolution of the band to professionally.
bellows blown Lowland pipes, originally taught to Brian by ex- this day. Their early use of a
small sets of chamber pipes band member John Gahagan in stripped down harmonium, as Those who knew them from
and by use of advanced sound the back of a Transit van between well as providing a visual focus, those early days may remember
systems. ‘Home is Where the Great Yarmouth and Birmingham. had defined the core sound of their performances in the folk
Van Is’ was produced a couple Transposing it onto the pipes the band for several years. The clubs being exceptional. That is
of years before Dick Gaughan’s involve changing the octave of use of digital piano and synth because they were exceptional!
‘A Handful of Earth’, which was the first part and, in the words of was a natural and more practical The intimate atmosphere of a
also recorded by Robin Morton Duncan, “it can sometimes be a development for a touring unit as typical folk club combined with
at Temple. It was also a couple right bugger to play”. it overcame other difficulties such an acoustic performance from
The Living Tradition - Page 23
Issue82.indd 23 24/2/09 10:47:14 pm
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