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                                                                                                                                                                         photos: BB1977: Temple Records; Pincock, Russell: Gloria M. Rosson; McCusker, Polwart: David M. Schofield; MacDonald: Nancy Baldauf; BB 1988: Stagefright Photography; BB 2002: Gary Glade
                                                                                                                                                         John McCusker

Battlefield Band, 1977 - (L-R) Brian McNeill,
Alan Reid, John Gahagan, and Jamie

                                                                                                  Dougie Pincock
                                                                                                  and Alistair
                                                                                                  Russell, late 80s

                                                                                                                Iain MacDonald

    The 1998 lineup - Alan Reid,
    Mike Katz, John McCusker,
    and Davy Steele (seated)
                                                                                                                                               Karine Polwart

                                         The Battlefield Band, 2002 - (left to right) Alasdair White, Alan Reid, Mike Katz, and Pat Kilbride

40 December ’02/January ’03 #103
        he last time Dirty Linen published a                                                                       idea of a Scottish folk band was a novelty at the


                                                                                                      Gary Glade
        feature on Scottish folk group the Battle-                                                                 time, he explained. While there were vocal
        field Band was issue #36, way back in                                                                      groups like the Corries, adapting the Clancy
1991. At that time, the big story was the depar-                                                                   Brothers’ sound to Scottish songs, there were
ture of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist                                                                    very few bands doing instrumental music. It
Brian McNeill and piper Dougie Pincock, and                                                                        wasn’t until their early experiences on the road,
their replacement by a teenage whiz kid named                                                                      when English audiences expected a Scottish
John McCusker and a lovable curmudgeon                                                                             band to play Scottish music, that McNeill, Reid,
named Iain MacDonald.                                                                                              and friends began to focus. Taking inspiration
     A lot has changed since then. Already                                                                         from the 1970s experiments of Planxty and the
known in the early nineties for a history of                                                                       Bothy Band in Irish music, they set out to do
many lineup changes involving such names as                                                                        similar arrangements of Scottish music.
Jamie McMenamy (Kornog), Ged Foley (The                                                                                 About that time, Battlefield started
House Band) and Jim and Sylvia Barnes                                                                              recording. With a vengeance. “We went
(Kentigern), Battlefield has lost and gained                                                                       recording crazy,” Reid admitted. “We did four
members at an equally brisk pace since then.                                                                       albums in 23 months, with no repeats. It was
Consider this: After their 1991 lineup change,                                                                     like 50 tracks.” Their first album, for the Breton
the only original member of Battlefield left                                                                       label Arfolk, was as a trio made up of McNeill,
was singer/songwriter/keyboardist Alan Reid.                                                                       Reid, and string player Ricky Starr. Titled Scot-
Today, the only remaining member of the 1991                                                                       tish Folk (and re-titled for CD release as
lineup is... singer/songwriter/keyboardist Alan                                                                    Farewell to Nova Scotia), it came out in 1976.
Reid. McCusker, MacDonald and singer/                                                                              Most of the music was Scottish, but there were
guitarist Alistair Russell have all left the band,   all, so he said, ‘You’re fired!’And that was the              still Irish, Canadian, English, and Australian
as have singer/guitarists Davy Steele and            end of that lineup. I joined the band from then.”             influences. Starr was soon replaced by singer/
Karine Polwart, who had joined up since those             The new group was called Harvest, and                    bouzouki player Jamie McMenamy and
days. They’ve been replaced by fiddler Alasdair      eventually had its name changed to the Battle-                whistle player John Gahagan, making Battle-
White, piper Mike Katz, and singer/guitarist/        field Band. “We rehearsed once a week for                     field a quartet.
bouzouki player Pat Kilbride. I caught up with       about a year before we actually got a gig,” Reid                   Their discography gets murky at this point,
Reid, White, Katz, and Kilbride after a concert      recounted. “And we got a gig in a football club.              and most publications get this next bit wrong.
at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in July 2002.      We played to — I would say it was at least                    Their two followup albums featured the same
     Reid set the stage, describing the band’s       seven people! This was the kind of place where                lineup and had the same title on the front cover
prehistory. The Battlefield Band, he said, had       they wanted country music, so four hairy guys                 (simply The Battlefield Band), but were
its roots in a group that McNeill founded with       dressed in t-shirts and jeans playing this weird              released on different labels, in different coun-
Jimmy Thomson and Sandra Laing in 1969.              half-Irish stuff was not their cup of tea.”                   tries, and with no material in common. The first
“They were all at the same university together,”          The reaction of early audiences like this                of these was their famous 1977 “white album”
he remembered, “and that’s where I met them.”        had a formative effect on the group. “In our                  for Topic, and hence their U.K. debut. The
The trio had a Friday residency at a Glasgow         first couple of years, the only gigs that we                  other, which was subtitled “Wae’s Me for
pub called the Iron Horse. One day, fate opened      could get were in bars,” Reid recounted. “The                 Prince Charlie,” was their second on a Breton
the door for Reid to join. Typically, Reid           audiences were very tough, and we found that                  Label (this time Escalibur), and was released
explained, the members would bring their             the only way to grab their attention was not                  later in 1977. At this time, Reid said, they were
instruments to the university with them and          only by playing music, but by telling jokes. So               taking themselves very seriously as artists
lock them up in a little room until it was time      we got into a way of talking to the audience and              “rather than happy-go-lucky folkies,” and their
for their gig. “On this particular day,” he          trying to get their attention. That kind of                   albums reflect that. Slightly studious, the
remembered, “they were a bit slow in getting         talking, involving the audience, was estab-                   “white album” was justly esteemed by Topic,
to the room, and when they got there it was          lished in the very early part of our career, and              then Britain’s most serious folk label. It’s held
locked, and the guy that had the key had gone        I think it’s been a hallmark of our group.”                   up remarkably well, too, and is still a fresh and
home. So they had to go down to this bar and              The band didn’t do a Scottish folk repertoire            interesting listen today.
say, ‘We’re very sorry but we can’t do the gig       until a few years after its founding. “We played                   But it was that second Breton release that
tonight, we don’t have our instruments.’ The         acoustic music, so we’d do any music that we                  pointed the way to Battlefield’s future. As a nod
guy that owned the place wasn’t impressed at         liked, from anywhere,” Reid said. The whole                   to Scotland’s favorite instrument, the members

                                                                                                                                           B Y S TEVE W INICK

                                                                                                                                                    Dirty Linen   41
                                                     Gloria M. Rosson
                                                                             Kilbride’s departure precipitated a rapid-                           write songs. I hadn’t thought about it before, but
                                                                        fire series of lineup changes that stabilized in                          when I saw that he was writing songs, I thought,
                                                                        the quartet of McNeill, Reid, Foley, and piper                            ‘Well, maybe I can do this, as well.’ ” By the
                                                                        Duncan MacGillivray. During these changes,                                mid 1980s, the band’s repertoire contained a
                                                                        the Battlefield Band developed musically in                               wealth of newly composed songs by both
                                                                        several new directions. First, they incorpo-                              McNeill and Reid, and classics like “The Lads
                                                                        rated new instruments, most notably the High-                             O’ the Fair,” “The Rovin’ Dies Hard,” “Island
                                                                        land bagpipes and the keyboards. The pipes                                Earth No More,” and “The Snows of France
                                                                        were the fruition of the ideas started on their                           and Holland” became a trademark of the group.
                                                                        second Breton album. Battlefield’s first two                                  The 1980s passed as the band members
                                                                        pipers, MacGillivray and Dougie Pincock,                                  cemented their signature sound and honed their
                                                                        were early pioneers in using the pipes in a folk                          songwriting skills. Though MacGillivray was
                                                                        band context, providing lowland and border                                replaced by Pincock and Foley by Russell, the
                                                                        pipes for song accompaniments and Highland                                band’s music was remarkably consistent.
                                                                        pipes for rousing marches and dance tunes.                                McNeill was both the primary instrumentalist
                                                                        Combined with the fiddle, guitar, and                                     and the primary songwriter, and many began to
                                                                        keyboards, they were a forceful sound indeed.                             think of it as his band. “Brian is a very big
                                                                        Foley brought his Northumbrian smallpipes to                              personality,” Reid explained. “He’s a large guy
Founding member Brian McNeill, 1991                                     the group, another variation on the piping                                physically, so he’s always been hard to ignore
                                                                                                                                                  on a stage. He’s got a big presence.” By contrast,
asked three different pipers, who played three                                                                                                    Reid stays off to one side. “I was always quite

                                                                                                                               Gloria M. Rosson
different kinds of bagpipes, to join them. In so                                                                                                  content to not be quite center stage, but a little
doing, they became one of the first formations                                                                                                    to the side of it,” he agreed. “I’ve been quite
ever to mix an acoustic folk band with Highland                                                                                                   happy playing second string to other front guys.”
bagpipes; Alba was performing the same exper-                                                                                                         In fact, Reid fooled the world with his
iment at around the same time, and the Tannahill                                                                                                  second-string act. When McNeill and Pincock
Weavers would soon make the pipes integral to                                                                                                     announced their plans to leave in 1990, many
their act. Though it would take a couple more                                                                                                     expected the band would die, underestimating
years, the pipes would become a mainstay of the                                                                                                   both Reid’s commitment and his talent. Battle-
Battlefield Band’s sound, as well. Sadly, this                                                                                                    field hadn’t changed lineups for seven years.
album, despite its excellent material and its                                                                                                     The members were thoroughly comfortable
historical importance, is the only Battlefield                                                                                                    with the material, and indeed with each other.
Band album never reissued on CD.                                                                                                                  It could have been demoralizing for Reid and
     Throughout the late 1970s, the band was                                                                                                      Russell to start all over. Instead, they used the
making quite a reputation in folk clubs all over                                                                                                  departures as an opportunity to remake the
Britain. “England was pretty wide open,” Reid                                                                                                     band. “We plucked out of nowhere a very
recalled, “because Scottish groups like                                                                                                           young guy that no one had heard of, plus a
ourselves were pretty much a novelty, and there                         Future bandmates Davy Steele and John McCusker, 1991                      well-respected piper from a piping family,”
was no equivalent in England.”                                                                                                                    Reid remembered. In so doing, they changed
     Kilbride remembers his sister enthusing                            theme, but it is the Highland bagpipe that will                           the band’s direction, eliminating the flaccid
about the Battlefield Band in 1976 or 1977.                             forever define the Battlefield sound. “The                                rock ’n’ roll covers like “Bad Moon Rising”
Soon, as the bookings manager for his univer-                           Warpipes,” Kilbride commented. “It’s a pretty                             (which Reid called “a millstone around our
sity’s folk club in Bolton, he booked the band                          strong corporate identity, isn’t it?”                                     necks”) and the novelty songs like “After
                                                                             The keyboards, too, were a new idea, and
— at that time still a quartet featuring Reid,

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Gloria M. Rosson
                                                                        Reid reckoned they were the first Scottish folk
McNeill, Gahagan, and McMenamy. But the
                                                                        group with a full-time keyboard player. Their
band that arrived was short a member;
                                                                        first was an American-made pedal organ that
Gahagan had just quit to pursue a career in
                                                                        the band members found in a junk shop in
graphic arts. So on the spur of the moment,                             Glasgow. After they went through that and
Kilbride jumped in the van and went off on tour                         several other instruments, they decided some-
as the band’s first and only Irish member. “It                          thing had to change. “It came to a point where
was a gas!” he enthused. “We were very young.                           the pedal organs were just falling to bits,” Reid
I’d just grown my first beard.” Restless always,                        explained, “because they couldn’t stand the
Kilbride lasted with the band only a year.                              rigors of four guys throwing them in the back
During that time, he participated in Battle-                            of a van in various states of inebriation.”
field’s fourth album, At the Front. It was issued                       Luckily, at about that time synthesizers became
in early 1978, less than two years after its first                      affordable; Reid has bantered with the audi-
had come out. A classic offering, this album                            ence from behind a synthesizer rack ever since.
featured McMenamy’s renderings of the big                                    A third development was the shift from
ballad “Lang Johnny Moir” and the broadside                             traditional music to compositions and songs
“Tae the Beggin’,” Kilbride’s earthy singing of                         written by band members. McNeill, a writer and
“The Bachelor” and “The Lady Leroy,” and the                            composer as well as a staggeringly good multi-
band’s epic take on the border ballad “The                              instrumentalist, got the ball rolling. “Brian
Battle of Harlaw,” as well as many stirring sets                        started writing songs first,” Reid said, “and in
of tunes.                                                               fact it was his example that prompted me to                               Iain McDonald, 1997

42   December ’02/January ’03 #103
                                                                                                         Gary Glade

                                                                                                                                                                    Gloria M. Rosson
                                                                                                                           Alan Reid

                                                                                                                      Battlefield Band
                                                                                                                      Time & Tide
                                                                                                                      Temple COMD2090 (2002)

                                                                                                                      Alan Reid & Rob van Sante
                                                                                                                      Under the Blue
The White/Katz double-chantered wail, 2002                                                                            Red Sands RSC001 (2002)
                                                                                                                      After all these years, and all these albums,
Hours.” “We had become almost a parody of                Like any lineup, though, this one would not                  a Battlefield Band fan knows exactly what
ourselves,” Reid admitted. “Once we’d started       last forever. In 1997, MacDonald called it quits                  to expect from a new recording. There are a
to do novelty numbers, then we had to top it,       and was replaced by the band’s current piper,                     couple of fast bagpipe/fiddle duet tunes, a
and do things even more outrageous. It was a        Mike Katz, who came to the band from the                          few slower, melodic pieces, two or three
case of ever-diminishing returns, like Police       well-known group Ceolbeg. With his long                           songs from Alan Reid, and a couple from
Academy VI or something. So when those two          beard and his Jewish name, Katz seems more                        whoever is the featured vocalist/guitarist.
guys left, it was a perfect opportunity for us to   like a rabbi than a piper. Indeed, the bagpipes                   In that respect Time & Tide won’t disap-
say, ‘What are the strengths of this band?’ and     were not at all a foregone conclusion given his                   point, as it contains all this and more. The
‘What are we about?’ ”                              family’s background. “I’m not at all Scottish,”                   new member this time around is Pat
     Since the turn of the 1990s, Reid explained,   he explained — though he said it with a                           Kilbride, making his second appearance
“the band doesn’t revisit old numbers very          lowland burr so thick you could cut it with a                     with the band, replacing Karine Polwart.
much.” Instead, the members tend to write new       Claymore. “My family are from Cleveland,                          His song “Camden Town” will become the
songs and tunes and arrange traditional mate-       Ohio, and before that from Eastern Europe,                        new singalong in the live set, and his guitar/
rial that the band has never done before. This      and they’re Jews.”                                                bouzouki playing fits in perfectly with the
worked well with the new members’ person-                So how did a nice Jewish boy end up                          fiddle and bagpipes. Alan Reid is Alan Reid,
alities. MacDonald, as a piper with a thor-         talking like Billy Connolly and playing                           the one constant in the band’s history,
oughly traditional background and experience        bagpipes in Scotland’s foremost folk band?                        singing one original and two traditional
with the group Ossian, was ready to make                                                                              songs in his trademark dry, gravelly voice.
                                                    He began studying the Highland pipes in Los
                                                                                                                      Fiddler Alasdair White has done what most
Battlefield more folky, and was in Reid’s words     Angeles at the age of 10. The pipes introduced
                                                                                                                      people considered impossible — made
“intensely irritated” by having to play “Bad        him to the rest of the culture; he first visited
                                                                                                                      people forget about John McCusker — as
Moon Rising” on the bagpipes during his             Scotland as a member of a pipe band. He was
                                                                                                                      his fiddle, whistle, and composition skills
earliest days with the group. McCusker, who         so taken with the country he decided to go                        continue to improve and impress, and Mike
had come to the band straight from school via       there for university, and picked Edinburgh not                    Katz quietly and efficiently fills the bagpipe/
a high school group called Parcel O’ Rogues,        only for the excellent education but for the                      multi-instrumentalist position. It’s probably
was game for anything.                              nightlife. “It’s beautiful!” he enthused. “It’s a                 far too late in the band’s career to expect the
     “Like a lot of our lineups,” Reid said, “it    lot of fun, a lot of drinking and dancing, and                    members to mess with the formula that’s
was a pretty odd assortment of individuals.         people have a good time. But it’s very compact,                   made them successful, and Time & Tide
There’s myself, however you want to describe        and everybody knows everybody. So it’s like                       shows that they can still make entertaining
me. Alistair, a little rotund English guy with a    an old version of New York.”                                      music doing what they’ve always done. This
Scottish background, who was pretty much                 By Katz’s own admission, his attempt at a                    should please the group’s fans, and could
interested in Irish music. Then you had John,       university education didn’t amount to very                        win them many new converts.
a young kid from the center of Scotland who         much. “I got a degree,” he said dismissively, “but                As if he’s not busy enough with Battlefield,
was very much influenced by Irish music, and        hopefully I’ll never use it.” However, living in                  Alan Reid has teamed up with the group’s
Iain, who was steeped in Highland Gaelic tradi-     Edinburgh was a life-changing experience.                         soundman, Rob van Sante, on a surprisingly
tion. So in a sense it was pretty unlikely.” But    Among other things, it plugged him into a                         strong duo recording called Under the Blue.
the chemistry was there, and the new lineup         network of musicians. In the mid 1990s, one of                    Van Sante is a good guitarist and has a nice
was a success — indeed, it achieved the same        Katz’s piping friends suggested him for Ceolbeg,                  voice, and he helps put Reid’s songs in a
level of stability as the previous band, and        which also featured the great singer Davy Steele.                 very un-Battlefield context. Reid’s voice
continued to tour and record for almost seven       While playing for Ceolbeg, Katz befriended                        has limited range, but the fuller arrange-
years. The group developed a definite person-       McCusker, and when MacDonald left,                                ments tend to compensate for that, and with
ality in that time, with McCusker’s youthful        McCusker suggested Katz as a replacement.                         only one or two new songs per Battlefield
playfulness and MacDonald’s gruff and                    Katz reckons that his main qualification for                 recording, Reid has a backlog of good songs
deadpan approach balancing one another to           being in the band wasn’t being a good piper;                      for this collection. Not at all like his full-
perfection. In tours around the world, and on       they’re common enough in Scotland. It was his                     time gig and better for it.
four acclaimed albums, this quartet earned the      ability to tour so often and so widely. “A lot of                                    — Jim Lee (Simi Valley, CA)
respect of longtime Battlefield fans.               people don’t want to go on the road,” he

                                                                                                                                                      Dirty Linen               43
                                                                                                                 Gloria M. Rosson
explained. “There aren’t that many                                                                                   impression on Battlefield’s many fans
bands that tour as much as we do.”                                                                                   through his concert performances and
How is the touring life? It’s intense.                                                                               his appearances on two albums. “He
“You have to live with a bunch of                                                                                    was a great loss,” Reid lamented.
people,” he said. “All the time. For                                                                                 “That’s all you need to say.”
six months of the year. It’s maybe 20                                                                                    Like the other women who have
hours a day, for five weeks at a                                                                                     graced the Battlefield Band, Polwart
stretch. It makes you kind of weird,                                                                                 seemed more of a fleeting presence in
because when you go off the road                                                                                     the group. Although young and rela-
you’re not living with these guys,                                                                                   tively new to folk music, she was
and no one understands what you’re                                                                                   clearly a rising star in Scottish folk-
talking about. And I like that!”                                                                                     song circles, having won many awards
     Soon after Katz joined, Russell                                                                                 for both traditional singing and song-
left the fold, leaving a vacancy for a                                                                               writing between 1998 and 2000.
singer and guitarist. Katz’s Ceolbeg                                                                                 Polwart toured with the Battlefield
bandmate, Davy Steele, stepped into                                                                                  Band for close to two years and
                                           The current lineup lines up
the breach. A singer with a warm,                                                                                    contributed several beautiful songs and
rough voice and a songwriter with a beautiful ear           This makes it all the more tragic that Steele   solid guitar playing to their album Happy Daze.
for both music and language, Steele fit right in. had to leave the band after a little more than            As a specialist in traditional song, she brought
His songs became a big part of the band’s reper- two years. One day at the beginning of band                that side of the band’s identity back to the fore.
toire, and the fans loved his singing and his practice, he began to feel ill. “We thought he                But soon she decided that Battlefield’s grueling
sense of humor. Although Steele had been was joking, because he was such a prankster,”                      tour schedule was just too much, and Battlefield
prominent on the folk scene since the 1980s in Reid remembered. “But he wasn’t.” A diag-                    was left in need of a singer/guitarist once again.
bands like Drinker’s Drouth, Ceolbeg, and Clan nosis of cancer, and the necessity of immediate                  This time, they tapped Kilbride. Needless
Alba, Battlefield was his step to full-time writing treatment, took him away from the group very            to say, he was vastly more experienced than he
and performing. He was living his dream.                suddenly. While Steele battled for his life, the    was during his first stint with the group. After
     “He made a big impression on audiences,” Battlefield Band soldiered on, with guests like               leaving Battlefield in 1979, Kilbride moved to
Reid remembered. “Audiences loved him, Malcolm Stitt and Kilbride filling in for their                      France, then lived for years in Belgium, where
because here was a guy who was 50, all of a housebound colleague. When it seemed likely                     he played jazz, rock, and folk. In the 1980s and
sudden he was a full-time musician, and it was that Steele would be waylaid for a long time,                1990s, he settled for over 10 years in New
a very fulfilling thing for him. So he loved every the band reluctantly replaced him, with Karine           York, where he rebuilt his reputation in tradi-
single minute of it. He grasped it with both hands, Polwart of the group Malinky. A short time              tional music, played many solo shows, and
and audiences I think recognized that in him.”          later, Steele died, having left an indelible                                 [continued on page 104]
                                                          said. “So he got us down to the                   a lot of energy,” he said. “But at the                    Kilbride first joined in 1978; Foley
Battlefield Band                                          mainland, and he asked if I wanted                same time, it’s a lot of hard work.”                      and Russell are both English, and
                                                                                                                                                                      Katz is American. “Irish and Scottish
continued from page page 44
                                                          to do any accompaniments on Chris-                The work is paying off. On the
                                                          tine Primrose’s album. And I think it             evidence of its short concert at the                      music are the same music,” Reid
fronted the Kips Bay Ceili Band with                      was at my second session for that                                                                           explained. “It’s the same form of
John Whelan. A subsequent move                                                                              Museum, as well as its CD Time and
                                                          record that Robin sat me down and                 Tide, the band is back with a new                         music. I like to use the analogy of it
took him to London, where he livened                                                                                                                                  being the same language but a
                                                          scuppered my chances of going to                  sound: more guitar-driven, more
up the Irish music scene in Camden                                                                                                                                    different accent. Unlike, say, Welsh
                                                          university.”                                      Irish-influenced, and perhaps a bit
Town. Though he played with many                                                                                                                                      music or Breton music, which to my
great musicians there, and set up a                       It was a hard decision for White:                 lighter than during the McCusker
                                                                                                            years. Indeed, Reid’s daughter had a                      ears sound quite different from Irish
recording studio to produce his own                       university or a musical career. But it                                                                      or Scottish music.”
and other people’s albums, he began                       certainly seemed natural to those                 comment on the new album that he
                                                          who knew him. “Later that night,” he              laughingly repeated: “I like it! It’s                     Still, the group members all hope their
to get the itch to join a band. Kilbride
                                                          remembered, “I saw Noel Hill, the                 more Irish than the other ones!” This                     fans will embrace the new sound.
had already filled in for Steele briefly
                                                          concertina player, at the Waverly                 all makes sense given the new                             “How people react to the band with
before Polwart joined. This time they
                                                                                                            members. Kilbride is a more serious                       our Irish part of the potion, that
decided to make it permanent, and                         Folk Club in Edinburgh, and [well-
                                                                                                            guitarist than Russell, Polwart, or                       remains to be seen,” Reid said. What’s
Kilbride joined in 2002.                                  known Scottish multi-instrumen-
                                                                                                            Steele; his latest solo CD, Nightin-                      their next step? “Playing a million
The switch from Polwart to Kilbride                       talist] Norman Chalmers was there.
                                                                                                            gale Lane, is about half solo guitar                      gigs!” Kilbride answered. Reid had a
was preceded by another momentous                         And he turned to Robin and said,
                                                                                                            pieces, something none of the others                      different answer: “Immediately, it’s
change when John McCusker made                            ‘When are you going to get this
                                                                                                            would be likely to try. Kilbride is also                  seeing what the response to this album
up his mind to leave. McCusker, who                       young boy to join the Batties?’ And                                                                         is. We’ve done it very quickly, but I
                                                          we looked at each other and gasped.               Irish, which introduced new elements
had been with the band since he was                                                                                                                                   think there’s a lot of energy in it.
                                                                                                            to the band. “I’m not a Scottish musi-
practically a child, had a very adult                     He’d sussed it!”                                                                                            We’re playing a lot of the repertoire
                                                                                                            cian. It’s a struggle for me,” he
decision to make: Either remain on                        White soon decided to join. “I was                                                                          off the album, which we all had to
                                                                                                            admitted, “to know how to accom-
the road with the band, or marry his                      planning to do music for a living                                                                           learn after we’d recorded it...a lot of
                                                                                                            pany and how to fit in, but I think
sweetheart, English folksinger Kate                       anyway, after university,” he                                                                               the arrangements have changed. But
                                                                                                            we’re coming to a compromise. We
Rusby. He made the only sensible                          explained. “I was going to have a stab                                                                      what’s going to be really interesting is
                                                                                                            worked harder in the studio, and we
choice: kiss his bandmates goodbye,                       at it, anyway. People go to university                                                                      when we start getting to the next load
                                                                                                            thought about it, and listened a lot,
and kiss Rusby at the altar. He now                       to get their ideal job, and I’ve got                                                                        of new stuff,” he said with a gleam in
                                                                                                            and we try and get to the essence of
produces records when not on tour as                      mine at the moment.”                                                                                        his eye.
                                                                                                            the music.”
a member of Rusby’s band.
                                                          What effect does a lineup change have             It helps that White comes from the                        That excitement of getting to the next
The replacement that the Battlefield                                                                                                                                  song, the next arrangement, the next
                                                          on the Battlefield Band? By all                   western isles of Scotland, where the
Band found, Alasdair White, has                                                                                                                                       gig, the next record, is always driving
                                                          accounts, it’s healthy but sometimes              culture has much in common with
much in common with the                                                                                                                                               the Battlefield Band. You can tell,
                                                          uncomfortable. Katz explained,                    Gaelic Ireland. “There’s more resem-
McCusker of 1990. He’s a teenager                                                                                                                                     talking to the memebers, that this is
fresh from school, a fiery fiddle                         “Every time you have a change, hope-              blance to Irish music in the indige-
                                                          fully it brings something fresh. The              nous music of Lewis,” White                               what they want to be doing. Although
player, and a multi-instrumentalist.                                                                                                                                  they all have side projects, most
As a piper, White introduced pipe                         way that I play is largely influenced             explained. “It bears far more resem-
                                                          by playing with John McCusker all                 blance to Irish music than the music                      notably Kilbride’s new solo disc and
duets into the band for the first time.                                                                                                                               Reid’s duo album with Battlefield
How did they come across White?                           the time, so it’s great to have Alasdair          of east coast Scotland, which is
                                                                                                            another matter entirely.” This means                      Band sound engineer Rob van Sante,
Battlefield’s long-time manager                           play a different kind of style. And
                                                                                                            that White served almost as a bridge                      they always come back to the band
Robin Morton, who also runs                               likewise, playing with Pat is
                                                                                                            between the Scottish and Irish                            with excitement and enthusiasm.
Temple Records, had worked with                           completely different than playing with
                                                                                                            elements of the new band.                                 When the band’s young fiddler
the young player before. Indeed,                          Karine or with Davy. So from a                                                                              expressed that ebullience, Reid was
White had tried to get a recording                        musical point of view it is fresh, it’s           In any case, the ethnic makeup of the                     quick to respond. “That’s the danger,
contract with a young band from his                       different, and it keeps you on your               music doesn’t matter to the members                       Alasdair,” he quipped. “Once you’ve
native island of Lewis. “Robin                            toes.” On the other hand, as Reid                 in the slightest. Despite the group’s                     done this, you can never go work in
wasn’t interested in taking the band                      pointed out, there’s a whole learning             motto, “Forward with Scotland’s                           a bank.”
on, but he was interested in myself                       process that must be restarted every              Past,” they have had non-Scottish
and the keyboard player,” White                           time new members join. “You do get                musicians in the band constantly since
                                       Gloria M. Rosson

                                                                                                 Ron Hill

                                                                                                                                                   Gloria M. Rosson

                                                                                                                                                                                                             Gloria M. Rosson

Alan Reid                                                 Pat Kilbride                                      Mike Katz                                                 Alasdair White

104   December ’02/January ’03 #103

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