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Highlands in Harmony
San Juan Island’s favorite Scottish musical group returns to Friday Harbor for its 15th performance and with a new album in tow that is, according to Irish Music Magazine, “… as fresh as new mown hay.”
That’s a phrase you don’t hear everyday, as far as musical reviews go, but then again, the Battlefield Band is anything but your everyday musical group. And while the “new mown hay” moniker may leave a bit to the imagination, the ring of critical acclaim for the band’s latest release, “Room Enough For All,” is unmistakedly clear. The album’s opening track, “Bagpipe Music,” has been nominated for an Independent Music Award, in the category of “World Traditional Song.”
That’s a funka-fied feather-in-the-cap for any band that prides itself on an ability to blend together ancient and traditional folk music.
Founded by a group of friends in 1969 and named after the ‘Battlefield’ area of Glasgow, the band has been touring and performing throughout the world ever since. Members of the band slated to take the stage for the Friday Harbor performance, at San Juan Community Theatre, are Ewen Henderson, Sean O’Donnell, Alasdair White and Mike Katz.
Islands’ Sounder reporter Cali Bagby caught up with Katz, who joined the band in 1997 and plays Highland bagpipes, small pipes, whistles, bouzouki, guitar and bass, for a Q & A. Originally from L.A., Katz moved to Scotland at age 18 to study at Edinburgh University and put down roots, and has remained there ever since.
Sounder: Why is it important to bridge the old music to the new?
Katz: I think this is an attempt to impress upon people that there is a continuous link culturally between music played in Scotland-or any culture for that matter-in the distant past and what is written and played in the modern day. This richness of what we have in a culture currently takes its depth from the variety and width of endeavor which proceeds it. Picasso for example, understood “conventional” art techniques and could draw realistic pictures and it is through that knowledge that he arrived at what he eventually produced. Without the past you have no future.
Sounder: What drew you to Scottish folk?
Katz: I have played the pipes since I was ten years old but it was only really when I was playing in Edinburgh in a pipe band in the early 1990s that I was introduced to lots of Scottish and Irish traditional music out with the piping tradition. My mother also does have some old Irish piping records, which I have listened to since I was a kid.
Sounder: When did you start playing the bagpipes?
Katz: I started playing when I was ten years old.
Sounder: What’s the longest period you have been separated from your bagpipes?
Katz: Three weeks on a holiday once or twice.
Sounder: How has your time growing up in California affected your music?
Katz: I don’t really know what affect growing up in California had on my piping but certainly playing other kinds of music informs the way I think. Making up raucous music with my pals taught me how to put things together. Just playing “stream of consciousness” music – most of which is of no interest-occasionally gave me good ideas.
For more about the band, visit www.battlefieldband.co.uk.
But wait! There’s more
Here’s a can’t miss for any musician, those with a fascination for Celtic music in particular. The Battlefield Band will present a free workshop, at 4 p.m., Saturday at the Community Theatre. The workshop features discussion about Scottish Music and instruments, as well as an opportunity for local musicians to play with the band. All ages are welcome.