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The University of Hartford

Notes from Celtic Airs
With your host Steve Dieterich September/October 2009

I’ll be gallivanting through France and Spain in September, so there will be no Celtic Airs concert that month. Strange territory for a Celtic DJ / concert promoter you’re saying?? Don’t forget that Brittany (France) and Galicia (Spain ) are two of the seven Celtic nations, so I’m not completely off base!!
                We’ll make up for a quiet September with a rousing October show featuring the Battlefield Band on 10/16/09. This will be the band’s second or third stop here. They’ve been touring for over 30 years and hope to have their 31st album ready to showcase on this night.
                It was 1969 when four young Scottish musicians from Battlefield, Scotland (did you ever wonder where the band got it’s name?), a suburb of Glasgow, decided to form a band. Now, 40 years later, it’s easy to see that this ensemble, through it’s many permutations, has done for Scottish traditional music what the Chieftains have done for the Irish tradition.
                The band members initially kept their day jobs and the personnel evolved a bit until 1975 when the quartet of Alan Reid, Brian McNeill, Jamie McMenemy and John  Gahagan went professional full time  and recorded their first album, “Scottish Folk”, on the Arfolk label. Shortly thereafter, they were discovered and befriended by Robin Morton, who remains their producer and manager to this day. They recorded three albums for the well known Topic Record label between 1977 and 1979, then began their own Temple Record label with it’s first release, “Home Is Where the Van Is” in 1981. The album title hints at the band’s dedication to touring, performing for live audiences, a trait that persists to this day through numerous changes in their line up. Their success in the endeavor was epitomized by their selection as “Best Live Act” at the first annual Scot’s Trad Music Awards in 2003, an award they were doubly proud of as it was voted on by the public, NOT the press.
                Battlefield Band members have usually been male , perhaps because of the grueling road schedule they maintain, but over the years there have been a few female members as well, most recently Karine Polwart  who toured with the band 1998-2000 and featured on the recording  of “Happy Daze”.
                 Alan Reid (keyboards, guitar, vocals) is the only remaining original member of the band, a constant for 40 years now!! He does much of the band’s singing and songwriting. His material is often topical, dealing with contemporary issues of the day.
His mock serious on stage demeanor hides his inclination to slightly off beat humor.
                Highland pipes have long been a trademark of the Battlefield Band sound and there have been a wealth of fine pipers moving through the band over the years; Duncan MacGilivray, the late Dougie Pincock, Iain MacDonald and current piper Mike Katz. Mike was from Los Angeles and took up the highland pipes at age ten. He moved to Scotland to study at Edinburgh University. Soon thereafter he joined the band Ceolbeg, the performers at the very first Celtic Airs concert in August 1994. In 1995, Mike jumped at the chance to join the Battlefield Band when Dougie Pincock’s health deteriorated and he could no longer tour. Fourteen years later, he’s second in longevity to Alan!
                One of Mike’s band mates in Ceolbeg was the late Davy Steele. In 1996, Alasdair Russell, long time vocalist and guitarist, decide to depart and Mike suggested Davy as his replacement. Then fifty, Davy was a long time member of the Scottish folk music scene. He spent two very successful years with the band before developing a malignant brain tumor, dying very shortly thereafter. A succession of singer /guitarists followed including Karine Polwart, Malcolm Stitt and Pat Kilbride , who had previously been with the band in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s. Pat lent an Irish flavor to the Battlefield Band’s sound and repertoire as does his successor, current vocalist and guitarist, Sean O’Donnell who replaced Pat in 2005.
                Another classic Battlefield Band attribute is a talented fiddler/multi-instrumentalist who joins the band at a very young age. Long time band member Brian McNeill was replaced by baby-faced John McCusker in 1990. McCusker was a major influence in the band as writer, instrumentalist and gleeful foil to Alan Reid’s feigned soberness. John remained with the band til 2002 when he departed to marry and tour with  Kate Rusby. His replacement, Alasdair White, was an 18 year old child prodigy when he joined the band. He has matured considerably over the past seven years of touring and recording. Like McCusker, he also writes material for the band and has recorded a solo album or two. In addition to his fiery fiddling, again like McCusker, he plays guitar, bouzouki, and banjo. He can also join Mike Katz in rousing duets on pipes and whistles!
                Battlefield Band’s motto is “Forward With Scotland’s Past”, a slogan inspired by their foundations in the rich heritage of Scottish traditional music amalgamated with the strength of today’s Scottish cultural scene and the young musicians it is generating.
                The Edinburgh Evening News said “The Battlefield Band is a national treasure and exemplifies the ongoing development of the Scottish musical tradition. You haven’t seen them yet? Shame on you.” Please take that quote to heart! If you’ve seen the Battlefield Band, I know you’ll be back. If you haven’t yet seen them, now’s your big chance!! What could be more convenient than a concert in the University of Hartford’s Millard Auditorium on October 16th at 7:30PM ?!?!
                Tickets for the Celtic Airs concert series are only available through the University of Hartford box office, open 10-6, Monday –Friday. Call 768-4228 or 1-800-274-8587 OR purchase on line at www.hartford.edu/tickets.
                Tune into Celtic Airs every Tuesday 6-9AM for Celtic music new and old and updates on the concert series.  You can also add your name to our concert e-mail list by sending an e-mail to wwuh@hartford.edu with “Celtic Concert Mailing List” in the subject line.
                Thanks for your continued support,  

Steve Dieterich
Producer/Host of Celtic Airs

Copyright©WWUH: September/October Program Guide, 2009

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