Monday, April 29, 2013


The Battlefield Band: We work the black seam

Damn your eyes, Starmaker, I really, honestly, really wanted to move away from my folky niche, yet what could I do? Presented with this fortnights topic, within a whisper of the passing of  Margaret Thatcher, always enshrined, in the hearts of the left-leaning limey, with the abolishment of work, or at least certain parts thereof, it was always going to be this, or one of umpteen covers of Dylans prescient ode to "her" farm. And somehow Sting, the author of this song, when his credibility remained untainted by tantricity and dodgy rain forest deals, would now seem sorrily too irredeemably naff for this poster.

So who the hell are the Battlefield Band?  I recently read a suggestion that the Battlefield Band could fulfil a similar role for scottish music as pehaps the Chieftains may have for irish. Lofty praise indeed, maybe true, but somehow missing the angle of trajectory. Always implicitly political, over a 3 decade time period, with an ever changing cast,the Battlefield Band have always encapsulated the true curse of  Scotland, to have the majesty of emotion, the moral high ground of a history, yet to be forever in thrall to the nation to whom they lent their king, some 400 or so years ago. I don't wish to invoke arguments around nationalism, but, actually no, I don't and won't.  Others can say it far better than I.

So what do I love about the band? I think it is the mix of the old with the new: ancient airs mingling with modern songs like this. The musical mix, bagpipes, guitars and fiddle shrouded within swathed washes of synthesiser. And the cast of musicians, every time an essential member seeming to depart, a replacement arriving hot foot from ever more distant corners of celtic wizardry. A bagpiping prodigy from the USA? Tick. An apparent endless supply of hebridean fiddle wunderkinds? Tick. A college of emeritus alumni remaining fresh in the memory and high in profile, from Brian McNeill to the current golden boy of scottish arrangements, John McCusker, fiddler to Mark Knopfler amongst many others. Tick. And a word for Alan Reid, a constant for near always, songwriter, singer and keyboard king, without whom it would seem inconceivable. But still they go forward, as their byline states, forward with Scotlands past.

Mayday is the workers holiday they say, yet it seems locked in a past, recent yet gone forever, maybe as distant as the maypole around which we used to dance? Work, huh, what is it good for?

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