by Cindy Reich
Alan spoke with Cindy Reich
from the Celtic Connection
via phone from his home in Scotland. Cindy: The last time I spoke with you Alan, was a long time ago when the band were playing in Denver. John McCusker had just joined, which will tell you how long ago THAT was, and looked about 14 years old! However, you are the last man standing, Alan, as a founder member of the band. Did you ever think, thirty plus years down the road, you would still be touring, making albums and such? Alan: Not at all, Cindy. Brian McNeill was the original founder of the band and I joined a few months later. When we decided to quit our jobs and try music for a couple of years.. that was back in 1975 and I don”t think we ever dreamed the band would endure for thirty plus years. When you”re that age, you”re not thinking of what you”re going to be like when you”re middle aged. I remember thinking in my thirties, ach; I”ll probably retire when I”m fifty. I”ve passed that particular hurdle and I”m still going strong! Cindy: That”s a great testament to the success of the band. There”s tens of thousands of bands out there that became relatively popular and were finished in a few years. Alan: There aren”t too many bands who have spanned the decades we have and I tend to think of it as a phenomenon. An achievement that the band is still thriving and producing good music regardless of who is in the band. I think when you get a band that has lasted as long as we have there”s an interesting story to tell. I can think of other bands who are older than us. The Dubliners who are in our sphere of music and the Rolling Stones in another sphere of music. I think its just amazing these “institutions” if you can call them that, can last for decades and decades. I think what we have in common with the Rolling Stones if I can be so bold as to compare ourselves in any way whatsoever, is the fact that both bands really love playing live. I”m sure none of them need the money, so why do they still go out on the road and play? I”m sure they don”t need to do it, and yet they still do it for playing to live audiences. And that is one of the reasons I think we”ll still around. We”re willing to travel and we still like to play to live audiences, and the response we get is one of the things that keep us doing what we”re doing. Cindy: Well, that is still the best way to see The Battlefield Band ” in a live situation. The recordings are all nice and lovely, but my favorite album would be “Home Ground” which is a live album. The energy, the vibe and the spark off the audience is fabulous. When the pipes, which are such a trademark sound, when those pipes come on stage, it just electrifies everybody ” visually as well as listening. And to have the pipes in such an intimate setting as Swallow Hill should be fantastic. You have had a lot of great musicians come in and out of the band over the years, but the ability of the band to be a fluid entity has also been a part of its success. You maintain a great sound and the caliber of the musicians has always been of the highest order. The Battlefield Band is always The Battlefield Band. The sum seems to always be greater than the parts. Alan: I think that is what has made us a little bit different from other bands that have gone on for a long time. Although we have had a lot of people come through our ranks over the decades, basically, our lineup has been the same in terms of instrumentation. When a piper leaves, a piper joins, when a guitarist leaves, a guitarist joins. The basic sound of the band remains the same, although there are subtle differences. Battlefield Band aficionados have come to recognize over the years that no one is irreplaceable. If someone whom they”ve admired leaves, they can be assured that whoever replaces them will be equally adept. The standard we expect our members to aspire to never changes. Cindy: It is that standard of excellence I want to address, especially as it pertains to songwriting and the original tunes. Its what keeps me coming back to the band, as yourself and many others have penned so many great new tunes and great new songs. Alan: I started writing songs about twenty-five years ago. One of the reasons I started doing that was that bands like us that were touring all seemed to be looking at the same resource books and looking to the same source singers for material. It never occurred to us to write an entirely new song instead of looking for an obscure song and putting a twist to it. It was quite a daring thing to even think of, never mind to actually do. Brian McNeill started and then I followed on and it has become something that really interests me in fact. Personally speaking, I am more interested and get more satisfaction from that than any other aspect of my musicianship. In more recent years, I”ve been writing more songs, especially about historical things in Scotland. I”m just about to bring out an album about the rise and fall of Bonnie Prince Charlie that”s going to be incorporating some quite well known traditional songs as well as five new songs I”ve written myself. Of course, I”m still writing for the band as well, so on every album that comes out, I have one or two songs on it. I”ve also got a whole album”s worth of material on the life of John Paul Jones, the hero of the American Revolution, who was born in Scotland. Cindy: You seem to be a bit of a historian, and one song of yours I really was interested in, as I knew nothing about it, was the failed colony in Panama called “Darien”. A lot of your songs are about historically significant events. Alan: I”m particularly interested in stories that are not well known. I”ve just recently written a song about the Scotsman called John Rae who was an Arcadian who went to work for the Hudson Bay Company. He ended up looking for the Lord Franklin expedition which had gone to look for the northwest passage and got lost in the north of Canada. This guy brought back the story that they had all perished and that some had even resorted to cannibalism. The establishment in England completely disregarded his information because it was based on the testimony of Inuit Indians and the English establishment said that these English gentlemen could never have succumbed to such a desperate act and they would not believe the word of savages. So this fellow was completely ostracized and ridiculed. And it was John Rae who actually did find the Northwest Passage. So when I look at that, I think, wow, that”s a great story and hardly anyone knows about it! I think I”ll make that into a song. Cindy: Ah, but see that”s a great example of the power of song. I became interested in Lord Franklin”s expedition from hearing the song, “Lord Franklin”. I just recently read a great book on it, called “The Terror” (one of Franklin”s two ships- “Terror” and “Erebus”) that was about 900 pages, but was fascinating. If it hadn”t been for hearing the song, I would never have delved into the story. Another Battlefield Band song that I truly love was written by the late Davy Steele ” “The Last Trip Home”. As a horsewoman, I really appreciated that song, and I know it was played at Davy”s funeral. I want to have it played at mine as well. It is a great example of some of the music to come out of the band. Alan: Davy was much loved by the audiences all over the world in the short time he was with the band. It was obvious when you were watching him that he was just having a ball and that he managed to transmit that joy to the audience. He had a beautiful voice as well”a great quality to it. I really enjoyed singing harmonies with him. An album came out here several years ago and every song on it was about Clydesdale horses (“Gentle Giants” Greentrax). Robin Laing compiled that album and he wanted “Last Trip Home” to be the first track on the album. I wrote a song as well, which appears on the album. It”s not just a folk album, there are some rock tracks as well, but every single song is about Clydesdale horses. Cindy: You released a new album last year, “Dookin” (Temple Records) and there”s an album and DVD out as well. What new material might you be bringing with you to Denver? Alan: The DVD was filmed a few years ago and most of the material is from the previous album, “The Road of Tears” but there are one or two tracks on it that didn”t make the album. Most of our material is still from Dookin” but we”re starting to incorporate some new tracks as well, which will appear on our next album which we will be working on soon. The Battlefield Band will be performing at Daniels Hall at Swallow Hill on Friday, November 7th. The show is at 8pm. For more information on The Battlefield Band, their website is: www.battlefieldband.co.uk

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