June 24, 2008

Traditional Scots Group Albannach Bangs The Drum Loudly

By Buescher, James

By James Buescher / Sunday News Correspondent Over a pint of Guinness at a pub in Edinburgh, Scotland, or at a rugby match in Belfast, Northern Ireland - these are the places you might find a bunch of guys conspiring to form a Celtic battle-music band.

The members of the Scottish band Albannach found themselves in slightly more exotic environs: at Stonehenge, dressed as Celtic warriors, charging full-tilt at television cameras filming for the Discovery Channel.

It was just something that we fell into, band member Jamesie Johnston said in a telephone interview from rural New Hampshire, where he's taking time off between tours. They needed people who could look ferocious, who could just be wild and scream and run toward the camera and look like they were scaring the bejesus out of the invading Roman armies at Stonehenge.

Johnston and his mates looked so ferocious, in fact, that they became favorites of producers shooting on location in the United Kingdom. They soon found themselves portraying Scottish warriors in clan battle scenes for basic-cable documentaries.

The next thing you know, we were getting hired to do stunts. It was good fun, and we picked up a couple of stage-fighting techniques, but what was really important was that we just had a lot of time to sit around between shots, Johnston said. So we started messing around with some drums and pipes, got some great jams going, and the next thing you know, we were getting invited to play gigs.

Albannach consists of Johnston on bass drum and vocals, drummer Kyle Gray, singer Jacquie Holland, bagpiper Donnie MacNeill and bodhran players Davey Morrison and Aya Thorne. The band will perform at the 10th annual Celtic Fling and Highland Games to be held Friday, June 27, through Sunday, June 29, at Mount Hope Estate & Winery on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire north of Manheim.

The big difference between the Renaissance Faire and the annual Celtic Fling weekend is that the Faire is set in a world of make- believe, while the Fling happens squarely in 2008.

The weekend is a modern festival celebrating several centuries of tradition, said Vanessa Webb, entertainment coordinator for Mount Hope. You won't find anybody dressed up like a knight or using words like hither' and anon.' We're not setting the Celtic Fling weekend in another time, so the idea isn't to take you away' to another place.

Many of the people who come to the Celtic Fling weekend are simply celebrating their Celtic heritage, she said. If anything, the feeling here is like ... a big family reunion.

With entertainment happening concurrently on eight stages, this year's event also features 22 kitchens serving Celtic food, a haggis- eating contest, Irish dance competitions, demonstrations of traditional crafts, storytelling sessions and athletic events such as the caber toss, in which very large men compete to toss very large logs - some half the size of a telephone pole - across a field.

For many of the folks who come here for our Celtic Fling event, there's an ancestral connection, Webb said. For others, this is just a huge party, an event with no other message than to kick back, enjoy a little fun and frivolity and have a good time.

Albannach is headlining the event along with the band Celtic Storm, which provided the Irish music heard in the 1997 James Cameron film Titanic. The members of Albannach see their concerts abroad as more than just playing gigs on the festival circuit. For them, Johnston said, bringing traditional music all the way from Scotland reintroduces American concertgoers to what could be counted as a lost family heritage.

A lot of times, I think, people don't take what we do very seriously. Some concert promoters immediately look down on us as soon as they see us pull out the bagpipes, Johnston said. But we're happy that people respond so well to our sound and energy, and we're also pleased that ... we may be giving them something more meaningful than just a fun night at the local pub.

Though life on the road can be tough, Johnston said, he's always amazed to see how people - even those who don't have Gaelic or Celtic heritage - identify with the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland.

We go in big for the drums. ... We like our music to have a loud, aggressive sound, and people really, really like that. It's led me to think that we're all born with our own natural drumbeat inside, he said.

It's our mother's heartbeat, I think, something that we hear in the womb. What we're tapping into is a kind of primal memory.

Albannach will play at 5:45 p.m. Friday, June 27, at Mount Hope Estate & Winery, 2775 Lebanon Road, Manheim, on the Globe Stage on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. For ticket information, call 665-7021 or visit www.parenfaire.com.

Credit: James Buescher, Correspondent

(Copyright 2008 Lancaster Newspapers. All rights reserved.)

(c) 2008 Sunday News; Lancaster, Pa.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.