Wednesday, October 12, 2022

On the road

About twenty years ago or maybe a little more, my wife and I went to a small music club called the Towne Crier, which at that time was located in Pawling, New York, to hear a Scottish traditional music group called the Tannahill Weavers. According to a rumor I heard later, the Tannies had just come off a gig in a different venue at which some ignorant louts of the kind who think that anything connected with Scotland is fair game for mockery had made it an utterly miserable night for the group, so they may have come onstage with just a wee bit of trepidation. The Towne Crier, however, was a club for people who are knowledgeable about and serious about their music. As soon the Tannies finished the first song (or maybe set of tunes), the audience of some 150 or 200 people went absolutely wild in the best way, cheering and applauding and maybe even leaping to their feet, and I'll never forget the looks the band members exchanged in that moment, looks of mingled delight, relief, and stupefaction at their reception. Needless to say they were energized for the rest of the evening and put on a great show. As of 2022 they're still regular vistors to the Crier, which has since moved a bit west to Beacon.

The Tannahill lineup that night (it has changed often over the years) was presumably Roy Gullane on lead vocals and guitar, Phil Smillie on whistle, flute, and vocals, Leslie Wilson on guitar, bouzouki, and vocals, John Martin on fiddle and vocals, and I think Duncan Nicholson on bagpipes. The inclusion of the pipes was an innovation introduced by the group, and takes a bit of careful arranging, since bagpipes are just naturally louder than the stringed instruments and aren't traditionally played in a combo setting. (The Irish group Planxty, which had an approach somewhat akin to that of the Tannies, made similar creative use of Liam O'Flynn's uilleann pipes.)

The Tannies play a mixture of instrumentals, old ballads, and original songs, driven by Gullane's vocals and energetic rhythm guitar work, which really has to be seen live to be appreciated in full. Gullane has just put out a memoir entitled Goulash Soup and Chips, in which he tells stories from tours past, some painful (miserable road trips, gigs that weren't paid for, baggage handling disasters, etc.) and others absolutely hilarious. It's available from Amazon or at Tannahill Weavers gigs, and is essential for fans of the group and recommended for anyone interested in traditional music. Long may they wave.

Below is a clip of an expanded line-up of the Tannies performing "The Geese in the Bog" a few years back during a 40th-anniversary celebration.

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