Pipers, Better Than Peppers

Event Date: September 7, 2010
Venue: B. B. Kings Blues Club
Bands:  Red Hot Chilli Pipers (Main); GIRSA (Opener)

When telling people that I was off to see the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, I was first met with a flurry of jealous looks and then confusion, as the phonemes caught up with the temporal lobe. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these are not peppers, they are Pipers, and they certainly earned the capital letter I just bequeathed upon them.

On September 7th, this band (used semantically to represent a great number of people come together for a single purpose, rather than a few guys who decided to play music together) graced the stage of B.B. King’s to bring to New York a spectacular set of Bagpipe Rock, and Folk, and what have you. Generally not my style of music, I was nevertheless completely carried off on the strains of… well, a number of instruments, and even joined a small group on the dance floor who jigged like they were in Scotland, rather than given stares of death by New Yorkers.

A word on the openers, GIRSA (pronounces “girshah”–the Gaelic word for “girls”). Two of the members of this Second Generation Irish American Girl Band were apparently run into somewhere in NYC the night before and invited to play some tunes as an opening act for the Pipers. They, of course, obliged, but were not exactly prepared. This reflected somewhat in their performance, as they nervously told us they weren’t particularly good with song names, but once a decision was made to play something by one, the other quickly caught on and they did a great job performing songs generally played by a set of 8 ladies. Deirdre Brennan and Margaret Dudasik presented us with some lovely fiddling, and whistling, and possibly mandolin-ing.

The Ladies of GIRSA

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers then brought their “Bag Rock” to the stage with many an element of high drama. Swathed in black, and red, and of course kilts, they grinned happily at the receptive audience who greeted them with thunderous applause.

The Pipers marched all around the stage, playing with abandon. The member who got the maracas appeared to be having a particularly good time. This opening pretty much set up the atmosphere for the rest of the show, which was bursting with good cheer, as well as good old bagpipes infused with rock. By this time B.B. King’s was completely packed.

Red Hot Chilli Pipers rose to glory in 2004, after winning BBC’s talent show, “When Will I Be Famous?” The make up of the band is a bit lengthy, but deserves to be mentioned as all are highly accomplished musicians in their own right and also because Cassells went to the trouble of adapting the American accent so we could understand all the names (List from their Facebook page):

Bagpipes:
Stuart Cassells
Kevin McDonald
Kyle Warren
Gordon “Dougie” McCance

Guitar:
Ben “Ice-Man” Holloway (America 2010)
Nick “The Firestarter” Hawryliw

Keyboard:
Gary O’Hagan (America 2010)
Chris Russell

Drumkit:
Steven ‘Stav’ Black

Percussion:
Steven Graham
Malcolm McEwan

Bouzouki and Bass Guitar:
Stevie Lawrence

They have since put out 4 albums, the latest, Music for the Kilted Generation, has landed on 17 October 2010. “Remember, remember the 17th of October” chanted Stuart Cassells (bagpipes and general chatterer to the audience).

The Pipers are excellent to listen to, but they are also showmen to the first degree. This night we witnessed several contests, the first, a Bag Off among the four bagpipers the prize being a bottle of scotch and The American Pipe Title, the judges being the audience, aka, us. Kilts a-twirling, cheeks a-straining, they presented us with what appeared to almost be a mini-military tattoo. McDonald was granted the American Pipe Title, which he won in part with his dance moves.

Graham and McEvan had a snare drum competition, which Graham won, as was to be expected in a two-time world champion, but the battle was almost an acrobatic act, with drum stick juggling, and sword/drum stick fighting, while never missing a beat.

A few of their songs stood out to me, if only because they were covers of popular titles, such as Coldplay’s “Clocks” which was excellent. Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” is on the new album, but hopefully sounds better on the CD, since live it actually sounded a little like car alarms going off. “Amazing Grace” and “Hey Jude” were great sing-along hits. Everyone hummed along with “Highland Cathedral.” They even threw in some Blues, to give props to the venue. Not everything should lend itself to a bagpipe powered cover, but a surprising amount of songs does.

Audience participation was a large part of the show. There was also a dancing competition, and a sweet woman, comfortably in her 60’s, won a box of shortbread cookies. Saffron Division 2 Pipe Band was in attendance, and they tended to roar with approval at the slightest provocation.

You don’t always get the sense that the musicians on stage are having a good time, but these guys’ grins and general happiness was absolutely contagious.

This was The Pipers’ first U.S. tour, and they are certain to leave an impression all around the country. I would wish them great luck, but I think they already have all they need for the makings of lasting success.


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