‘Four On The Floor’
Age appears best in four things: old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.
Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626) English philosopher, statesman, essayist
Celt In A Twist: Old Blind Dogs are neither canine nor visually challenged and while 15 years of age may be getting on in dog years, these fierce Scots untraditionalists are hardly growing old gracefully, preferring to live life precariously at the leading edge of Celtic music. This year sees them down one dog and up one album with their newest release, Four On The Floor. Rory Campbell, piper for the band is on the line to tell us more. Hello, Rory. How are you?
Rory Campbell: I'm good!
CIAT: Now, I know you're not one of the original members of Old Blind Dogs but is there a familiar feeling to the 4 piece arrangement for you?
Rory: Yah, I was very familiar with the original lineup of the band because I used to play in various bands around Scotland at the time and played support to the Dogs on a number of occasions in a band I used to play in called Deaf Shepherd. I was very familiar with the four piece sound with Ian F. Benzie (guitar and vocals), Jonny Hardie (fiddle and mandolin), Buzzby McMillan (bass and cittern) and Davey Cattenach (percussion). When pipes were added with Fraser Fifield that was a concept that, as a fan of the Dogs, I had to adjust to as well. Then, coming into the band where the five piece format had been established, we had to work very hard. But, just settling back as a four piece again seemed totally natural and it was an easy transition for us.
CIAT: One more note on that ... am I hearing more harmonies now that you’re back to the four piece configuration?
Rory: Well you know, we've always done the harmonies but I think the harmonies are more flexible? Certainly the harmonies are as strong as or stronger than they have been in the past. We don't have one lead singer as such. On the new album, myself and Aaron (Jones - bouzouki/bass) and Jonny are all taking the lead on different songs so perhaps we're feeling vocally more confident and daring ... I don't know.
CIAT: Can you tell us about a couple of the more contemporary pieces, like Terror Time which we just heard (I love that title by the way) and Star O’ The Bar (another title I love). Did you go looking for great titles?
Rory: Not really great titles but great songs! Often the two go together. But, Terror time is the first tune, what the traveling people refer to as the winter time, because it brought hunger and starvation and no work and poor clothing and bad diet and being kicked out of every town you went to. But, in terms of the names of the songs, we did do a bit of digging to find songs that we thought would be suitable and were suitable to our voices so we could adapt to in our new environment as a four piece.
CIAT: And, you pay beautiful tribute to the Celtic traditions of Brittany and Galicia. What are the biggest impressions you’ve taken away from those places?
Rory: Well, the musical traditions in Brittany and Galicia are very similar to other parts of Celtic Europe and Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall and the like. The link between the song, the music and the dance is something you cannot break. The Breton and Galician traditions both have these strong ties to the song and the dance and the way they’re held together. That's kind of what you come away with when you go there and you see the dances and the concerts and, what we would call a Ceilidh but they have different names ... it's just a different way of doing the same thing.
CIAT: You’ve got your Celt In A Twist and we have Rory Campbell on the line an Old Blind Dog on the leash to talk about Four On the Floor their new album. Connect with the band at their website, www.oldblinddogs.co.uk where you can even pick up your own set of Old Blind Dog Tags. Don’t enter the fray without them. Rory, the hand drums (djembe I imagine) add a real tribal groove to your sound and it’s fairly consistent throughout your albums. How did that sound develop as opposed to bodhran or standard kit?
Rory: Again, it goes back to the starting days of the band. When you're getting together a band you don't very often make conscious decisions to hunt out a particular instrument. You just end up finding a group of musicians who kind of gel. And, it just so happened that for Davy Cattenach, in that lineup, this was his thing. He enjoyed using different kinds of percussion. I think it was congas originally, and hand percussion and that really sort of ethnic sound. It just developed from there. So, when Davy moved on and other players got in, it was important to retain that sound as much as possible. It obviously has to evolve and it has done. Now, Fraser (Stone) plays essentially a hand drum set up built around a djembe. It's a bit of a kit really ... there's a kick drum and he uses brushes occasionally, It's just evolved a little bit.
CIAT: I was going to ask Jonny Hardie this question. He, being the last founding member still with the band but I'll ask you as well. Is there anything at this point which Old Blind Dogs have set out to accomplish which you have yet to achieve?
Rory: Well, there's lot's of places we would still like to play. There are lots of places we haven't been which we would like to go to. And, we're working on a DVD at the moment. We did two reunion concerts in Aberdeen, Scotland with previous members of the band. So we have lots of performance footage, interviews and what not. So, we want to get that DVD out and I think just play to more people. Really, that's all we're trying to do.
CIAT: Well, you're so good in the live context so it makes sense that you just want to get out there and play. Rory, we’re going out on a tradition that has made its way across the Atlantic into Cape Breton culture as well. It’s a waulking song. Tell us about Gaelic Song from Four On The Floor.
Rory, Yah, the song comes from the island of Barra which is where my father is from and it's one that he sang and still does. It tells the story of the men of the Clan MacNeil looking out to the ocean and seeing a galley sailing in toward Kisimul Castle on the island of Barra. And, it talks of what will happen when the boat comes in and guys will get off and go for a drink, and someone will play some good tunes, and someone will have a dance and someone will fall over (laughs). You know ... that kind of thing. But, a waulking song was a working song that the women would sing when they were working the cloth.
Rory Campbell was interviewed by Cal Koat on August 7th/07 for broadcast on Celt In A Twist, AM 1470, CJVB