Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Band That Started It: Capercaillie and "Puirt a Beul/Snug in a Blanket"

I've told the story on this blog before. How I was persuaded to go to Milwaukee's Irish Fest by Megan back in the late 1980s. How I dissed Irish music in my ignorance, believing that all it consisted of was schmaltzy ballads sung by accented tenors. How we walked in to the festival grounds and I heard something that I'd never heard before - traditional music with rhythms that were almost modern. That band was Capercaille, at the beginning of their career which has now stretched almost 30 years.

It was Capercaille that really started me on the road to appreciate world music. Back then world music was, to me, Celtic music: the smattering of songs that Peter Gabriel put out that had African singers and rhythms (I didn't even know the name of the singer, Youssou N'Dour, on Gabriel's In Your Eyes nor of his fame until many years later), and Ladysmith Black Mambazo's contributions to Paul Simon's Graceland album. My music world was small, limited to 70s and 80s rock, new wave, pop and a smattering of disco and funk. I had no idea when I walked into the festival grounds that day that synthesizers, a bass groove and a modern guitar accompaniment over traditional Gaelic tunes would lead to a sea change in my openness to other cultures and other artistic styles. And, this change occurred gradually. But it happened, and I have Capercaille to thank for that.

Capercaille is a Scottish folk band formed in the 1980s. They are named after the Scottish wood grouse. Capercaille performs traditional Gaelic songs along with songs in English of their own composition or by others, and often mix traditional songs with modern recording techniques, rhythms and instrumentation. At first sticking fairly closely to traditional styles and instrumentation, in the 1980s they added funk bass lines, synthesizers and electric guitar to traditional songs. In 1992, their EP A Prince Among Islands was the first Gaelic language record to reach the top 40 of the UK singles charts They have since been moving back toward the more traditional while retaining a slight fusion sound. This song, Puirt a Beul/Snug in a Blanket, is from their 2006 album Crosswinds.