Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit

Today's Global Hit takes us to Scotland.

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"The Battlefield Band" is a bit of an institution in the traditional music world there.

The Batties, as they're know to their fans, take their name from the Battlefield suburb of Glasgow.

And as the World's Carol Zall explains, they've been on the scene for quite some time.

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The amazing thing about the Battlefield Band is that they've been around for forty years.

And at one time or another over those four decades, many of Scotland's best known traditional musicians have been in the band.

Katz: "Some would say it's like a who's who - or is it a who's whom, I'm not sure - a who's who of traditional music in Scotland."

That's Mike Katz, one of the band's current four members.

Katz: "I play the bagpipes, whistles, bazouki, base? I don't sing really cause it's not the best."

Sean O'Donnell is the band's newest member:

O'Donnell: "I play guitar and sing? a little bit."

Both Mike and Sean shy away from labels for the band and prefer to talk about the mix of influences on their music:

Katz: "A great thing about being in a studio, everyone chips in a wee thing because they listened to Metallica that day or the beach boys or whatever, and so even though we're playing a tune that's 200 years old there's still a wee bit of Metallica and the Beach boys having a wee session in the background."

O'Donnell: "You pick up influences from everywhere. When I was growing up I was listening to Rush and Thin Lizzy and stuff, Steely Dan and, I still try and crowbar a couple of Steely Dan chords into our music, and hopefully no one notices - especially not Steely Dan."

Here's the Band's take on a traditional Scottish tune, featuring an unexpected blues harmonica.

You could say that Katz and O' Donnell themselves are musical influences on the band from outside Scotland.... because neither one of them is actually Scottish.

Sean O' Donnell is from Northern Ireland.

And despite the confusing accent, Mike Katz comes from Los Angeles.

He started playing the bagpipes in L.A. when he was ten; now forty, he's spent more than half his life in Scotland.

Katz: "I come from a pretty boring suburb of LA which has no character really, so it's not like I've lost anything by leaving. I also think that Scotland is a much more cosmopolitan place than many people give it credit, there's lots of people here from all over, that's been the case for a long time, we even have English people living here."

The band's most recent CD is called DOOKIN'. Mike says the name of the CD, and of the first tune on it, was inspired by a woman he and his wife saw playing the fiddle in a pub during the Edinburgh Arts Festival.

Katz: "There was a young woman who was worse for the wear with the drink, and that was fine, it's a common sport during the festival."

O'Donnell: "My kind of lady --"

Katz: "She was playing the fiddle in the session and she wasn't realy making any sense, she had her earphones in at the same time, and she was wearing a collection of wristwatches, and she'd applied her lipstick in a rather cavalier fashion, all over her face, and my wife said, that lassie looks like she's been dookin for beetroot, dookin is a Scots word which is the same word as ducking, like ducking for apples, so it's just a name that kind of stuck with me."

While the Battlefield Band are adept at creating powerful arrangements of traditional music, they're also known for performing ballads with a strong political slant. The Ballad of Accounting, written by British songwriter Ewan MacColl, is sung by Sean O' Donnell on the Dookin' CD.

O'Donnell: "The Ballad of Accounting has always been a favorite of mine, I've heard it years ago and I've loved the lyrics and it's one of these songs that apply in every decade at every time and every country really. So I've been joking at gigs that we've been singing it in America for the last couple of years and we think we've made the difference."

The Battlefield Band are currently touring the U.S.

For the World, I'm Carol Zall.

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