Bad Haggis,
(Spunbugger, 2001)

Bad Haggis is the unlikely name for the combined and considerable talents of Eric Rigler, Mike Hoffmann, Mick Linden and Bryon Holley.

Rigler is already renowned for his superlative piping on such big-screen projects as Titanic and Braveheart, as well as television's Northern Exposure, and is otherwise recognised as a central member of the Celtic supergroup Skyedance. Bad Haggis, his current band, showcases his skills on uilleann pipes, Scottish bagpipes, smallpipes and low whistle. Hoffmann's unique sound on bagtar (bagpipes and guitar) provides melodies that meld perfectly with the neo-Celtic presence of the band. Another Skyedance member, bassist and vocalist Linden, adds to the spice of the blend, the undertones of which are provided by percussionist Holley. He brings experience broadened by working on a wide swathe of music, influenced by African rhythms and rock beats.

On Trip, their third release, the very familiar strains of James Horner's "Hymn to the Sea" from Titanic provide a soothing finale, but the preceding bulk of the CD is a skirlin', lowpin' and deavin' ("sizzling, leaping and deafening," for non-Scots) electric ceilidh! If your foot doesn't tap to this, you're either deaf or paralysed. This has all the crucial elements of new Celtic music, the intriguing blend of the traditional and the modern, in tune interpretation and in instrumentation. Three traditional reel arrangements complement the outstanding original tunes from the group.

The band members bring to bear a formidable amount of experience, and it would indeed be a wonder if the sound produced was mediocre. Linden's vocals are bit strained on "Water Church" but nonetheless seem to go well with the accompanying instrumentation; he later settles into a pleasant and well-modulated tone. In their titular track, which would seem to have a verse dedicated to each band member, they use electronic vocal effects and present an eclectic and bizarre blend of rock, rap, reggae and reel -- even weirder to relate -- and it works! Following closely is "Little Spark," and normally I detest the spoken word over musical background, but the words are intelligent and rather beautiful, and the piece is presented with a certain moodiness and none of the schmaltz usually associated with this ploy; strong instrumentation and a no-nonsense beat make this a curiously palatable track.

The somnolent and balladic "While You're Asleep" is a very tender love song, which has a superb instrumental break from Rigler's pipes. In his hands, these "love-them-or-hate-them" pipes metamorphose into something quite spectacular. There are many competent practitioners, but Rigler's skills transcend into genius.

This is a great buy for anyone who likes Celtic music, reels and jigs; anyone enamoured of the uilleann pipes and anyone who appreciates solid talent when they hear it. Bad Haggis may be their moniker, but, as a connoisseur of that dish, I can honestly say that this is a prime serving -- hot stuff, spicy and tasty, with no unidentified and unnecessary additives, leaving a warm afterglow and a hankering for just a wee bit more!

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 22 February 2003

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