Battlefield Band
at the Tranzac Club, Toronto, Ontario
(25 November 2001)

There was quite a buzz around what the Battlefield Band would sound like when they showed up for a small crowd at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. Fair play to Alan Reid to be this loyal to the fans, and fair play to the Battlefield Band for keeping the faith. For, in spite of some very significant changes in the line-up, the sound did not disappoint the crowd.

Alan, Mike Katz, Karine Polwart and Alasdair White opened with a 9-minute set of tunes that set the tone for the evening. It was also an ample introduction to the two new members of the group. (The band has only had two other female members in the 30 years they have been branding the Battlefield sound.)

Karine does a fine job of presenting a different point of view on Scottish song. She doesnŐt think they have to be all dreary, a philosophy she demonstrated with "The Shepherd Lad," a song about a young red-blooded Scots lad that came upon a skinny-dipping lassie and was embarrassed, and "The Kelso Wife," which has a very different moral twist in the ending.

Alasdair is a wonderful musician. He played cittern, whistles, Highland pipes and fiddle. On some sets he played his fiddle unplugged and demonstrated a finesse that comes all the way from Lewis. In keeping with the Celtic penchant for having-a-go he grudgingly played a lovely tune called "The Harris Tourist Board." The preamble for this was a lengthy joke about an English tourist to the island.

Alan is still the keeper of the sound in this group. He has such a large repertoire of self-penned songs that he can refresh this band at a moment's notice. His ability to write ŇtraditionalÓ songs about curling, or Glasgow, sets a standard that will long be followed. There werenŐt too many harmony arrangements in the set list but Alan and Karine perform very well together. There is no mistaking the Glasgow accent when Alan sings and he is very happy that Karine comes from a village that is 23 miles from the east coast but only 22 miles from the west!

Mike played more whistle and flute than I seemed to remember from other concerts. Having said that he does an excellent job of anchoring the Battlefield sound with his command of the small and Highland pipes. He looked thrilled -- as did the fans -- when Alasdair fired up his set of Highlands during "Where Will We Gang." This collaboration was a measure of energy reminiscent of some earlier high-octane Battlefield Band concerts.

After the show I had the feeling that the Battlefield sound would soon be changing. This would be a good thing. Not because it needs to, but because thatŐs what this band does well on a regular basis. I am a fan of this group because they have prevailed over many years. They have given fans of Scottish traditional music a longevity to be savoured. All of the participants have done their bit and moved on leaving the legacy intact.

[ by Patrick Smyth ]
Rambles: 12 January 2002