Quick Q and A with Mike Katz (Scotland’s Battlefield Band)

The Battlefield Band’s publicity poster is so right.  It says “Forward with Scotland’s Past.”  No doubt about it. Their music has kept traditional Scottish music alive and audiences have enjoyed their tunes for over forty years.  The current members of the band include Mike Katz (Highland pipes, small pipes, various whistles, bass guitar, guitar); Alasdair White (fiddle, whistle, bazouki, Highland and small pipes); Sean O’Donnell (vocals, guitar); and Ewen Henderson (fiddle, bagpipes, whistle, piano, vocals). Each of these gentlemen is an extraordinary musician in his own right. They continue to bring the music of the past to the present and are inspiring young musicians to continue to move “forward with Scotland’s past.”

Listening to the Battlefield Band is a musical experience to cherish.  Their mixture of traditional and contemporary original material highlights their creative approach to the music.

To learn more about the Battlefield Band, visit their website.

The Battlefield Band will be performing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, October 26.


L-R:Sean O’Donnell, Alasdair White, Ewen Henderson, Mike Katz

(Photo by John Slavin)

The Battlefield Band has been in existence for over forty years.  There have been many lineup changes, but the music continues which is fabulous.  How would you describe the Battlefield Band’s music to someone who has never heard you?

Well, you mentioned “fabulous” yourself – I am happy enough to go with that!  Seriously:  Scottish music of great energy played on a variety of instruments.

Since there have been several changes in the band, how has a sense of continuity taken place?  Are there signature songs that have always been on the set list since the band first formed?

All the music is “signature” in that is the music reflecting the corpus of what has been played in Scotland for hundreds of years:  the individual players are merely conduits of this part of national culture.  This is akin to the idea that your favourite sports team remains the same entity even though the players change from time to time:  one still likes the Boston Celtics, for example, even though Larry Bird no longer plays for them:  they are still the Celtics and indeed are still playing basketball.

Everyone is always intrigued by musicians who play the bagpipes.  Is it a difficult instrument to master?   Is there a lot of encouragement within the schools or other organizations to get young people interested in learning to play them since it is such a iconic representation of Scotland?

In a word, yes.  Bagpipes are largely about the instrument:  the maintenance and sound thereof.  It is a beast of four reeds and numerous slides so attaining the optimum sound is a plumbing problem and a general obsession of most pipers and while the listener may not notice this too much, it might give one an insight into the general mania existent within the souls of the practitioners of this dark and silly art.

Does your repertoire include mostly traditional songs?  Do your renditions of the old songs differ from the versions that your elders played?

Our repertoire tends towards a 50/50 blend of traditional material and more recent compositions in the traditional idiom.  As far as interpretations of vocal and instrumental pieces go, we are less concerned with reworking things than re-affirming the strength of the music.

Your CD “The Road of Tears” is a thematic album full of songs about emigration.  I was especially interested in seeing that you cover a Woody Guthrie song “Deportee / Plane Wreck at Los Gatos.”   Since this is the anniversary of Woody’s birth 100 years ago, have you been getting many requests to do that song during this tour?

Well remembered!  We haven’t performed that song for a couple of years – perhaps we should get it up for this tour.

Your latest CD “Line-up” includes a tongue-in-cheek cover shot of all the band members in a police line-up.  Does it have any particular theme?

No theme really.  We were just trying to get together the best music we could — having acquired our latest member, Ewen Henderson.