As the all-too-common collage approach to band categorization goes, the self-portrait offered by Celtic world-fusionists Rathkeltair is perhaps better than most: A description on their Web site promises listeners “acoustic trad mixed with spine-tingling Euro-pop as performed by jaded ex-rock stars.”
Rathkeltair’s piper/vocalist Neil Anderson and drummer Nick Watson were founding members of Clan Na Gael, now Seven Nations and arguably the best-known Celtic-rock band around. Watson also toured for years with the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, four-time world piping champions based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, near his hometown. Bassist and percussionist Collier Hyams lives outside Washington, D.C., and guitarist/vocalist/native Londoner Trevor Tanner was the front man for influential ’80s band the Bolshoi, contemporaries of such Goth-tinged rockers as the Cult and Echo & the Bunnymen (and presumably the “jaded ex-rock star” in question).
But for all his band’s attempt at pastiche in their press bio, Anderson, in a recent interview, described himself as “essentially a jazz musician. Beyond all of the bagpipes and whistles, I play sax and clarinet.”
And, too, percussionist Hyams “has played the Montreux Jazz Festival,” Anderson points out. Not to mention recording with Sean Ono Lennon. “We’re all very well-rounded musicians. Whether we’re talented or not is all from your point of view.”
But the piper has definite ideas when it comes to the catch-all drift net that is the Celtic-rock genre. “A lot of what I’ve heard classified as Celtic rock through the years is either pretty good Celtic musicians who can’t play rock, or pretty good rock musicians who can’t play Celtic,” he says.
“The great weakness,” Anderson goes on, “is that the two styles don’t meld unless you understand them equally. I’m not saying that we do — but it just seems to work out better for us. I grew up playing both rock and Celtic, and so did the other three guys. That may be an advantage: I look at a bagpipe the same way I look at a Strat or a horn.
“I approach it as a lead instrument,” he explains. “And I play it that way.”
Tanner’s stint with the Bolshoi isn’t exactly the background one might expect in a Rathkeltair member, though.
“He came up at the tail end of the English folk revival,” Anderson says. “He was real familiar with the music of Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Horselips, a really influential Irish rock band. [So] he was really conversant in the folk idiom, even though the Bolshoi were real Goth kind of rockers.”
Further cracking apart stereotypes, Anderson reveals that, being in the Army Reserves, he’s reluctant to make an official announcement about Rathkeltair’s studio CD in the works.
“We have decided not to release it. … I am going to be deployed overseas,” says the world fusionist. “We have not decided what we will do. We want to tour the CD properly — we don’t want to get stuck with 3,000 copies in my garage while I’m in Iraq.”
[Proud Scotsman James Fisher is a frequent participant in the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.]
Rathkeltair plays Jack of the Wood (95 Patton Ave.) at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9. $5. 252-5445.