The Battlefield Band
Temple COMD 2061 (distributed in the USA by Flying Fish)
review by Art Menius
The Scots folk revival of the 1970s began with the Boys of the Lough. The Battlefield Band emerged shortly after, eventually producing perhaps the finest album yet of contemporary Scottish music in 1984’s Anthem For The Common Man. Like most of those few ensembles that approach 20 years, the Battlefield Band has overcome significant personnel losses, founder Brian McNeill, who left in 1990, and 1984 departee piper Duncan McGillivray, for example. Yet the Battlefield Band continues to record strong albums. By my count this makes sixteen, counting the Music In Trust projects, since their 1976 debut. For this 1995 release, Threads, they happily return with the same line-up which cuts 1992’s Quiet Days. This group of “Batties” has toured together for five years and sounds like it. Threads possesses all the assurance of their best work.
Senior member Alan Reid returns on vocals, keyboards, and, most importantly songwriting. He continues to compose new material that stands up besides the finest traditional ballads, such as the ballad “The Arran Convict” or the contemplative “The Same Old Story.” Both reflect the seminal gone west theme of recent Celtic lyrics. John McCusker, all of 22 years old, has the rare pleasure of earning a seat with his favorite band. Debuting at 15 with Parcel O’Rogues, he’s developed into a first-rate fiddler and string arranger, while adding mandolin, cittern, keyboards, accordion, whistle, and harmony singing to his skills. McCusker has also blossomed as a composer, contributing four fine tunes to Threads. Piper Iain MacDonald brings his own style to the Battlefield Band, avoiding comparison to his predecessors. Check out his deceptively sensitive intro to the rollicking “The Weary Whaling Ground” or the commanding way he redirects the playful, almost ‘50s pop inflected “Tam Bain’s Lum” into the traditional “The Price of the Pig.” Allstair Russell, now 11 years a Battie, delivers confident vocals and the essential rhythmic underpinning on guitar with expressive lead licks provided when needed.
These Batties can rock out, as demonstrated on the opening medley or the keyboard-driven arrangement of the traditional “The Weary Whaling Ground.” More often on Threads they seem to focus developing the feeling and mood to fit each song or tune. Overwhelmingly, they succeed. The Battlefield Band’s sterling arrangements of the hoary ballads “McPherson’s Lament” and “The Indian Lass” prove their continued ability to bring traditional material alive. Threads provides no breakthrough for the veteran Battlefield Band but another installment in two decades of excellence.