RISING STARS: Schiehallion

Celtic punks let their bagpies do the talking with Andrew Johnston

Click Play Audio to listen to unreleased track ‘So Long Sid’.

It’s still early days for Schiehallion. What is the history of the band?

We started as a two-piece, with me on guitar and Swanny [David Swanson] on bagpipes. We played our school talent show with half an hour’s practice with our first drummer, Brian Alcorn. Then we gigged around the north coast for a while before getting a bass player, PD [Patrick Dallat], from the pop-punk band Breaking Even. Brian left to go to work in Uganda for a year building shelters for underprivileged kids, and we now have a new drummer, Tweedy [Matthew Tweed].

Your line-up is guitar, bass, drums and bagpipes, with no vocals. How did you arrive at this unconventional set-up?

We wanted to do something different. None of us are singers, so we try to treat the bagpipes as vocals. On our covers of ‘Dirty Old Town’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’, the pipes play the vocal parts.

Schiehallion is a mountain in Perth and Kinross – what inspired this for the band’s name? Have any of you climbed Schiehallion?

It was our old music teacher’s idea. We thought it sounded cool, and it just kind of stuck. We haven’t climbed the mountain, but we do plan to at some point and get very drunk at the top of it.

Are any of the members actually from Scotland, or what are your roots?

Swanny’s dad is from Scotland, so I guess that makes him half-Scottish. My roots trace back to Canada and Cork, and the others are just from the north coast area.

Does the band draw on the Ulster-Scots language or culture?

Not at all. We think Ulster-Scots is pretty hilarious.

There aren’t many Irish bands – north or south – playing in the ‘Celtic punk’ style. Why do you think this is?

There is so much happening in the local scene, but none of it relates to our genre. Young musicians are picking up instruments wanting to sound like the next And So I Watch You from Afar or General Fiasco.

Most of the big names in the genre – Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, the Tossers – are from the USA. What are your thoughts on the Irish-American Celtic punk scene?

We draw a lot of inspiration from those bands. We’ve listened to the Dropkick Murphys for years, and we covered some of their stuff when we were starting off. We think it’s great that the scene is so well matured over there, but it is a bit over-exaggerated. Unlike over there, we don’t sit down and try to ‘sound Irish’. It just comes naturally.

The Dropkick Murphys are often labelled ‘plastic Paddies’. Are you concerned that Schiehallion might be dismissed as, say, ‘pseudo Scots’?

There are always going to be some smart arses with something to say. We just play music that we like and hopefully some people will feel the same.

The Canadian Celtic punk band the Real McKenzies play in kilts and sing about William Wallace and the Loch Ness Monster. Are you careful not to let Schiehallion slip into this kind of near-parody?

Well, our piper plays in a kilt, but we don’t plan to write songs about the Loch Ness Monster. We’ve met him – really nice guy, but quite shy. We couldn’t do that to him.

Your logo is a tartan shamrock, and you play traditional tunes like ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘The Fields of Athenry’ live. Is it a 50-50 split between your Scottish and Irish influences?

It is, yeah. We never really planned it. It’s just all our influences coming together.

How has being from Northern Ireland – specifically the north coast area – influenced you as musicians?

We’re proud of our north coast scene. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of great bands come and go, but it was the punk scene that really caught our attention – bands like Man Over Bored and the Dragged. I like to think there is a certain north coast sound.

Upcoming shows include Mac Fest 2010 on a farm in Ballymoney on May 29. What can you tell us about this gig?

It’s on a farm owned by a family called the Macmillans, hence Mac Fest. It’s a two-day charity event, and there will be about 14 other local bands playing. One of them is a metal band, Black Dog Rebel, whose bassist is our drummer’s dad.

You have songs on your MySpace page, but you have yet to officially release an EP. Is this in the works?

The EP is finished but not yet properly released. It has five tracks, which we recorded at Broken Studios in Portstewart with Patrick Trolan. We hope to have a launch night for the EP soon, and we’ve already started work on the follow-up.

Have you made any inroads into Belfast or Derry? Do you think the Northern Ireland punk scene will be receptive to a Scots-Irish band?

We hope to move to Belfast next year and play a few shows. Belfast has such a great mix, and we want to get right in there with the rest of them.

Finally, do you have any plans to take Schiehallion to Scotland?

There is another band in Scotland called Schiehallion. They’re a traditional folk band, but I think it would be a great experience to get over there and show Scotland what Northern Ireland’s Schiehallion sounds like.

Schiehallion play Mac Fest 2010 in Ballymoney on 29 May. Check out their MySpace www.myspace.com/schiehallionmusic

Andrew Johnston