By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD Forget what you know about the bagpipe. The Red Hot Chili Pipers are coming to Springfield and after listening to them many people's ideas about the traditional Scottish instrument will never be the same.
The group from Scotland mixes bagpipes with drums and guitars and uses the instruments not just to play traditional songs, but also rock 'n' roll.
The band calls what they do "bagrock."
The band is appearing at the MassMutual Center on March 17 for a St. Patrick's Day concert beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Speaking to Reminder Publications from Glasgow, Scotland, the band's founding member and its musical director, Stuart Cassells, said the group's approach to the bagpipe has not always been accepted.
"We felt ostracized from the piping community for a couple of years," he explained. "People weren't sure what we were doing."
The group was first formed in 2002, but rose to prominence when it won the "When Will I be Famous" talent show on the BBC in 2007.
Since then, with albums and DVDs surpassing the platinum level of sales, the Chili Pipers haven't just achieved fame, but respectability. They've headlined a show at the National Piping Center in Glasgow and they are credited for being one of the key reason young people want to learn to play the bagpipes.
Cassells said that instructors have told him "there have been benefits to piping."
He added, "Young pipers want to learn so they can play 'Amazing Grace,' 'Mull of Kintyre,' and sound like the Red Hot Chili Pipers."
The reaction from the rock community has also been positive. Cassells said that Brian May, guitarist and songwriter for the legendary group Queen, has posted favorable comments about the group the Chili Pipers perform the Queen anthem "We Will Rock You." Cassells added that Phil Collins has compared how the group members play the bagpipes to how Pete Townsend plays the guitar.
Although bagpipes are usually associated with military events and solemn occasions such as a funeral in this country, Cassells emphasized they are simply a "normal" instrument designed to play music to entertain people.
One reason bagpipes often get bad press, he added, is that they are too often played by people who aren't very good. Cassells believes some pipers in Scotland are attracted to the pipes because they can wear formal Scottish clothing.
"It's one of my pet hates," Cassells said. "They'd rather dress up."
Pipers are also seen as either just standing still while they perform or marching in a military band. At a Chili Pipers performance, there is plenty of movement on stage.
The group has worked with a number of choreographers over the years, Cassells explained, as it is important for the audience to see all eight members of the group.
The group maintains a very active touring schedule and the Springfield performance is part of a new tour in this country. They have appeared throughout Europe Cassells said Germany has a large fan base for the band and played in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and India as well.
"We have a lot of fun with the bagpipes," Cassells said.
For more information on their performance in Springfield, go to www.massmutualcenter.com/events/eventpages/706.asp. The band's Web site is located at www.redhotchillipipers.co.uk.
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