Albannach: Scottish-Celtic Culture Warriors


To celebrate the Scottish National Party's landslide victory in the UK's 2015 General Election, we are re-featuring some of our favourite Scottish articles. This is our 2013 article on the mighty Scottish band Albannach, including an exclusive interview with the band's leader Jamesie Johnston.

Transceltic attended the 2013 Saint Augustine Celtic Music & Heritage Festival in Florida. The organisers proudly announced to us that the Headline act was the Scottish band "Albannach". Being curious to see this band which was unfamiliar to me and sensing the excitement of the crowd eagerly awaiting Albannach's arrival on stage, I watched as the band set up as the first performance of the festival. The only way to describe the impact when the performance began is as an assault on the senses. The energy of the drums juxtaposed against expert piping of band member Donnie MacNeil was transfixing. Not to put too fine a point on it I was stunned and the 30 minute set seemed to pass in an instant and at the conclusion the crowd went nuts. Having always suffered from a genetic predisposition to becoming slightly unbalanced at the sound of the Pipes, the ricochet of the pulsing tribal drum beat against the soaring mastery of the Piper left me spellbound. The organisers had placed Albannach as the first and last act for each of the two days which I soon realised was a successful tactic to build the excitement into the evening hours and the keep the crowds to the last.

There is something magical about Saint Augustine. The oldest city in the United States founded in 1565 and repeatedly subject to rapine pillage as the British, French and Spanish Empires fought for control of the Caribbean.  It is a place where the past is palpable and spirits are just out of sight.  Surrounded by water, inlets, back bays and not far from the ocean, this place has an Otherworldly quality.  It was a cold March night as I waited for the last performance of the day and the crowd began to build as Albannach’s performance, on an outdoor stage on the Festival grounds, drew near. In the chilly wind the crowd continued to grow in size and focused on the stage waiting for the drums. The set up completed, the Band’s leader Jamesie Johnston greeted the onlooker’s with the lusty shout “Do you want some Scotch in you”, which evoked a roar from the crowd. Following was the beat of the drums and fierceness of the Pipes. The drums dominate but the focus is on the Piper as if the drums are the ancient Pictish warriors and the Pipes the call to war. As if the drum beat is the force of the resistance which saved Scotland from Roman occupation and preserved Celtic culture north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Touring extensively in North America where the band have a growing and loyal fan base, Albannach's Leader Jamesie Johnston views the band as Ambassadors of Celtic Culture and sees the proliferation of Celtic festivals as important in keeping the culture alive.  Albannach are comprised of the group's sole female member Jacqui Holland on Bass Rhythm Drum, MacNeil on the Pipes, Aya Thorne on the Bodhran Frame Drum, Collin Walker on Drums and Johnston on Bass Drum.  The band are based in Glasgow and all members were born in Scotland. Taking a break from their gruelling North America travel schedule the band will appear in Scotland in April and May as part of the “Bronach in Scotland” tour.

Jamesie Johnston

In a recent YouTube video interview, Johnston articulated the band's mission: "We are trying to reinvent ourselves here, but not lose sight of what we are, where we have been and who we were and where we come from. And that is what this is about.  We are trying to get people to be proud of who they were, to be proud of our blood line, to be proud of where they come from.  Too many people, you walk about and you say to people 'where are you from', and they say 'well generations back, I was Scottish'. They should be more proud than that, to be Scottish means something, it means a heck of a lot to be Scottish. If you take a minute to look at where our ancestors have been before us, who we fought, things that we invented, just to keep Scotland on the map, just to hold on to a place called Scotland. A heck of a lot went into that and people should be more proud.  This is what this is about, we’re trying to get people to realise that being Scottish isn’t just about wearing a Kilt or taking an occasional whisky, it’s so much more, it’s about all the things that have been said and done. To be proud of the generations that went before you, that is what this is all about."


Transceltic's interview with Jamesie Johnston of Albannach

Transceltic's Emmett McIntyre interviewed Albannach's leader Jamesie Johnston in March 2013 at the 3rd Annual Saint Augustine Celtic Festival in Florida.

1. Do you consider yourself an ambassador of Celtic culture?

Yes – When people watch us perform they are experiencing Celtic culture and I see that as the takeaway from our performance, that the audience is experiencing Celtic culture when they attend our performance.

2. Drums are prominent in your music. What part have drums played in traditional Celtic music?

I consider our music to be Scottish rather than Pan-Celtic, not having considered the question; I just consider our music Scottish. I would classify our music as "aggressive pipes and drums".  Most people, when they think of Celtic music naturally refer to the regimental pipes and drums, whereas I would say our music is "tribal" – more closely associated with traditional clan music, closer to music which is common to every tribal culture – picture early people sitting around the fire beating their drums.

3. Have you based your music on historical evidence, in literature or historical texts, that support the use of drums in early Scottish music?

No, but I do recall the histories of the Roman legions reaction to the noise put up by ancient Scots in battles (Picts and Caledonians). And although the references are to the Celtic Horns (Cranach) I see our music in the same way. In a way I view the drums in the same historical light, I think of the drums in the same way as the sound of Picts going into battle.

Our final remarks

We applaud Albannach and thank them for being a force for the preservation and promotion of Celtic music and heritage.


YouTube video interview with Jamesie Johnson of Albannach

In his lush Glaswegian accent, Johnston defines  the meaning of the band's slogan "A Scot is a Scot Even Unto a Hundred Generations".


Other articles of interest

External links