Trackpacking: Breabach

by Keith Savage · 6 comments

Breabach Live

Trackpacking is a recurring series highlighting musicians that inspire me to travel.

Last April’s spotlight on Rising Gael has been the most recent Trackpacking post for a whopping nine months, and at the time I promised that I would share more of my favorite traditional Scottish and Celtic musicians in this series. Music has been on mind, lately, as I gear up for another spin around Scotland this April, and today, I’m making good on the promise.

Breabach is no stranger to Traveling Savage. Long-time readers will remember how they kicked in Glenfiddich’s warehouse during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival and how they lit up the Shetland Folk Festival going on three years ago now. It’s only appropriate to present them in a Trackpacking article as they are always on my iPod when I’m traveling around Scotland.

Breabach, which means “kicking” in Gaelic, is a five-piece Scottish folk and roots band hailing from a scattering of locales around Scotland. The core of Breabach’s sound is built around the unique combination of two bagpipers and a fiddle underpinned by a stand-up bass and acoustic guitar. On paper, this seems like a difficult arrangement to pull off – who knows what your ears might get – and it’s a credit to Breabach’s musicians that they have developed a sound that straddles many genres with such a measured and pleasing disposition. Their repertoire covers the gamut – from reels to airs to pibrochs to songs and everything in between – and when Breabach wants to bring the house down I dare say there are few bands more apt to make it happen. Every time I’ve seen them in concert the hall echoes and shakes with the joyful exuberance of their fans. Since forming in 2005, Breabach has recorded four albums and been showered with awards and nominations from Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards to winning Scottish Folk Band of the Year at the 2012 Scots Trad Music Awards.

Breabach’s youthful energy is a hallmark of their popularity, but there are other aspects of their music that make you wonder if their star will ever stop rising. The interplay of pipes, flutes, and fiddle among Calum MacCrimmon (pipes, bazouki), James Duncan MacKenzie (pipes, whistles), and Megan Henderson (fiddle) is among the most pleasing I have ever heard – even when they unleash their dual highland pipe assault. Now, as a child subject to my dad listening to bagpipe music, I never thought the day would come when I would yearn for those dulcet drones, especially a song as bagpipe-centric as Breabach’s The Waterhorse’s Lament, but it did. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs. Another uncommon aspect of Breabach’s music is the rock-solid rhythmic low end from Ewan Robertson (guitar, cajon) and James Lindsay (double bass) that anchors their sets. They give the music a much richer, fuller sound, which provides a nice contrast for the pipes and fiddle, that I find lacking in many other traditional folk groups.

Seeing Breabach live is an experience you ought to seek out. I’ve had the pleasure to see them live twice, and I’m always looking to make a third time happen. They bring so much soul and energy to their performances that you will soon find your body moving of its own accord. Have a listen to a bit of Breabach’s set that I recorded at the Shetland Folk Festival in 2011 to see what I mean, or have a look at the video I shot of them at Glenfiddich’s Warehouse #1.

At the end of the day, there’s no other modern Scottish folk band I’d rather listen to than Breabach. They do traditional songs justice, whip up their own creative compositions, and make it all look easy. There’s no surer sign of professionalism nor a greater guarantee of an enjoyable listening experience.

Pack These Tracks

Finding these songs on Youtube is next to impossible. You can listen to snippets of the songs from The Desperate Battle of the Birds and Bann on iTunes.

  • Caber Feidh, from The Big Spree.
  • Father Michael’s, from The Desperate Battle of the Birds.
  • The Waterhorse’s Lament, from The Desperate Battle of the Birds.
  • Gig Face, from Bann.
  • The Poetic Milkman, from Úrlar.

Create a Moment with Breabach

  • Driving on those unmarked Scottish roads through heath and heather.
  • Peering out the window as snow falls on the Borders while logs crackle in the fireplace.
  • In the concert hall, whisky in hand, soaking in their performance.

You can buy Bann and Úrlar on Breabach’s Bandcamp page, and The Desperate Battle of the Birds on iTunes.

RandyNo Gravatar January 22, 2014 at 6:59 PM

Hey Keith, all the best for 2014! I recorded a couple of videos of Breabach that night at Glenfiddich, one is about a minute and a half and the other is about 5 minutes. I guess I should put them on u-tube.
Hopefully the band comes to North America sometime in the near future they are definitely a lot of fun an a unique sound.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 22, 2014 at 8:19 PM

Happy 2014 to you too, Randy. You should definitely upload your videos! I wish Breabach would take a minute to come to Stateside, too, as they’ve been jaunting all around the world to places like Korea and Australia recently.

RandyNo Gravatar January 24, 2014 at 9:36 PM

Keith, I uploaded the 5 minute video which has an entire song. Unfortunately, the name of the song escapes my memory and I can’t seem to find it in U-tube or I-tunes. All the more reason to see them in person !!

I recorded it on my Blackberry and hopefully its not too shaky. If you watch it, you can see a glimpse of yourself and your father as I turned briefly in each direction to capture the venue, but it was so dark you don’t see much when not looking at the stage. Thankfully the Blackberry did a surprisingly good job on capturing the sound. Its sounds great. Enjoy.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 27, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Fantastic video, Randy! Love that song and the piping just blows me away every time.

DaveNo Gravatar January 22, 2014 at 5:50 PM

Hey Keith, I listened to those snippets on iTunes! I definitely preferred the Desperate Battle of the Birds, but altogether they were really good. I’ll have to look up some videos when I get home now 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 22, 2014 at 6:32 PM

Each of their albums has quite a mix of styles and quite a few gems. Cheers!

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