BIG BAD WOLFSTONE
The seven members of the Scotland-based Wolfstone should be accustomed to the quirks of the U.S. citizenry by now, since they're currently in the midst of their sixth tour of the country. But vocalist/guitarist Stuart Eaglesham still doesn't understand the meaning behind a comment Americans have been making to him lately: "If it's not Scottish, it's crap."
"I've heard this phrase bandied about here and there," he says, but he admits to having no idea as to its origins. After he's told that the line comes from a popular Mike Myers skit on Saturday Night Live, he seems pleased. "I suppose that would mean we're in the right place at the right time," he suggests.
Perhaps--and Wolfstone (bassist Wayne MacKenzie, drummer Mop Youngson, fiddler Duncan Chisholm, vocalist/guitarist Ivan Drever, piper Steve Saint and the Eaglesham brothers--Stuart and Struan, who plays keyboards) has worked hard to get there. The group, which got its start in the late Eighties, already has three American releases under its collective belt: 1991's Unleashed and 1992's The Chase (both reissued by the Green Linnet label last year), plus 1994's Green Linnet release Year of the Dog. Over the course of these recordings, the act has developed a style that has been described variously as Celt metal, Scottish grunge and neo-Gael meets Guns N' Roses. Eaglesham agrees that the terms are lacking, but he hasn't come up with a better one. "I've never really tried to put a name to it," he notes. "I suppose the music is kind of an `East meets West'--a whiskey-and-Coke kind of mixture."
Although Wolfstone performs some traditional music, its reputation is built upon originals marked by a distinctive social awareness. For instance, "Brave Foot Soldiers," a Drever composition on Dog, pays tribute to a 1993 march organized by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, whose members protested actions they felt were denying them the right to work. Another Dog number, "The White Gown" (penned by Drever and Chisholm), denounces a KKK rally Wolfstoners witnessed in early 1993. Eaglesham recalls, "We were in Wilmington, Delaware, and there was this KKK rally happening in the street. They were actually marching up the street with banners. We were dumbstruck. I suppose we gave vent to it, exorcising it in some way by writing about it."
The response to these tracks, as well as to Wolfstone's variant on the Scottish ancestral sound, generally has been positive, but some purists view the bandmates as musical heretics. "There are a certain number of people who frown on what we're doing and think we are ruining the music in some way," Eaglesham confesses. "But I think I'm safe to say that they're in the minority. We're pretty comfortable with what we're doing, because we're using traditional tunes and playing them exactly as they were to be played. I mean, that is the core of our sound--traditional tunes not changed one wee bitty. But we're also writing in the tradition. So we feel like we're bringing it into the modern day. Aye, the music has to grow and mature along with each generation. Otherwise it will just stagnate."
Eaglesham freely acknowledges that rock music plays a heavy role in the Wolfstone sound, but he seems unaware that other non-Scottish elements can be heard in the band's music. When it's pointed out that some of the act's more somber tunes share something in common with Delta blues, he says, "I've never thought about it that way. They're dirges and laments and things like that. I think Scotland's had a very sad past in many respects, and you can see the aftereffects of it today. And even over here, there were people who were exiled and thrown out of their homes during the clearances. That brought a countless lot of material for songs and poetry and stuff like that. They're sad. But the music makes one feel better." He pauses for a moment, then concedes, "It could be Scottish blues."
Still, the main influence on Chisholm and the Eagleshams--Wolfstone's original members--was Scottish folk music, which they played at local ceilidhs (events comparable to a Cajun fais-do-do or bluegrass barn dances). The sound didn't begin to broaden appreciably until the arrival of Drever, in 1991, and Youngson and MacKenzie, in 1992. According to Eaglesham, the last two "come from a total rock background. Totally rock. They hadn't even come across any of this type of music before. But they learned the stuff up and they played it really well. So I presume they thought it was a terrific sound, or they wouldn't have gone for it."
Saint, who came aboard late last year, is one of perhaps a dozen pipers who have appeared with Wolfstone over the years. Eaglesham predicts Saint will become a regular member: "He will be staying with us, aye. It's been a very long time since we had a permanent piper. But it seems to just have clicked with Stevie. Also, he got sacked from his job, so I suppose it was just natural to take him on permanently."
These comments aside, Eaglesham insists that Wolfstone has "no long-term plans. We just think as far ahead as the next album. When we come back from America, we go straight at coming out with some new stuff, getting our heads down and writing."
And you can bet that none of what results will be crap.
Wolfstone, with the Denver Pipers Guild. 8 p.m. Sunday, March 12, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, 443-3399 or 290-
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