You have never heard music like this before. Not unless you have a Scottish uncle, born in Spanish Harlem and raised by James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone.
Since the mid-90s, Enter the Haggis has been blending Celtic, Latin, rock and funk into a mind-bending jumble that is as enjoyable as it is eclectic. The incomparable sound is almost enough to get you to over look the band’s chuckle-inducing handle.
“Our piper Craig [Downey] got it rolling when he needed a name before the band’s first gig,” guitarist Trevor Lewington recalls. “He wanted something with haggis, and his neighbor across the hall came up with ‘Enter the.’ People remember it, so that’s always good.”
Lewington goes on to explain the metaphor that makes it more than a clever call sign.
“Haggis is a sheep’s stomach mixed with oatmeal and all of this other stuff. Our music is similar in that we take whatever is around and hopefully come up with something potable.”
With apologies to William Wallace and his descendents, while it is pretty easy to create something more appetizing that haggis, it is a feat indeed to generate something more unique. Nevertheless, the experiments in musical fusion by Enter the Haggis (whose lineup also includes fiddler Brian Buchanan, bassist Mark Abraham and drummer James Campbell) have yielded some particularly distinctive tunes.
Take, for example, “Lancaster Gate” the instrumental opening track to ETH’s latest release Soapbox Heroes. The distorted guitar opening mixes with Downey’s virtuosic bagpipe solo that reminds more of AC/DC’s Angus Young than Angus MacDonald, the Scotsman thought to be the finest bagpiper of the 20th century. (He’s real, look him up …) The next track, “One Last Drink” transplants the Buena Vista Social Club into the pub for a fiddle-driven drinkin’ tune, stoked by the fires of Caribbean rhythm and horns.
As with previous effort Casualties of Retail, Soapbox Heroes has its share of the political overtones often echoed in Celtic music. The title itself is a reference to those who hold strong opinions on important matters, but are content in their inaction.
“We try not to be preachy. We don’t have all the answers ourselves, but we definitely want to raise issues,” Lewington says. “If people come to our shows to have a good time and get their minds off of those issues, that’s fine with us. But if they come and pick up a few things from our show, that’s great too.”
For whatever reason, Enter the Haggis flaunts a legion of faithful followers that are known to drive great distances to watch the band perform. They even use the message boards on the band’s website to coordinate carpools to shows.
Part of that devotion could be from growing grass roots exposure (A keyword search for Enter the Haggis on YouTube.com yielded 48 results.), but more likely it’s from the band’s talent and willingness to interact with its fans. Each of the last two years, the band has toured Ireland and Scotland with 30 of its fans, and its members frequently linger after shows to sign and sip a beverage or two with concertgoers.
“People become fans for life when you make an effort,” Lewington says.
When that effort includes creating an incomparable blend of music, that doesn’t hurt either.
• Enter the Haggis performs at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va. on Nov. 22. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. For more information on the band, visit www.enterthehaggis.com.