Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Enter the Haggis

Enter the Haggis. (Courtesy Photo)
Enter the Haggis. (Courtesy Photo)

Celtic rock band Enter the Haggis got together for the first time for a St. Patrick’s Day show in March 1995, 21 years ago, according to Mark Abraham, the group’s bassist. He said that group members – the band has undergone several lineup changes through the years – have had to learn each others’ personalities throughout the years.

“We’ve worked out the kinks through the years,” said Abraham, who’s been with the group for 13 years. “And we’re not as busy the last couple of years as we used to be…people are busy with families and different things.”

The group, which is based in Toronto, has just wrapped up a new seven-song, yet-to-be titled album that’s due out in the fall of this year. It’s a return to form for the band, whose previous album, Penny Black, was released under a completely different band name, Jubilee Riots.

It wasn’t quite a quarter-life crisis as Abraham described it to the News-Press, but the sound of Jubilee Riots was a departure from the how the group usually sounds as Enter the Haggis, though the pacing and the energy of the songs were similar.

“It arose out of a relaxed environment. Nobody was trying to push any ideas on us. It just kind of developed organically,” Abraham said. Whereas Enter the Haggis has a definite Celtic punk vibe, Jubilee Riots was much more pop oriented with scant Celtic influences. But the band’s desire to create that kind of music had been burgeoning for a while before they decided to do it.

“It was a fairly gradual evolution over a few albums where songs were getting, I guess, less Celtic-centered. So, it wasn’t [premeditated] to release an album where the songs weren’t Celtic,” Abraham said.

“But the way the songs came out sounding, there weren’t a lot of Celtic sounds on it. And we kind of struggled with whether to attach those songs with the name Enter the Haggis, because it’s a Celtic band, and then we decided to change the name.”

Although the group creates music heavily influenced by the Celtic tradition while playing under the name Enter the Haggis, their brief transformation to Jubilee Riots allowed some of the members of the group to display their chops in genres they were trained in. Abraham and Bruce McCarthy, the group’s drummer, both have Jazz backgrounds.

For those who have followed the group throughout its career, Penny Black was more of a natural progression than a drastic change, Abraham said. But, starting with “Mrs. Elliott,” the first new single of Enter the Haggis’ 2015 20th anniversary retrospective album, Cheers and Echoes, there is an intentional return to form with what they’ve recently created.

“There’s two different reasons why we came back to the Celtic sound. Craig [Downie] and Brian [Buchanan] started playing [Celtic music] very young in competitions and they’ve always had that background and Craig, who started the band, is from Scotland,” Abraham said.

“So they’ve always had those Celtic influences. The rest of us not so much. We’ve always brought different elements to the band…but over the last year or two we’ve come to appreciate the Celtic elements that we hadn’t been using as much. It’s definitely something that’s unique. You don’t hear a lot of rock bands with bagpipes in them.”

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