Profile: Ceolbeg

Note: This is a reprint of Ceolbeg's publicity material, which is in marked contrast to Ceolas' usual policy. As soon as I get a chance, I will replace it with an edited review of the group. Meanwhile, caveat emptor!

``Ceolbeg stands at the crossroads between traditional and contemporary music. It matters little which fork they take, the results are stunning.'' (Sing Out! [USA] 1994)

`Ceol Beag' is a Scottish Gaelic phrase meaning literally `Small Music'. It refers to the jigs, reels, and strathspeys of traditional Scottish pipe music and contrasts with `Ceol Mor', the `Big Music' of the pibroch or classical Highland bagpipe repertoire.

Ceolbeg has existed for several years now, and the aim of the band has always been to concentrate on innovative approaches to traditional Scottish music which preserve the essence of the original tunes. In a review of a recent recording, it was noted that, although the current line-up had only been together for just over a year, ``you would think, listening to this excellent album, that they'd grown up together'' (Scotsman 1992). The album in question `Seeds to the Wind' attracted widespread critical and popular acclaim; ``Ceolbeg champion the Celtic cause with quality and conviction'' (Guardian 1992), and the latest release `An Unfair Dance' is meeting with similar approval; ``incredibly rich and full mixes of bagpipe, harp, keyboards, flute, percussion, and various fretted instruments'' (Sing Out! [USA] 1994).

One notable point about the instrumental line-up is the use of the Highland pipes with clarsach and flute to state the main melody lines. This unusual combination of lead instruments is underpinned by eclectic rhythms and textures supplied by guitar, bouzouki, cittern, keyboards, and percussion. The result is ``exhilarating stuff'' (Scotsman 1990) which produces ``an atmospheric mist of swirling instrumentation'' (Blue Juice [USA] 1992). The band does not rely on instrumentalists alone, however, having in singer Davy Steele ``a man who is growing in confidence and skill as a writer of memorable songs'' (Scotsman 1992). Davy's voice ``has a natural ease'' (Cencrastus 1992) with the Scots language, and his ``uncomplicated and sensitive'' singing (Guardian 1992) is ``full throated'' with ``great warmth'' (Cencrastus 1992).

Ceolbeg therefore has outstanding ability both instrumentally and vocally, and the balance of the two is carefully judged in both recorded and live work. ``Well-balanced between songs and instrumentals - the tempo and dynamics are skilfully varied'' (Shire Folk 1992).

On record

Three albums are currently available -- all on the GreenTrax label. The first recording, `Not the Bunnyhop', was released late in 1990, and has recently been re-issued on CD. Produced by Phil Cunningham, the album introduced the current instrumental line-up of the band, and gained widespread praise for its ``outstanding'' and ``vivacious'' instrumentals (Scotsman 1990).

The second album, `Seeds to the Wind', was produced by Dick Gaughan. This recording attracted acclaim in the UK; ``this excellent album'' (Scotsman 1992), ``a super album'' (Folk Roots 1992), ``wonderful'' (Cencrastus, Spring 1992), and abroad; ``perfect integration of melody and rhythm'' (NEWfolkSOUNDS [Holland] 1992), ``one of the best CDs released in Scotland in the past few years'' (Folk-Michel [Germany] 1992), ``if integrity, talent and respect for the music are any measure, this may well be 1992's finest Celtic release ... an astounding album'' (Sing Out! [USA] 1993).

The latest recording, `An Unfair Dance', introduced the skills of Jim Walker on drums and percussion, and has been met with widespread critical approval -- ``genuinely rare and beautiful ... the sheer breadth of dynamics is a joy'' (Q Magazine 1993), ``eagerly awaited, well worth the wait'' (Dirty Linen [USA] 1993), ``their best album yet'' (Folk Roots 1993), ``great stuff'' (Scotsman 1993).

On stage

First and foremost, Ceolbeg is a live band. ``There is nothing small about the talent and heart presented by Ceolbeg in concert'' (Dirty Linen [USA] 1991). In order to ensure the quality of their live performances, they have secured the services of one of Scotland's most respected sound engineers, Adie Bolton, who is regarded as the seventh member of the band. The approach is therefore professional, but stage presentation is relaxed and humorous; ``total entertainment - these folks had so much fun on stage and with the audience that it felt like being at a private celebration'' (Dirty Linen [USA] 1991), ``Ceolbeg bring to their audiences not only musical virtuosity and dynamic performances but also a great deal of humour and repartee'' (Scottish Folk Gazette 1991).

The impact of the music live is ``mind-blowing - against Ceolbeg anything would have seemed ordinary'' (Glasgow Evening News 1991). A Ceolbeg concert is an opportunity to experience ``superb'' (Sunday Times 1992) and ``vividly colourful'' (Scotsman 1992) instrumentals as well as ``original and inventive'' songs (Sunday Times 1992).

The Band

Peter Boond -- Originally from Edinburgh, Peter is the founder member of the band. His contribution to the sound is two-fold; his flute and whistles are used to great effect to complement the sound of the pipes, and his cittern adds depth and attack to both rhythms and melodies.

Mike Katz -- Mike came to Scotland from Los Angeles to study. His interest in piping began in the US when his mother introduced him to pipe band recordings, and he joined the Scottish Gas pipe band soon after arriving in Scotland. His distinctive brand of piping can often be heard on Edinburgh's Princes Street where he well-known as a busker. In addition to the highland pipes and whistles, Mike is an accomplished bass player.

Colin Matheson -- Born in Kilmarnock, Colin's family is from Braes on the Isle of Skye. He played keyboards, guitar, and mandolin with various professional rock bands for many years, and now supplies the driving bass which underpins the faster numbers as well as various subtle synthesised textures which work as settings for the lead instruments.

Davy Steele -- From Prestonpans, near Edinburgh, Davy is very well known in Scotland as a songwriter and ``one of the finest singers in contemporary Scottish folk music'' (Scotsman 1992). A number of his compositions can be heard on Ceolbeg's recordings, on which he also displays his skills as an instrumentalist on guitar, bouzouki, and bodhran. Davy is acclaimed as a gifted interpreter of traditional songs, as his approach to Burns' `The Deil's Awa wi' the Exciseman' on `Not the Bunnyhop' exemplifies; ``Steele sings it - as, indeed, he sings everything, with solid soul'' (Scotsman 1990).

Wendy Stewart -- Wendy was born in Edinburgh, and lived for a number of years in the North of England. She is now recognised as one of the most gifted clarsach players in Scotland, and is in great demand as a teacher in Britain and North America. Her ``delightful'' and ``bubbling'' harp (Scotsman 1992) can be heard to great effect on `Seeds to the Wind', where ``she delivers a serene masterpiece'' (NEWfolkSOUNDS [Holland] 1992) in `Lord Galway's Lamentation'. Wendy is also a superb concertina player.

Jim Walker -- Born in Saskatoon, in Canada, Jim's parents are both of Scottish descent. He came to Scotland in 1984, joined a pipe band, and never left. His skills as a player and teacher of pipe band drumming, percussion, and kit drumming have long been recognised, and he adds inventive and powerful rythmic structure to the band. Jim is very much in demand as a session musician, and his playing can be heard on a wide range of current record releases.

Addendum: As of mid-1995, Davy Steele has left Ceolbeg and has been replaced by another singer.

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