Roy Gullane, founder and guitarist of the Tannahill Weavers, a Scottish trad band, was rolling down the high
way from Estes Park, Colorado, when he phoned into the Tucson Weekly
Monday. Spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains were flying by the windows as the band van sped south.
“Beautiful,” he declared, praising the American peaks in the thick accent of Glasgow, his hometown. The Tannahill Weavers, a much-honored band now in the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, had just left a weekend Scottish music festival, their first gig in a multi-week American tour.
After a few stops in New Mexico this week, they’ll hit Tucson Friday night, Sept. 16, for a double bill of Celtic music at the Berger Performing Arts Center. The Outside Track, a young band that played Tucson two years ago, will contribute mostly Irish tunes, and Tannahill Weavers will do the Scottish honors. Each band gets about an hour of stage time.
The Scottish mountains, by coincidence, have a lot to do with the music that the Tannahill Weavers play.
“Celtic and Anglo came together” in traditional Scottish music, Gullane said. The Gaelic speakers in the Highlands had their own music, he explained, and the English and Scots speakers in the Lowlands had theirs. When the highlanders were forced out of their mountain lands in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the two cultures meshed and merged.
Many of the beloved Scottish songs that the band sings, from “Wild Mountain Tyme” to “When the Kye Come Home,” have their origins in this fertile culture clash. The band also writes new songs in the traditional vein. They don’t sing any Gaelic tunes but they do perform many in Scots, a dialect that some call a separate language.
“It’s a variant of English,” Gullane said, “with some German and Scandinavian. It’s a mishmash. The Vikings had something to do with it.”
Tannahill has four musicians, with Gullane handling lead vocals and guitar.
“I also play with my feet,” he joked, explaining that he taps out the rhythms with his toes. And he’s also the band’s jovial storyteller. “I speak English heavily accented” with thick Glaswegian overtones, he said, but he has long since figured out how to “tailor my accent for American audiences.”
The three other band members, all from Scotland, include Phil Smillie on flute and bodhrán, the elbow drum that also features prominently in Irish music.
“John Martin is a wonderful fiddler,” Gullane said, “and Lorne MacDougall plays bagpipes, the classic Scottish instrument. He’s one of the wiz kids that Scotland regularly supplies.”
The band has been around for more than 40 years, founded in Paisley, a town formerly the epicenter of Scotland’s weaving industry. Its name honors the weavers who once wove wool there by hand (and developed the paisley pattern), and also pays tribute to Robert Tannahill, an 18th century poet laureate and weaver.
“He’s still read today,” Gullane said, by the many poetry-loving Scots who consider Robert Burns a national hero.
The Friday concert will mark the Tannahill Weavers’ third trip to Tucson, courtesy of Don Gest’s In Concert Tucson.
Tannahill Weavers out of Scotland and The Outside Track of Ireland and Scotland perform a concert of Celtic music at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway. Advance tickets are $24; $22 for seniors, students and members of Tucson Friends of Traditional Music. $3 more at the door. Tickets available at www.inconcerttucson.com; at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave., 792-3715, ($1 fee for use of credit cards); and The Folk Shop, 2525 N. Campbell Ave., 881-7147 (no credit cards).