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BATTLEFIELD BAND - "Quiet Days" - Temple Records COMD2050

I must declare an interest here as I have been a Battlefield Band fan since the days when they used to carry around a stripped down church harmonium, recorded on the french Arfolk label with not one but three pipers playing with them and I was totally knocked out by their 'white' album on Topic.

Since then there have been many changes, the continuous thread being Brian McNeill and Alan Reid's central partnership in the band. At times I was unsure as each change was made - pedal organ became a keyboard, the use of the drum machine and the move towards songs written by the band members - but at every stage the musicianship of the band kept my interest and the live shows were just that, shows, performances which transferred their enthusiasm to the audience.

When Brian McNeill left the band I thought too much would be lost. The good news is that Brian has flourished as a soloist and we have been treated to his marvellous work "The Back of the Northwind" with its multimedia presentation and The Battlefield Band sound as fresh as ever, and seem to have gained a new lease of life. Many people will declare this recording to be their best yet. High praise when you consider some of their past classics.

For anybody who doesn't know of Battlefield Band, they play mainly Scottish music with both 'welly' and 'taste'. The fiddle has always been prominent in the group but for many years the fiddle and highland pipe combination has been at the core. On 'Quiet Days' the pipes are much more to the fore. Iain MacDonald worked for many years with Ossian and he is very definitely one of Scotlands top pipers. His playing oozes class and taste, often playing wonderful harmonies, something we have heard develop over the past few years in the pipe band scene with the two way influence of the 'folk pipers' and a mingling of styles between fiddle and pipes. The interplay between fiddle and pipes and the lift from the keyboard produce some of the most sparkling group playing you will hear.

Some great new tunes are being written by the band, the show air Dalnabreac, being a particular favourite. This was written by John McCusker who replaced Brian in the band. John is a great fiddler who has fitted into the band with style and maturity. The St Louis Stagger is also great. I could go on as there are so many highlights. On the song side Alan's composition "The River" stands out as does "Hold Back the Tide" written by John Tams for the theatre production 'The Ship'.

If there is a weak point on the album it is in the singing, but perhaps it is too much to ask for world class standard in everything. Perhaps recognising this weakness the songs are well arranged. The Richard Thompson song "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again?" is beautifully framed by Iain composition for the pipes, "Damn Song" Altogether an album for all concerned to be proud of.

John Muirhead

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This album was reviewed in Issue 1 of The Living Tradition magazine.