Bagpipes have reared their tasseled little heads in rock music for multiple decades now. Perhaps their debut happened on Eric Burdon & The Animals’ 1968 antiwar hit “Sky Pilot.” Just after the sound effects of a fighter plane crashing and exploding, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards start playing “All the Bluebonnets Are Over the Border.” Nearly a decade later came AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll).” In the ‘80s, Big Country gave us “In a Big Country,” which was in heavy rotation on MTV. While it may be hard to find evidence of bagpipes ever used in a Hawaiian song, there’s one international band who’s had repeated success with bringing rock and Celtic culture to the Big Island – they’re called Celtic Pipes Rock!
A Celtica Pipes Rock (CPR) concert features rock music with a Celtic/Scottish twist. It’s become an annual tradition of sorts in Honokaa, thanks to promoter Les Hershorn, the band’s lively shows, and the faithful fans who pack their concerts. Last Friday’s performance marked their fourth Big Island appearance.
CPR features Duncan Knight (bagpipes), Aya Georgieva (violin, keyboards), Gajus Stappen (electric guitar and founder), Harald Weinkum (bass), and Tom Cadek (drums). Missing in action this year was Jane Espie, the group’s second piper and sister to Duncan Knight. Apparently, there was an illness in the family, and she couldn’t make this leg of the tour. Too bad, as she brought the band to a higher energy level – even playing the pipes while on her back!
Highlighting CPR’s concert was the Hawaii Irish Dance troupe. The Big Island ensemble features eight female dancers who were invited to the dancefloor twice to perform for the audience while CPR played. Five men, dressed in traditional kilts, waved various county flags as the women danced collectively and individually.
CPR kicked off this year’s show with thunderous paired drumming above the sound of pre-recorded eerie chants. At opposite ends of the stage, Stappen and Weinkum belted out beats on single tom-toms and then paused to suspended their arms above their heads with drumsticks in hand. Drummer Cadek joined in crashing cymbals and whipping the crowded into an early frenzy. Some concertgoers were shy at first about coming to the dancefloor for an up-close look at higher decibels, but eventually the area filled in with fans of all ages.
CPR split the show up into two sets with a short intermission. Sadly, the theatre has no liquor license and only offered hot popcorn, and no cold beer. Imagine what a wild a show it would’ve been if the crowd had been fueled by Guinness and shots of Irish whiskey.
Much of the setlist was peppered with songs from their catalog and a few classic rockers tossed in like Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” Dressed in matching black and red kilts, knee-high stomping boots, and instruments tricked out with steampunk gizmos, CPR is a thrill to watch.
Guitarist Stappen is a talented player, and given a solo, he tears it up! He proficiently assumes rock god postures while sustaining ear-piercing notes. Violinist Georgieva holds her own, often rocking back and forth with towering bassist Weinkum. Her violin adds a thrilling texture to the band’s unique sound. I’m not sure where piper Duncan Knight finds his stamina, as his instrument must be the most difficult to play – especially for a two-hour show! He must have superhuman lungs and the ability to pass the Dizzy Gillespie endurance test. There are some playful moments too, when the musicians run in between each other, or do a syncopated dance shuffle with their feet. It must be an experience to see them in an open-air stadium show when the bagpipes shoot flames. Check out their Live at Montelago DVD for a taste of that along with a choir and full orchestra.
No doubt CPR will return for Big island show number five next year, and when they do, be sure to hit the dancefloor early and where your kilt and boots!
Steamphonia | Romance | Cape Horn | Itchy Fingers | Harbor in the Sky | Excalibur | Andy R’s Ferret | Loch Lomond | Film Music Medley | Visitors I &II | Whiskey in the Jar | Seven Nations/ Scotland | Cork Hill/ The Goat Herd | Smoke on the Water/Megawatt |
Beyond Avalon | What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor | Nautilus | Iron Angel | The Last Voyage of the Great Michael | We Will Rock You/I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll | Shipping Up To Boston | Amazing Grace
For the latest tour and music info, please visit Celtica Pipes’ official site: https://celticarocks.com
Be sure to read my interview with CPR’s lead piper Duncan Knight: https://www.bigislandmusic.net/talking-story-with-celticas-lead-piper-duncan-knight/
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos/video: Steve Roby