With St. Patty’s Day just around the corner, it seems appropriate to offer something Celtic. One of my favorite Celtic groups of all time is The Boys of the Lough, and I learned to play “The Pikeman’s March” on my concertina and mandolin after listening to their second album (Rounder 3006) back in the mid-1970s.
The Boys of the Lough are purveyors of the Celtic tradition, and that album included some fine musicians - Aly Bain, Cathal McConnell, Dick Gaughan and Robin Morton. The New York Times calls the group, “one of the finest bands in Celtic traditional music.”
Today, the slow march is more often heard performed by pipe and drum bands. And whenever I hear the moving piece, it conveys an image of a group of pikemen marching and thrusting their spears at the front of their infantry battalions.
I like to hear “The Pikeman’s March” played rather slowly and with a lot of feeling. Slow Celtic tunes are just as difficult to play as fast ones. They’re often even more difficult to play them slowly because you have to present them with considerable sensitivity to the Celtic tradition and musical heritage. They also require good tone and technique. Sensitivity is a trait that musicians develop by playing with other good musicians, and it’s difficult to teach.
I was pleased by this set of tunes that The Sierra Highlanders Pipe Band have on You Tube. Here they begin with “The Pikeman’s March” before transitioning to a jig. Their sensitivity to the music is quite apparent, and it was no doubt enhanced and fine-tuned by a few pints of Guinness at the Bucket of Blood tavern in Virginia City, Nv. before they marched in the 2008 Veterans Day parade there.