Battlefield were formed in 1969 in Glasgow and got their name from one of the city’s suburbs, Battlefield. They made their recording debut in 1977 and have since released about 30 albums as well as touring the world.
In spite of more changes in their lineup than even Fairport Convention, there has always been a distinct Battlefield sound, a mix of boisterous instrumentals and lovely songs. They have managed to balance the highland bagpipes with softer-sounding instruments, and even used keyboards with a rhythm box for effect.
Among those who have passed through their ranks you find Brian McNeill, John McCusker, Karine Polwart, Ged Foley and Davy Steele, just to mention a few.
So how do you sum up a recording career spanning 40 years, with a number of albums that excludes the possibility of taking one track from each? The answer is you do not even try. Instead, their long-time manager and producer Robin Morton, once a founding member of Boys of the Lough and founder and owner of Temple Records, has come up with the novel idea to pick one track to represent each of the 19 members the group has had. In the process he has covered their career, with tracks from 18 different albums, half of the tracks instrumentals, half of them songs. And it works very well.
Morton has put together a marvelous collection of tracks. Each of them could be a stand-out track on any album, showing every aspect of the band. And with ten different lead vocalists, and different musicians and instruments on the instrumental tracks, you get a great variety, but are always reminded that this is Battlefield Band, not a sampler with different groups.
A few highlights for me:
Ged Foley’s Northumbrian Pipes on his own “Blackhall Rocks” is a sheer delight. A smooth sound for a tune that sounds very traditional Scottish in spite of being newly written.
Jack McManey’s cittern playing in the backing of “The Bachelor” gives the song lots of colour. The story of a marriage gone wrong, a traditional song with many versions on the British Isles, it’s interesting in itself, but the cittern lifts it to new heights.
“The Last Trip Home,” by Davy Steele and John McCusker, is a tribute to the horses once used in farming. To me the stand-out track on this album filled with stand-out tracks.
The live version of “After Hours” is the perfect finishing track. A song about the session that starts when the pub has closed, with a lot of instrumental interludes.
So if you have not come across Battlefield Band before, this is the perfect place to start. But be warned, it could be an expensive experience since you will certainly be updating your list of CDs to buy. And if you have already discovered them you will probably have this as well in your collection.
(Temple Records, 2016)