A nice set of pipes

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First Posted: 2/17/2014

You probably had to do a double-take if you looked at the F.M. Kirby Center’s schedule for the upcoming week.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are coming to town?

Well, no, it’s actually the Red Hot Chilli PIPERS, a kilt-clad group that couples traditional rock instruments with bagpipes. However, don’t let the presence of a centuries-old instrument throw you – for how hard these guys rock, it might as well be the Peppers up there on stage.

The nine-man band, formed in 2003, has carved out its own genre, “bagrock,” and they’ve been taken stages throughout the world by storm with it, playing contemporary songs as well as traditional Scottish and Irish tunes, all with the notable bagrock sound to them.

11 years ago, five friends – three students studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a fireman, and a trainee accountant – came up with the idea for the Pipers.

“There was a common thread amongst us all that we wanted to make a bit of extra money to see us through life,” said Kevin MacDonald, who is one of three bagpipe players in the current lineup. “We came up with the idea to form a band playing rock covers on the bagpipes with accompanying percussion.”

The toughest part was coming up with a name for such a thing, and MacDonald said the Pipers’ clever title actually came out by accident.

“One of our original band members was tidying his flat with his girlfriend and they were sorting out his CD collection and she put a Peppers album amongst his piping collection,” MacDonald said. “When he asked why she had done this, she replied, ‘I thought it said Red Hot Chilli Pipers.’”

The name elicited chuckles and slight confusion when RHCP first started, but MacDonald said now that the band has its own identity in the United Kingdom, Europe, and around the U.S., any befuddlement no longer exists.

The band really hit its stride and gained popularity in 2007 when it walked away with the top prize on “When Will I Be Famous?” – a TV talent show in the U.K. To date, RHCP has released five studio albums, with their most recent being “Breathe” in 2013.

Besides MacDonald, the band currently consists of bagpipers Gordon McCance and Craig Munro; Gary O’Hagan on keyboards; Benjamin Holloway on guitar; Alan McGeoch on bass guitar; Grant Cassidy on marching snare; Paul Jennings on percussion; and Steven Black on the drum kit.


Though bagpipes are something not often – if ever – heard by many, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers manage to make the sound a familiar one. The guys play songs almost everyone knows; their latest album, “Breathe,” contains the tracks “Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Gimme All Your Lovin,’” and “Fix You.” Their fourth album title, “Music for the Kilted Generation,” may sound familiar to Prodigy fans, as it’s a play on the English group’s album “Music for the Jilted Generation.”

Recently, RHCP put on an energetic, foot-stomping performance that coupled Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and C+C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now” as part of BBC Radio 1’s announcement that the Big Weekend music festival was coming to Glasgow, a video that ran rampant on the Internet and caught the attention of websites such as Mashable and the Huffington Post.

“The trick is to make it clever music and not bagpipe karaoke,” MacDonald said of how RHCP makes its sound so successful.

The process is one of trial and error when choosing songs.

“There are 10 of us involved in writing the material and we just try rock and pop songs and see what works,” MacDonald said. “The one restriction is that the bagpipes only have nine available notes, so not all songs work.”

But the ones that do certainly pay off. When the pipes are punctuated with guitar riffs and pounding drums, the sound is mesmerizing. Who knew bagpipes could sound so cool?

“I love performing ‘Chasing Cars,’ a cover of the Snow Patrol song, and (Journey’s) ‘Don’t Stop Believin,’” MacDonald said. “Both songs tend to bring out an amazing reaction from the crowd.”

Some even garner a reaction from those who played the original tune.

“We understand that Brian May really likes our cover of (Queen’s) ‘We Will Rock You,’” MacDonald said. “He posted on Facebook after we won a talent show in the UK in 2007 playing the song.”

As far as RHCP is concerned, it’s not just about the sound – their stage presence is more akin to that of KISS than just some dudes standing around with bagpipes. The red and black adorned musicians hop around, rouse up the audience, and appear to be having the time of their lives.

Though, just how easy is it to be so energetic in kilts, touting big instruments?

“We have become used to performing in kilts,” MacDonald said. “The only difficulty we have in performing with them is that when we spin, they tend to come up higher than we hope – although maybe some members of the audience enjoy this part!

“After years of playing the bagpipes, it has become second nature to play them on stage,” he added. “I don’t really find them cumbersome at all. Although I do appreciate that someone trying them for the first time will have huge difficulty even getting a sound out of them.”