Enter the Haggis:
spreading bagpipe rock to the masses

An interview by Tom Knapp,
July 2001

Craig Downie needed a name for his band in a hurry.

He told a promoter to put them down as Electric Haggis. A half-hour later, he called back to change it to Won-Ton Haggis. But neither sounded right, and Enter the Haggis seemed to flow.

"It's like Enter the Dragon, but a lot messier," said Downie. "It ended up sticking ... but it's not the sort of name we expected to go with."

Downie -- a native of Glasgow, Scotland, expatriated to Ontario with his parents at age 7 -- enjoys a good haggis "if it's cooked properly. If I had a couple of pints first, it's even better."

Haggis, for those not in the know, is a traditional Scottish dish made of minced sheep's innards, oatmeal and a varied assortment of other ingredients. Enter the Haggis, on the other hand, is an energetic Celtic rock band from Toronto.

Downie, pulled from a Toronto recording studio for this interview, is the band's founder, primary kilt-wearer, singer, bagpiper and chief songwriter. He has a penchant for inserting odd imagery into his music.

Songs on the band's first album, Let the Wind Blow High, deal with the likes of Scottish-Mexican brawlers, bagpipers in space and "loch monsters" of a different sort.

"I came from Scotland as a kid," Downie said, as if that explains everything. Since it didn't, he continued. "I wanted to know more about my culture, but most of what I could find out was the Hollywood version of Scotland," he explained. "I watched Brigadoon and things like that, which portrayed Scotland in a comical light. ... I thought, 'There's a lot of comedy coming out of Scotland.' So I started putting it together."

He finds ideas for songwriting in various places, from a Mexican native with a Scottish education and accent to headlines about Lorena Bobbit's exercise in extreme circumcision.

Downie is by no means a traditional piper, either, drawing on a variety of musical styles to create his own unique sound.

"I'd like to think of myself as an entertaining pipe player more than anything else," he said. "If I can get a different sound out of my pipes and keep people interested -- that's my job and that's my hobby."

Downie, who recently delayed recording to get married, buy a house and go on tour, said he finds musical inspiration in everything from early Beatles and Led Zeppelin to the pibroch, the classical music of the Highland pipe.

"The pipes were the first rock 'n' roll instrument," he insisted. "With what other instrument can you get up and cut a swath through a room of 200 people?"

Besides Downie, Enter the Haggis is Trevor Lewington (electric and acoustic guitars), James "Seumas" Campbell (drums), Brian Buchanan (fiddle) and Mark Abraham (bass). The band, with its second album in the works, is hoping to help bands like Seven Nations spread Celtic "bagpipe rock" to the masses.

"I would like to see Celtic rock become a dominant force in music," Downie said. "Rock music has really become kind of homogenous. I don't know where it's going to go these days. You turn on the radio and one song sounds like the next. "I would like to take Celtic rock to its epitome."

The band's evolution is already underway, he noted. "We're a tighter band than we were before -- just from doing a lot more playing. Our sound has become a bit more dynamic," Downie said.

"It's got a bit more of an electric feel to it for sure. We're trying to get a bit more power into it," he added. "It's 'more good.'"

The band's biggest joy comes from live performances, jamming on-stage with a jammin' mix of traditional tunes, original material and plenty of humor. While they once bribed audiences with T-shirts and CDs to get them up and moving, that no longer seems to be a problem.

"We played recently at the Mosiac Festival out in Regina," Downie recalled. "The stage was swarmed by about 200 people. ... Nobody got hurt or killed or anything, so I guess it was a good show.

"Of course, there's always a potential for mishaps. Last week, an older gentleman leapt up on stage, embraced our guitarist and kissed him. That was a bit weird."

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001