Glengarry Bhoys:
planning ahead

An interview by Tom Knapp,
June 2003

Things aren't going quite like the Glengarry Bhoys predicted.

"We've got a five-year plan," said Graham Wright, front-man for the band. "But the Glengarry Bhoys have taken off a lot faster than we expected."

The six-year-old Scots-Canadian band has fielded six CDs, and the musicians have seen their fame grow with each new release.

"Two years ago, we were just on the crest of a wave with our Juice album," Wright said. "It really catapulted us to a new level. Now our new album, Rhoots, has catapulted us to a level beyond that. ... We made a five-year plan three years ago, and we've already met that plan now."

Wright and his bandmates aren't complaining. "It's allowed us to focus more on our music and how we present it to people," he said. Still, for the Ontario-based Glengarry Bhoys, festival gigs are the heart of their performance schedule.

"I enjoy the studio a lot, I enjoy the whole creative element, but I prefer to be touring," Wright said. "We come off stage and hang around with everybody." While they're hoping to add larger venues and concert halls to future tours, Wright said they'll never stop doing festivals "because we love doing them."

Wright blanches at the term "Celtic rock," which is often used to describe the Bhoys' sound.

"We stay away from that label," he said. "We have the Glengarry sound, and it's a world folk sound with a bit of a rock feel, a bit of a contemporary feel and a traditional flair to it. ... We've developed our own sound that nobody else is doing, which has helped us be a success. When you have 10 bands doing the same thing -- well, the audience gets bored."

Besides Wright, the lead singer and guitarist, the band features James Libbey on whistles and Highland bagpipes, Ziggy Leroux on percussion, Gibby Bazinet on bass and backing vocals, and stepdancer Shelley Downing, the Bhoys' only "ghirl," on fiddle.

The band, though energetic, knows when to show restraint, Wright said. "We're not trying to belt out the music, and I think that sets us apart."

Wright, the only native Scot among a troupe of Canadians, is also the band's principal songwriter, mixing his work among distinctive arrangements of traditional material.

"Every song that I write is something that has happened to me or is something I'm going through," he said. "I write about the heritage of Scotland. ... I try to keep my songs, other than the ballads, up-tempo, with refrains that allow you to bring in a jig or a reel. I try not to be write my songs based around Celtic music. I write them, and then we bring in the instruments." The band works out the arrangements together, he said.

It's a mix that works. To date, the band has sold 90,000 albums and counting.

"We don't let our so-called fame go to our heads," Wright insisted. "Our fans are like our friends, we want to hang out with them."

That attitude helps to keep performances fresh. "Every show we do is fun and exciting," Wright said. "We have a blast on stage, and we get the audience involved and they have fun. ... Everybody feels what we feel on stage."

At the same time, he said, the Bhoys resist being pigeonholed into too narrow a niche. "We do all styles: Scottish, Irish, Canadian, Celtic,. We don't try to stick to being just a Scottish band or a Celtic band. We try to blend everything together."

While some songs segue into traditional jigs and reels, others have a rock influence or spin off into jazz, he said.

"A lot of Scottish and Irish songs are talking about depressing times but the music's still fun," Wright said. "Our music is not depressing, it's not angry, it's just fun."

Some people are surprised that Celtic music, which peaked in popularity after Riverdance, Titanic and other pop-culture icons gave it a much-needed attention boost, is still so prevalent around the world. Wright said he never doubted the music's staying power.

"The people who are saying that are people who just were introduced to Celtic music when Riverdance or Titanic came out," he said. But Celtic music in Canada is mainstream. It's not going anywhere, and I don't think it ever will go anywhere. It's earthy, rootsy and traditional. It's fun music, it's about your heritage. It's more than just music."

In the future, he said, the Bhoys' new five-year plan calls for the band to "keep pushing forward, and getting more people to listen to our music."

Wright doesn't envision a lot of changes in the band's direction, although he expects there to be a constant evolution of their style.

"I think we'll keep the core sound, but we try to grow," he said. "We don't want to become stagnant, because you lose your fans that way. They get tired of the music.

"We'll keep changing and bring our friends along with us for the ride."

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 19 July 2003

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