Scantily Plaid:
Celtic music, Canadian style

An interview by Tom Knapp,
June 2004

It was 400 years ago that the first settlers from Brittany, the Celtic region of France, settled along the east coast of Canada. The Celtic traditions of those Breton settlers, as well as vast numbers of Irish and Scottish settlers who followed, is still thriving in Canada today. Scantily Plaid, a trio from Hamilton, Ont., brings its own brand of Celtic Canada to the field.

"There are a lot of bands" taking advantage of their Celtic heritage in Canada these days, said Scantily Plaid member Doug Feaver. "Some of them are really good, too, but they are basically doing Celtic rock 'n' roll with bagpipes in it. It's good ceilidh music, but we want to take a more classical approach."

Scantily Plaid makes a "big sound with acoustic instruments," said Feavor, who sings and plays a variety of instruments -- including guitar, drums, harmonica, djembe, banjo and sitar -- in the band. "We decided to make something that rocks -- acoustically. We didn't want to play disco beats with it."

"We take a lot of traditional music and put our own spin to it," added Ruth Sutherland, Celtic harper and singer for the band.

While music falling under the general umbrella of "Celtic" is growing more diverse each year, Sutherland said "there's a call for everybody" in the field. "If you do something and you do it well, there's an audience for you," she said.

The trio also features Bob Worrall, a champion performer on four styles of bagpipes.

The band's name is a play on words that recognizes that, as Canadians, they're not typically thought of as part of the Celtic world.

"We figured we're all playing Celtic music, but we're all born in Canada," Feavor said. "Also, we wanted to incorporate some other elements of music into our sound. It's a nice play on words. We're only partly Celtic."

Feavor compared Scantily Plaid's sound to that of seminal 1970s British folk-rock artists like Pentangle and John Renbourn. "It's organic rock," he explained. "Instead of plugging in a couple Fenders and a drum kit and rocking out, we use a stripped-down set of drums, an acoustic guitar, acoustic harp and, of course, the bagpipes. It's very organic ... but it's still rocking out."

"We'll take traditional pieces and completely alter them," Sutherland said. And, she added, with the varied dynamics of harp and bagpipes, drums and guitar, "we're a hard band to do sound for."

Their music grows from jam sessions, she said. One member will bring a new tune to the group and they'll all sit down and "just start playing. ... We don't actually try to arrange it, we just do whatever we feel will add to it."

"We'll be playing along and suddenly we look at each other and the light goes on," Feavor said, describing what can be a rather frantic rehearsal process. "We go until we're totally amused."

The band last year released its first CD, Just Checking In..., and will return to the studio this fall to begin work on its second recording. "We have all those pieces well rehearsed and well oiled, so we booked time in the studio when we felt we were ready," Feavor said. "We set up to play live. We were separated by glass but we could see each other. We wanted to get as close to our live sound as possible."

"I love recording, but it doesn't replace being out with the audience," Sutherland said.

Feavor agreed. "It's good to get out there, see an audience, get a laugh and get a good reaction to the music."

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 17 July 2004

[ visit the band's website ]