Talking Story with Celtica’s Lead Piper Duncan Knight

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Up until a year ago, I’d never heard of Celtica Pipes Rock! (CPR), or knew there was a strong contingent of Scottish and Irish music fans here on the Big Island who would come out to concerts by The Alt, Switchback, and CPR. Not only do they attend, they also dress in full regalia, and dance right along with the band playing bagpipes and more on stage. You can read my review of CPR’s 2018 Honokaa People’s Theatre concert here.

A CPR show is a concert you don’t want to miss, and when the Hawaii Irish Dance troupe augments their performance, the historic Honokaa People’s Theatre transforms into a raucous and rowdy hall of fun. CPR is six-piece band that was formed in 2009, by Austrian guitarist and composer Gajus Stappen. He’s joined by the brother and sister team Duncan Knight and Jane Espie, on Scottish bagpipes, along with Bulgarian violinist Aya Georgieva, drummer Tom Cadek (Austria), and bassist Harald Weinkum (Arizona). Bring your earplugs – you can even hear the show outside on Mamane Street!

On Friday, April 5, CPR will make their fourth concert appearance at HPT, and the Hawaii Irish Dance troupe will be joining them. The show starts at 7 PM, but I’d suggest getting in town early since it’s also First Friday, and parking will be limited by vendor booths lining the street. For tickets and further info, go to the Blues Bear Hawaii site: https://bluesbearhawaii.com/p/celtica-pipes-rock

I caught up with CPR’s lead piper Duncan Knight while he and his bandmates were on the road in Virginia heading toward gigs in Texas.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Celtic Pipes Rock. Why do you think the band has been so successful?

Probably the main reason is that there’s really no other bands anywhere that have the same kind of sound and style that we do. I mean, there are lots of other bands that utilize bagpipes, for example, the Red Hot Chili Pipers, however we do something different. I think it’s the mixture between the sound of the bagpipes, symphonic backing, and the rock guitars, there’s nobody else like us.

I understand CPR! have been nominated for “International Artist of the Year” by the Australian Music Awards. How does that feel since you’ve never played there before?

It’s great! You know, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan are places we’d love to go and play. I’m so proud to be nominated for the award. Obviously, even though we haven’t played there, our music has, and we have some sort of fan base there, so, regardless of whether we went there or not, we’d still love to go and see our fans. So far, the tours have been limited to North America and Europe.

Of all the shows you’ve done across the world, is there one that stands out as the most memorable?

Probably the one that stands out the most is the Montelago Celtic Festival in Italy last year. For the first time we had choir and orchestra on stage with us. We rearranged a handful of our songs in the set to feature the orchestra and choir for a live performance. We had a great receptive audience. I don’t know how many thousands there were, but it was packed! The atmosphere was amazing too. You can see a clip on YouTube, but you pick up the entire show on DVD via our website. A lot of the time when we play the States, were not allowed to use our pyrotechnic effects [flames shooting out of bagpipes and drum mallets set on fire]. Usually the fire marshals won’t approve it, or the area is too dry. So, on the DVD you can see the whole pyrotechnics along with the choir and orchestra. It great for people who haven’t been able to catch a show like that.

I think this will be the fourth time you’ve played the Big Island, and you have a strong following here including Irish dancers and flag wavers. Did you think Hawaii would be so supportive?

Up until a friend suggested it, we never thought that bagpipe music would be recognized there. It’s not the sort of place you immediately associate with Scottish culture or Celtic culture and bagpipes and whatnot. But we found out there were a bunch of Irish pubs in downtown Honolulu and they also had a St. Patrick’s Society and Highland Games and whatnot. So, we thought, well, yeah, if we’ve got somewhere to play… you’re not going to turn down the opportunity to play in some place like Hawaii! It’s a dream destination for a lot of people. Once we got there and started to learn a little bit more about the islands, and the influence of the British monarchy, which I never knew… the royal family and Hawaii were very influenced by the Victorian kings and queens of Britain, which was amazing to me. I hadn’t realized that Robert Louis Stevenson had spent the last few years of his life in Tahiti and things like that. So, I had no idea that people in Hawaii really knew anything about Scotland. Quite an eye opener.

What can fans expect at you upcoming Honokaa concert?

For those fans who have seen us before, there’ll be a lot more of the same high energy and a mixture between the traditional Scottish and Irish tunes that we do with a rock backing, and of course our original material. But the main thing about all of our shows, regardless of where we are, it’s high energy, high-octane stuff. We have as much fun as anybody that watches us.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?

We are currently starting to write our first studio album, so, hopefully we’re going to record that at some point later this year and have it available for release early next year. I don’t know the time scale exactly because it’s not so easy to get all this kind of stuff done while we’re on the road, but certainly we’re writing at the moment, and as soon as we get that underway, hopefully we’ll have a new album for our fans sometime early next year.


To find out more about Celtica Pipes Rock!, check out their website: https://celticarocks.com

Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Featured image: Steve Roby

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