“The Old Blind Dogs play with a compelling energy and intoxicating rhythm,” says The Scotsman, “as players and audience seem to share a wild ecstasy of emotion.”
Fifteen years is a long time in the life of any band and most who reach that milestone are content to rest on the tried and true formulas that have worked in the past. Not so for Scotland’s Old Blind Dogs whose newly released Four on the Floor takes them bravely in many new directions.
The Dogs, one of Scotland’s most highly touted traditional folk bands, are not known for shying away from change. A strong, shared musical vision has allowed the group to ride out inevitable line-up changes to the extent that the only original member still with the band is Jonny Hardie (fiddle, guitar and vocals). The Dogs’ popularity has never dimmed though and the current foursome of Hardie, Aaron Jones (Bass, Bouzouki, Guitar, Vocals), Rory Campbell (Border (Reel) Pipes, Whistles, Vocals) and Fraser Stone (Drums, Percussion) have proven more than capable of carrying on the tradition of the band that the Montreal Gazette called “a Scots neo-traditional supergroup with a bracingly modern musical attack.”
Hardie who was classically trained, has recently been much in demand as a freelance producer and guitarist, and has solo and collaborative albums to his credit. Rory Campbell has been playing pipes and whistles since a young age and has fronted groups Deaf Shepherd and Nusa, as well as performing in a variety of ground-breaking traditional projects such as 2006’s The Blow Show. Aaron Jones who was voted Instrumentalist of the Year 2005 at the Scots Trad Music Awards is a past member of Craobh Rua and is a founding partner of www.tradmusic.com. He has appeared on many albums and continues to work regularly with some of the biggest names in traditional music, both as a performer and recently, as a producer with flute/fiddle player, Claire Mann. Fraser Stone brings his African-based percussion to both the Dogs and to highly-touted indie rock band Stereoglo.
Together, in varying line-ups along with past members Buzzby McMillan, Davy Cattanach (percussion), Fraser Fifield (saxophone, small pipes), Paul Jennings (percussion) and singers Ian Benzie and Jim Malcolm, the Dogs have released ten albums and have won numerous awards including the prestigious title of Folk Band of the Year at the 2004 Scots Trad Music Awards.
One aspect of Four on the Floor that might surprise even long-term Dogs fans is that instead of bringing in a new vocalist to replace Malcolm, who left to concentrate on his family and solo career, the remaining Dogs now share the singing duties, with admirable success. “For me,” says Hardie, “it was a matter of going back to thinking of the original sound of Old Blind Dogs. The band was a four piece for six years and, in many ways, I prefer the sound of four–with everyone having to work a little harder. We now have the ingredients for everyone to contribute songs rather than a front man and three backing singers. Because we all have a responsibility, we tend to focus on making sure the harmonies are right.”
The tracks on Four on the Floor run the gamut from contemporary songs such as Ewan McColl’s “Terror Time” and Davie Robertson’s “Star O’ The Bar” to tunes from Brittany and Galicia, to tunes found, as many a favorite Dog’s tune has been, in “dusty old books”. As to the title, Hardie claims that it “is just a reference to there being four of us on the stage now as far as I’m concerned–but everyone has there own theories (everything from manual gear boxes to us falling around a lot!) You decide.”
The Dogs have always been best known for their impassioned live shows and the inclusion of three classic Old Blind Dogs tracks, recorded live by the current line up, shows why. “Bedlam Boys/The Rights of Man”, “Branle” and “The Bonnie Earl O Moray” which span the Dog’s career, giving the listener a taste of what all the fuss is about. “It’s that live performance thing,” says Hardie. “There’s an honesty about it and we work hard on the stage. Perhaps we even err on the side of being too frenetic. We don’t really pace ourselves; we just go for it. I think ours is very immediate music.”