‘An oasis in the Fringe… with bagpipes’ is how piper and most talkative Battlefield Band member Alasdair White described their show. There is much in this statement: set away from the stretch of the Royal Mile and Cowgate in The Queen’s Hall, this is not strictly speaking a Fringe show. For one thing, it lasted a spectacular two hours. There was an interval (an opportunity to go and buy their myriad CDs, we are told) and even interval drinks: it was a far cry from dingy basements and bucket-shaking.
With such professional surroundings, a professional show might be expected. In this department, Battlefield Band do not disappoint. The outfit has been going in various guises since 1969, though unsurprisingly there are no original members left. They were beautifully amplified and mixed together and they varied their set well. Though they stuck largely to the tried and tested method of playing sets of tunes as well as charmingly explaining the historical provenance of every song, they fitted in a slow and delightful cover of Otis Redding’s ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’. White told us that this was a ‘wee smoochy number’ and guitarist Sean O’Donnell lent his husky vocals to it, which really filled the space.
They had great onstage rapport, exchanging quips and the odd jovial remark. They also displayed stunning musicianship: it was frantically paced and note-perfect. The most impressive section occurred when White and fellow fiddler Ewen Henderson engaged in a sort of highland folk battle, taking turns to shred their fiddles fiercely. O’Donnell and multi-instrumentalist Mike Katz left the stage at this point for an air of theatricality and their return made the song’s denouement majestic. This was a cracking performance.