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MUSIC | ROCKTALK

Scottish Brights

Band launches CSUN series with blend of ancient, modern music.

September 24, 1998|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tonight, the Scottish band Capercaillie performs the first concert in a new Celtic music series at Cal State Northridge.

Don't expect a bagpipe troupe.

Capercaillie (pronounced kap-ir-KAY-lee) performs ancient music with modern influences, instruments and recording techniques to create an original and enchanting sound.

Accordionist-keyboardist Donald Shaw and singer Karen Matheson started the band in 1984 while they were high school students on Scotland's west coast. They named the band after a bird--a capercaillie is a member of the grouse family.

"It's probably the worst mistake we ever made," Shaw said by telephone from a Scotland recording studio. "It's the only regret I have in my career."

The band released its first album while still in high school. But it was Capercaillie's recording of 400-year-old "Colsich a Ruin" in 1991 that launched them to international fame. "Colsich a Ruin" reached the Top 40 on the United Kingdom record charts and the CD featuring the track went gold in the U.K. with sales of over 100,000 copies.

Capercaillie has performed in more than 25 countries in South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The band's music was featured in the film "Rob Roy," starring Liam Neeson.

Tonight's performance is the group's first concert in Los Angeles since 1989, when it played at McCabe's in Santa Monica.

Besides Shaw and Matheson, the band includes guitar and bouzouki player Manus Lunny, fiddle player Charlie McKerron, bass and acoustic guitar player John Saich, drummer Wilf Taylor and percussionist Chimp. Whistles, pipes and other instruments are also in the mix.

Capercaillie's music blends the traditional fiddles, whistles, accordion, pipes and bouzouki with modern electronic samples, loops and modern rhythmic grooves. It's a sound that drives folk-music purists in this country crazy, but the band does not have that problem in its homeland.

"Years ago we would get a little hassle, but now our music is held in more respect than disdain," said Shaw. "We get to do whatever we want with not too much grief."

Shaw said that while growing up in Scotland, he and Matheson were brought up with ancient folk music in addition to jazz, R&B and pop music such as Steely Dan's. "Anything that seemed exotic to us," Shaw remembers.

Capercaillie released its latest CD, "Beautiful Wasteland," in June, the group's first album on the Massachusetts-based Rykodisc label. The CD explores African musical nuances. Sibela, a vocal duo from Guinea, is featured along with Matheson on a couple of tracks.

The basic tracks were recorded in Andalusia, Spain, which provided the band with the right creative vibe and allowed them to escape the Scottish winter, Shaw said. The CD's finishing touches were applied in Scotland.

At the forefront of Capercaillie's music is Karen Matheson's voice. It has been praised by the U.K.'s New Musical Express and the London Times, among others. Fellow Scot Sean Connery has said "Karen Matheson has a throat that is surely touched by God."

Her pure, unaffected tones are evocative of Astrud Gilberto's, featured in seminal bossa nova recordings with Stan Getz in the early 1960s.

This bird can fly.

The Celtic Music series at CSUN's Performing Arts Center will continue with Skyedance on Oct. 30; Dervish on Dec. 11; and Battlefield Band on April 10. Tickets are $24 or $88 for four concerts.

Capercaillie performs tonight at 8 at CSUN's Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge, (818) 677-2488. $24.

*

Empty Tables: Fridays and Saturdays at the Rusty Pelican in Glendale feature original rock and Top 40 cover bands. I expected to see a crowd, but the place was almost empty two Saturdays ago.

The room, done in a kind of faux ski-chalet design, is clean, service is good and the band was above average. And there was no cover.

Still, many tables were empty. The crowd was appreciative of the band's efforts, but there just weren't many of us.

What's the problem?

Rusty Pelican, 300 Harvey Drive, Glendale; (818) 242-9191.

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