Wicked Tinkers’ Hammered and Wicked Tinkers

cover art for HammeredAs Big Earl writes in his review of “Mississippi” John Hurt’s Rediscovered, “Do you want the long review or the short one? Here’s the short: Do yourself a favour, go out and buy this disc. Right now.” The same applies to these discs. If you like traditional Scottish pipes and percussion music, you must get these discs! My wife and I have played them easily a few dozen times each since getting them earlier this week, and they get better with each listening.

There’s something to be said for the approach to Scottish music that consists of pipes and percussion; it’s definitely FHL (faster harder louder), and it’s quite listenable. Indeed, the highlight of the Maine Festival that my wife and I attended recently was the performance by one of the local Scottish pipe and drum bands who played on the greensward at noontime. It’s a straightforward approach to Celtic music that’s a crowd pleaser, and that is certainly true of the Wicked Tinkers. The Wicked Tinkers are three musicians who play the music of Scotland, Ireland, and the many nations in which the Celts have created a musical heritage. The band consists of Aaron Shaw (Highland bagpipes, whistles), John MacAdams (snare drums, vocals, guitar), and Warren Casey (big drum, bodhran). Aaron’s a member of the L.A. Police Pipe Band, John has played with the Clumsy Lovers and Craicmore, and Warren has been with Buzzworld, the Dirty Mickeys & Bulgarian Folk Trio. It should be noted that the Wicked Tinkers incorporate a Macedonian Tapan (a 22 inch diameter x 16 inch deep drum with one heavy and one light goat skin head) into their music which gives them an ever-so-slight resemblance on some cuts to the Old Blind Dogs when Davy Cattanach was part of that group. It’s not surprising given that Warren Casey has been a drummer for some twenty years in styles as varied as Bulgarian, Macedonian, Greek and of course Irish and Scottish.

This is not Celtic rock, but rather is pumped up traditional Celtic music. T. J. McGrath in Dirty Linen said of Hammered that “[t]here’s nothing subtle, or serious, about these guys — just three smiling lads from California with a set of Highland bagpipes and assorted drums, having a lot of fun blasting away on an assortment of traditional and modern Scottish jigs, reels, hornpipes, and marches.” He’s right. This is, as I noted above, FHL music with nothing fancy going on: just drums and pipes playing (mostly) Scottish music. (And didjeridu at one point on Hammered — Why do Celtic groups think it’s fashionable to use this instrument?) Like Tempest or the Australian group The Brothers, Wicked Tinkers sound like they are a very good pub and festival band.

cover art for Wicked TinkersWicked Tinkers is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard — and after hearing literally thousands of Celtic CDs in the past twenty years, I’m more than a bit jaded. From the opening set of jigs titled “The Bird Set” (“The Hen’s March/The Seagull/The Geese in the Bog”) to the “Wallop The Cat” jig (“We do not advocate cruelty to cats, hares or any other creatures, for that matter. In fact, we hope this tune is about a cat named Wallop …”) with its gratuitous silly sound effects to the closing jig/hornpipe combo of “The Man From Skye/The Judge’s Dilemma,” this is a damn near perfect album. (I asked Jack B. Merry about the “Wallop the Cat” jig. He says it’s full name is actually “Wallop the cat from under the table” and the title clearly means that one kicks the feline out from where it’s not wanted. Josephine Marsh on her 1995 self-released CD plays a more traditional version of this Irish jig.)

These lads can sing too. Their version of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” is exceptionally well-done! Hammered is very similar to Wicked Tinkers although slightly less traditional in sound. The above mentioned didjeridu as played by Wayne Belger sneaks in here. It’s used very well on the cuts where it’s noticeable. And there’s a bloke by the name of Michael Olson who is listed in the liner notes as playing the hammer and anvil on — surprise! — “Hammer on the Anvil.” Other highlights include John singing “The Farmer,” a dirty little ditty that should be in a book of limericks, “The Weird Set” (“The Hag at the Churn/Slieve Russel/The B-52”,) and Hornpipes/Mazurka (“Maggie’s Pancakes/The Bulgarian Bandit/Tommy Hunt’s Jig”) in which one notices the influence of Warren upon the group.

This is good, well-played stuff that any Celtic music fan should own. And I’d love to see them live!

(Thistle Pricks, 2000)
(Gael Force, 1998)

Cat Eldridge

I'm the publisher of Green Man Review. My current audiobooks are Arkady Martine's A Desolation Called Peace, Nicole Galland’s Master of The Revels, and Walter Jon William’s Deep State. I’m reading Neal Asher’s latest Polity novel, Jack Four. My music listening as always leans heavily towards trad Celtic and Nordic music.

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