Albannach (band)

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Albannach live.JPG
Albannach live at the Edinburgh Festival 2006
Background information
Origin Glasgow, Scotland
Genres Celtic battle music[clarification needed]
Years active 2005–present
Labels Albannach Music
Associated acts Clann An Drumma
Members Donnie MacNeil[1]
Colin Walker
Jacquie Holland
Jamesie Johnston[1]
DidgeriDrew Reid

Albannach, Gaelic for "Scottish" or "Scotsman", is a Scottish band. Their traditional music is heavily percussive, driven by bass drums, bodhráns and a single bagpipe. From the first, eponymous album in 2006, Albannach has promoted a sentiment of Scottish patriotism in songs such as "Uprising," a tribute to famed patriot William Wallace; they have covered songs like "1320" by Scottish folk artist Gordon Menzies of the band Gaberlunzie. Several songs on early albums referred to the Island of Barra, the Outer Hebrides home of Albannach's bagpiper, Donnie MacNeil. Vocal songs that survive in the touring repertoire are sung either a cappella or with minimal accompaniment, emphasizing the lyrics; however, the audience is invited to participate by clapping along to songs such as "The Burning of Auchindoun." With a few exceptions, the bulk of the touring repertoire, and of the band's discography, is instrumental.


Several founding members of Albannach met doing historical reenactment work; also, some met as members of Clann An Drumma. Jamesie Johnston says that the split of Albannach from the previous band was entirely amicable; it literally had to do with the "artistic differences" often cited by music groups. One set of musicians wanted to add a more modern sound, while the other group was adamant that they wanted a traditional sound. Another difference was the simple one of willingness to use North America as a primary touring focus; not all members of the older band favored this change. In the end, the bands went their separate ways with continued mutual respect, and members of the other band continue to tour Scotland under a new name.


"I can't put my finger on it — it just seems to strike a chord with a hell of a lot of people, whether it's letting out that pent-up aggression they feel for their jobs through the week or what, but they just let go when they come hear us."
Jamesie Johnston, September, 2008.[2]

The band frequently performs at Highland games and Scottish/Celtic cultural events throughout the UK and North America.[3] Albannach are based in Glasgow, Scotland.[4]

Jamesie Johnston, born in Glasgow in 1973, is the bass drummer[5] and also a vocalist. He played the bass drum with Clann An Drumma. After working with them for five years, he left and became part of Albannach. A signature musical addition of Johnston's during the song "Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum," which was originally a vehicle for Donnie MacNeil's piping but is more theatrical onstage, involves strapping his bass drum, normally worn at the player's waist, around his upper body in order to play it as if it were a bodhrán frame drum. This technique allows for an extremely fast style of bass play and a complex polyrhythm. Johnston has in many ways become the face of the band; as well, he maintains a parallel career as a hiking guide—he is notably vocal about environmental conservation.

Jacquie Holland, born in Paisley, is the bass rhythm drummer[5] and vocalist. She is a founding member of Clann An Drumma, but left with other members and formed Albannach. Holland's vocals provide reflective moments about halfway through tour sets, as on "Ancestors," a deceptively simple plea that could readily apply to any descendants of a diaspora. She uses her large vocal range and detailed knowledge of Celtic music to add Robert Burns favorites in her song slot ("Ae Fond Kiss"; "A Red, Red Rose"), as well as Scots sagas like "The Burning of Auchindoun" and even Irish folk songs—the much-loved classic "She Moves Through the Fair" (here rendered "He").

Donnie MacNeil is a bagpipe player[5] who also plays drums, piano, and guitar. His background in traditional regimental piping, combined with a fondness for highly technical, heavily ornamented passages, ultimately led to Albannach's winning the Bagpipe section of the 2007 Celtic Radio Awards for the song "Auld Nick's a Piper," on the album Eye of the Storm. MacNeil enjoys sitting in with céilidh band The Vatersay Boys for special occasions like the band's holiday-season gigs at famed Glasgow venue The Barrowlands Ballroom; his father, also named Donnie MacNeil, is the drummer of The Vatersay Boys.

Born and brought up in the Pitlochry area of Scotland, Kyle Gray was a member of the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band, where he spent one year as the juvenile drum major. He was the lead drummer in Albannach,[5] leaving in November 2009.

Colin Walker is the current lead drummer, having previously played with the Neilston & District Pipe Band and various other traditional Scottish folk bands. He also plays electric and acoustic guitars. Like member-emeritus Davey Morrison, Walker chose the United States as a place to start his family.

Drew Reid, from Philadelphia, PA originally but now enjoying the beauty of Oregon, plays the Australian aboriginal wind instrument the didgeridoo. Drew's version has been modified with a "slide" such that he can quickly drop down to a much lower range during play, like the operation of a trombone; additionally, during his time with the band so far, he has mounted a camera on the instrument. This allows him to collect audience video, particularly when he dismounts the stage during a song in order to stroll through the crowd. Reid is the only member of the band who is of Scottish descent, but was born in America.

Aya Thorne from Pitlochry has largely retired from road touring as of 2015, citing the need to spend time with his young children. On Runs in the Blood and all preceding albums, Thorne plays the bodhrán and tambourine.[5] Thorne had become a fan favorite by the time of his retirement, adding spontaneous and vigorous dance segments to his tambourine performances, to the point that a toddler with Thorne's signature "fauxhawk" hairstyle and a miniature drum was frequently invited up on stage at Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire tour dates, and, when Thorne removed his shirt on very hot days, women would vie to stuff dollar bills in Thorne's kilt belt—much to his embarrassment, this fan habit was occasionally egged on by Jamesie Johnston at the microphone.

Davey "The Living Legend" "Ramone" Morrison has been a bodhrán player with Albannach at various times in the band's history, adding baritone vocals as well.[5] He formerly played with Clann An Drumma. He is also a visual artist, designing tattoos, fanzines, wearable art, and sculpture that includes mythological (The Green Man), archetypal ("mountain man"), and pop-culture themes (members of punk bandThe Ramones). Morrison's nickname "Ramone" is a direct reference to that band. He now resides in the US with his wife and son.



October 11, 2008 at the Maryland Renaissance Festival

Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]


BRONACH: Collaboration with BROTHER[edit]

Following numerous impromptu jams at music festivals, Albannach began a long and fruitful collaboration with independent Australian Celtic-rock band BROTHER, with Angus Richardson on vocals and bagpipes; Dave "Dalbo" Allen, on drums; and "DidgeriDrew" Drew Reid, on didgeridoo and keyboards, enriching the overall "tribal" sound of both bands. Since 2011, the conjoined band, calling itself BRONACH, has led bus tours of historical sites around Scotland. 2012 saw the release of BRONACH's EP, titled ONE and alternating between songs associated with each of the separate bands. Though BROTHER itself is no longer a touring unit, with Richardson having by and large retired from the road and Reid joining Albannach full-time to replace departing bodhrán player Aya Thorne, BRONACH tours continue in a fashion—as part of two annual coach tours held typically in late April; these tours are conducted by Albannach and East of Hebrides, Inc., who take tourists to culturally important sites from Edinburgh to the Isles of Iona and Orkney during the day, and by night, to famous inns and eateries for dinner and a special BRONACH performance. (Johnston is an autodidact historian who is capable of lecturing about many historic sites entirely from memory, such as the battlefield of Culloden.[7])

Social media campaign 2013: Albannach and Outlander[edit]

In 2013, fans of both Albannach and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novel series learned that Starz television channel would be producing a TV series based on the books. Fans, at the instigation of Jamesie Johnston, spread the #albannachforoutlander hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and social media generally that supported this tagging system. Since Gabaldon does not have direct creative control over the show's soundtrack, it remains to be seen whether the band's self-described "tribal" style of music and performance (as distinct from regimental pipe bands) will ever come to the attention of Starz or be considered by studio executives. As of the end of 2013, Albannach fans were still making daily use of the hashtag; in 2017 the band is approaching 50,000 "likes" on Facebook, and the band has also crossed paths with Gabaldon and show actor Gillebrìde MacMillan ("Gwilym the Bard") at the Fergus, Ontario Scottish Festival and Highland Games in 2015 and 2016. Yet Starz is not currently in talks with Albannach.


  1. ^ a b Matt Morrison (January 21, 2009), "Highland Games unite Scots at heart", Seminole Chronicle, archived from the original on 2014-10-06 
  2. ^ Wildsmith, 2008.
  3. ^ Buescher, James (June 22, 2008). "Traditional Scots Group Albannach Bangs The Drum Loudly". Sunday News  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Lancaster PA. Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  4. ^ "Clans gather at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games" (2008-06-26). Salisbury Post.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Charles Runnells (Jan 23, 2009), "6th Celtic festival to cut wide swath", The News Press, The band features award-winning bagpipe player Donnie MacNeil (nicknamed Bullfrog for the way his neck muscles expand when playing), and not one but five drummers: bass drummer Johnston, bass rhythm drummer Jacquie Holland, lead drummer Kyle Gray and bodhrán players Aya Thorne and Davey "Ramone" Morrison (the only American in the group) 
  6. ^ "Folk Scene: Albannach, Dick Gaughan, and Ossian", Newsnet Scotland, 31 October 2011 
  7. ^ Sherry Wallen (2013-05-05), Albannach's Jamesie Johnston Talks About Culloden, retrieved 2017-04-10 


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