How do you get modern audiences hooked on Celtic music? Scottish band Skerryvore seems to have the right approach, mixing pop and rock music with traditional Celtic sounds.
The story of Skerryvore starts nearly two decades ago. Brothers Daniel and Martin Gillespie grew up on the Scottish island of Tiree, which boasts a population of about 700 people. Fraser West, the band’s drummer, accompanied by and Alec Dalglish, the band’s singer, would visit the island from Livingston every summer.
It was a chance encounter at a local bar that brought the members of the band together.
“Somebody in Fraser’s family said that Fraser was a musician as well,” Daniel recalled. “So we did a bit of a jam together and then it sort of snowballed from there. There wasn’t really any plan to be a band.”
Just like the formation of the band itself, the band’s sound was also a kind of happy accident.
“The fusion elements existed right from the very start,” Daniel said, referring to the band’s mix of pop and rock sounds with traditional Celtic music. “Myself and Martin were brought up with very traditional Scottish folk, Celtic type music. And Fraser and Alec were brought up a lot more in terms of pop and rock, and both of ’em were in brass bands and things as well. So there was an immediate different fusion of different styles and approaches to music.”
Melding traditional music with modern sounds makes it more accessible to people who may not have otherwise been exposed to Celtic music.
“[Pop music is] obviously the most popular style of music in the world,” Daniel said. “So it’s going to be more accessible to people’s ears when they hear it. But I think something that we’ve always been keen to do is surprise people as well in terms of the combinations of styles.” People may expect to hear an electric guitar rift, but end up hearing a whistle or fiddle instead, he said. “The bottom line is, it’s just got to be good songs that are the heart of it all.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic was hard on many musicians and other performing artists, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Skerryvore.
“We always look back and it obviously was a very tough time for lots of people all around the world,” Daniel said. “But for us, it was a chance to reset and try a different approach, try different things, and it worked in our favor. We managed to connect really well with people all over the world during the pandemic, whether it was through the songs we released, or the livestreams.” One of those livestreams saw people from about 34 different countries tune in, he added.
They had fun choosing locations for their livestream performances. One they did from a whiskey distillery. Another was recorded at the Robert Bonds Museum. Another yet was from the Royal Yacht Britannia. “When people couldn’t travel, we wanted to bring people to Scotland and show them cool venues and things about Scotland they couldn’t get to see,” Daniel said.
The band has toured internationally for around 12 or 13 years, and been to more than 30 countries around the world, Daniel said. “We’ve been to China, we’ve been to the Middle East, we’ve been to Australia, we’ve been in the U.S., which is probably our most visited international destination.”
Daniel described Skerryvore’s performances as “high energy.”
“We always aim to have a very high energy, engaging set,” he said. The band includes two bagpipers, which adds to the volume of the shows, he added. “It’s like a big rock show with sort of a Celtic twist. We’ve got a lot of songs that have got great parts for the audience singing back. We always say that at shows we’re guaranteed to have a lot of people singing back in their best Scottish accents, if they can.”
The band has traveled to 36 of the 50 United States, and has ambitions to travel to even more. “We’re slowly getting around to them all,” Daniel said.
The band’s new album, “Tempus,” comes out on April 28.
Skerryvore at the Admiral Theatre
Skerryvore performs 7:30 p.m., April 15, at the Admiral Theater, 515 Pacific Avenue, Bremerton. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $19. Buy tickets here.