Pick the Pipers (not the Peppers)

By Geri Anne Kaikowski gkaikowski@civitasmedia.com

February 20, 2014

No, they didn’t perform at the Super Bowl halftime show, but they are red hot.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers sometimes get confused with that other band, you know, the guys who did perform at the big game.

Aside from having a double l in the name Chilli, the Pipers are a nine-piece ensemble of bagpipers, guitarists, keyboarders and drummers from Scotland. They aren’t rockers, but they do rock.

As a matter of fact, one of the staples in their on-stage show is Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers will spice up the stage of the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Not only does the band cover rock songs but it adds a rock element to traditional Scottish and Irish songs, creating a style known as “bagrock.” Aside from the bagpipes, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers incorporate traditional rock instruments, such as guitar, bass, keys and percussion, to create the music.

The group was formed in 2003 by five friends from varied walks of life — three students studying at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama, a firefighter and an accountant trainee. The group later expanded to nine members.

“There was a common thread amongst us in that we wanted to make a bit of extra money to see us through life,” said Kevin MacDonald, director of the band. “We came up with the idea to form a band playing rock covers on the bagpipes with accompanying percussion.”

The group got its name by accident. When one of the members was sorting out his bagpiping album collection, his girlfriend placed a Red Hot Chili Peppers album in the pile. Asked why, she replied that she thought it was a piper not peppers album.

“The name has never gotten us in trouble yet,” MacDonald said. “At the start, when we had no identity, people just laughed when they first heard the name. Now that we have our own identity in the U.K. and Europe and certain parts of the U.S., there is little or no confusion.”

The group performs a mean cover of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” which it just released as its latest single. The song transitions into that 1990s dance staple “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C+C Music Factory. But there are no plans to cover a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune.

The band takes rock and pop songs and sees what happens. The only restriction is that the bagpipes have only nine available notes so not all songs work. “The trick is to make it clever music and not bagpipe karaoke,” MacDonald said.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers have performed everywhere from New York to Beijing. They’ve appeared on NBC’s telecast of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“We seem to get an amazing reaction to our style of music and the energy we have on stage when we perform in the U.S.,” MacDonald said. “With the way the record industry is at the moment, touring is the only way a musician will make money and gain a reputation.”

Aside from the bagpipes, kilts are another Scottish tradition the group incorporates. “The only difficulty we have in performing in them is that when we spin they tend to come up higher than we hope — although some members of the audience enjoy this part,” MacDonald said.

That’s the closest he came to answering the question of what — if anything — band members wear underneath.