An Interview with

Jamesie Johnston

of Albannach

By Nicole Borello-Editor, Quaci Press and Magazine

NB: The artwork on the cover is beautiful. Where did the idea for this come from?

JJ: The artwork for the album I had running around inside my head but it wasn't until the talented Chad Glazer from Machine Head Tattoo in PA, a good friend of mine, actually started drawing it that it came to life. He brought the story's characters out of my mind and into this world, such skills, am still blown away by his work.

NB: What is the best advice someone gave you in regards to pursuing music?

JJ: To be honest I never really got advice regarding the music but I remember a punter I had in my taxi cab, which was a job I took to help make ends meet many years ago saying to me, “Why are you doing this? You're too young to be driving a cab. Make yourself a two year plan to get out of this and forge your own path.” Funny how a brief encounter like that sticks in your mind and it's what I did—I hatched a plan and followed it.

NB: How do the fans in the States differ from those in Scotland? Do you find your American audiences wanting to connect with their Scottish/Celtic roots?

JJ: There is a big difference between the US fan base and the Scottish fan base. In our early days our home fans were crazy. Scottish gigs could get pretty intense but as we started to follow our dreams and ventured across the pond into the US scene, it became evident that there was a huge market for our style of music and the crowds were super enthusiastic! We could turn up to play a Highland Games in Florida or California and be playing a stage that AC/DC would be at home on, so yes, bigger venues, bigger crowds, bigger stages, bigger everything. Welcome to America, lol.

NB: When did you first start playing the bass drum? Were you self-taught or did you take lessons?

JJ: I myself was late to the music game. I was given the chance to play the bass drum while running wild with another crew in my mid-twenties. I picked it up quick and went about putting my own spin on it. I like to hit hard, aggressive with lots of energy, evoking the spirits from the old clan battles you could say. Being a drum outfit, that bass is an important sound. It's got to be felt punching out that beat. We want you to feel it!

NB: Congrats on your latest CD: Galgael. It is described as a Celtic fairy tale. How would you describe your sound and vision behind this new CD to a potential new fan? And what is Galgael for those who may not know?

JJ: The Galgael was a long time in coming. In fact, it had been 7 years since we had recorded a studio album. Lots of reasons why, but mostly just staying out on the road and touring kept us out of the studio. When recording I didn't want to release another typical Albannach bagpipe and drum album which is usually aggressive and punchy, that had been done and while there is nothing wrong with that as it's our signature sound, I personally wanted to explore a different sound, so Galgael started to take shape in my mind.

I had had this idea of weaving a story through the music so in fact the music would help bring the story to life. With our music being so heavily entrenched in Scottish history, I thought it would be cool to write a story incorporating little bits of Scottish folklore and putting them together to tell a story which turned into a fairytale come Celtic love story. I don't know if it meant to when I put pen to paper but it soon started to tumble out that way.

To purchase the CDs visit their website:

Using Galgael for the title track and album name was something that I had wanted to do for a long time .The origins of the name go way back to the mists of my country's time, but it's fair to say the Galgael were a fierce tribe who once roamed the Southwest of what we now call Scotland. Closer to my own time though, I connect Galgael to a brilliant charity organization in my home city of Glasgow that uses ancient skills: wood working, boat building and metal craft to name a few. An outlook the Galgael takes is that alcoholism and drug addiction are looked down on, not real diseases if you know what I mean. They look at their clients as people who life have forgotten, pushed aside or pushed out of sight so as not to be reminded of the struggles of the poor or inflicted. Galgael is there to help show them there is a way back into the world and a way which will help them to keep their heads held high.

NB: I can see Albannach's music being used in a musical about Scottish history. Have you ever thought about taking your music to Broadway?

JJ: This is a great question and I'll tell you why. Traveling state to state you have lots of time to think and this very question is something I find myself pondering—a Scottish Broadway show with our music being featured, especially our second studio album, Eye of the Storm, or indeed the Galgael. With the recent success of Game of Thrones and Vikings, people are definitely into the history if not fantasy of the ancient ways. Yeah, I can see our music bringing a story to life on the big stage.

NB: Any myths about Scotland that you would like to clear up?

JJ: LOL another good question. Ok, when people think of Scotland they think of the highlands and the kilted Highland warriors, and yes they were a savage bunch, but it was the woman folk you really had to watch out for! In the words of the famous Roman historian Tacitus who wrote of General Agricola's campaign into Caledonia (Scotland), “The Celtic woman was fierce and strong, being kicked by one was like being kicked by a horse.” ...So yeah it's not just the Highland men that can fight! Lol.

NB: In 50 years, what would you like people to say about Albannach?

JJ: Once Albannach has drifted off into the Celtic mists of time it would be pretty cool if folk remembered us for keeping it real. We played hard and we partied hard but also brought a touch of home to all the ex-pats we entertained on our travels. That's something I hear a lot, people like to be around us and our no bullshit attitude to the game. What you see is what you get, always prided ourselves on that working class grit—Scottish style.

NB: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on tour?

JJ: Funniest thing that's happened is actually a dark chapter in the bands time. I got into an altercation with a fan that ended up with me being hospitalized for a week. No big deal, however, the hospital had a problem dealing with the amount of fans turning up at the reception trying to get to my room to see me, leave gifts and what not. So they actually had to put me under a false name so that my identity wouldn't get leaked. I became Steve Anderson. I mean come on, am just a lad from the outskirts of Glasgow who plays a drum, this kinda MI5 stuff only happens in the movies LOL.

NB: Favorite American band? And if you could tour with any American band, who would it be?

JJ: I personally have lots of favorite American bands but the one I have followed for the longest and would think it would be a true honor and blast to perform with would be the mighty ZZ Top.  Those guys are just so cool and their style has crossed many years from their early blues to the rock and roll that I still love to ride my motorcycle to now. Such American legends!

I remember as a young lad being transfixed on MTV and the UK show, Top of the Pops in the hope of catching a ZZ Top music video, still makes me grin thinking about it.

NB: If you could live in America, what state would you live in and why?

JJ: I like to ride motorcycles, so California and that all year round biking weather pulls me in, but I also like to climb mountains so Colorado and New Hampshire tick many boxes for me too. I do spend a lot of my downtime in New Hampshire, the mountains and the rural landscape feel like Scotland to me, so maybe that's where I'd hang my hat. Plus, tearing around those farm roads on a vintage Triumph in fall is pretty unbeatable!