Bringing the bagpipes to rock 'n' roll: Dekker Centre

Don’t be confused by whichever name this band is going by, it’s bagpipe rock, and maybe that’s all you need to know.

Who else but Johnny McCuaig plays the bagpipes like a lead guitar?

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The Johnny McCuaig Band, also known as the Arcana Kings, will be at the Dekker Centre Nov. 20 as part of an Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils tour.

On their Facebook page, the Regina-based band is described as mixing “traditional Canadian east coast jigs with the modern power of radio rock music. You’ll jump out of your seat to clap and dance along to the band as they rip through rocked up versions of old standards like Ten Penny Bit and Patty’s Leather Breeches along with some new modern rock anthems like Here We Go, currently used by the Saskatchewan Roughriders as their take the field fight song. Between songs the band reaches out and connects with the audience in their casual fun way that shows that they not only take their rock music seriously but have a great sense of humour, too, and know how to laugh and engage with the crowd.”

The band members are Johnny McCuaig - lead vocals, rhythm guitar, bag pipes; Kevin Kyle - back up vocals, bass guitar; Graham Templeman - back up vocals, drums; James Picton - back up vocals, lead guitar, and; Allan Morrison - back up vocals, rhythm guitar.

Following is an interview by Devin Wilger of our sister paper, Yorkton This Week

It’s a time of transition for the band. They have a new name, changing from the Johnny McCuaig Band to Arcana Kings. They have a new album, Lions as Ravens, out on October 15. John McCuaig said that they were discovering that the old name was a barrier for some fans.

“We found that a lot of people can’t spell the name, they can’t find us on social media. As we all know, as an independent band struggling out there, social media is king. We were actually playing at Mosaic Stadium for the ‘Riders western semi-final half-time game last year, and the announcer said ‘hey everybody, the Johnny McCuaig Band,’ but really struggled saying the band’s name. After the show, I turned to the guys and said ‘guys, we really have to change the name.’”

But one thing that won’t change with the name is the music. They make high energy music, and McCuaig said that they want to get people pumped up for the day.

“That’s what we were going for with this album, to show everybody, look, there are a lot of singer-songwriters out there, a lot of mellow music, some rock stuff that is just rock, but we want to give the listener a little bit more of a good mood.”

Their mission was to pump people up, and McCuaig said that their song Here We Go, specifically, was written to get people excited for something like ‘the big game.’ The Saskatchewan Roughriders agreed, and played it when taking to the field in 2018.

“It was incredible, it was an amazing feeling. Having my phone rip off the hook... I didn’t even know it was happening. It was crazy, and my phone was going nuts... It’s certainly an incredible feeling, it definitely opened up a lot of doors for us and we’re still riding the wave from it,” McCuaig said.

One of the band’s trademarks is integrating bagpipes into the rock, which people assumed was a Celtic sound, something like Ashley McIsaac. McCuaig said that’s not what they were going for at all, and has a specific sound in mind.

“[I compared us to] AC/DC’s Long Way to the Top if You Want to Rock and Roll. Because they have bagpipes in it and it’s rock... When people show up to the shows, 99 per cent of the time, people go ‘wow, I never knew bagpipes could be played that way, they could sound that way with rock music...’ What we’ve achieved with the traditional Scottish bagpipes is taking them in and really making them meld with rock and roll melodies and hooks. Really taking it to another step.”

The sound grew out of McCuaig’s youth.

“It’s me growing up, jamming to the radio with bagpipes, my friends looking at me going ‘what are you doing?’ It wasn’t a normal thing .”

Recording an album took longer than expected because as a busy touring band,  actually getting into the studio was a challenge.

“We could only go in the studio three days at a time, and we would always have to hook up a show in Saskatoon while we there... It took us close to a year to get it, even though when we put the time together it was nine to ten days at the most.”

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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