Bagpipes and drums are a natural combination; you'll hardly find one without the other. But a didgeridoo?
Throw one of those into the mix, and you have the Wicked Tinkers, producers of "haunting, heart-pounding, irresistible" music at the forefront of the Celtic tribal movement.
The Wicked Tinkers, based in Glendale, Calif., have been coming to Utah's Scottish Festival for about 10 years now and have become one of the most popular performing groups there.
They will again be at the festival Saturday, with performances scheduled for 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. (Other featured entertainers include Men of Worth, Molly's Revenge and Oceans Apart, as well as a number of local performers, making for nonstop music and dance.)
"We always have a great time in Utah," says Aaron Shaw, who plays the Great Highland Bagpipes with the group.
Warren Patrick Casey plays the tapan/bass drum and bodhran; Keith Jones does snares and percussion; and Jay Atwood plays the didgeridoo and Bronze-age Irish horn, among other things.
Their music is loud; it's primal; it takes you back to a time when "battle cries filled the air, and strange, unheard-of creatures roamed the night." And yet, it has a freshness and excitement that easily engages the audience. It is the Celtic music of their ancestors re-created for the 21st century, they say.
"It's tribal music, so I'm not stuck behind a drum set, Jones says. "I can run around in the audience. We just have a good time."
Their Utah audiences are always so enthusiastic, they say. "Some places we play, it's like being on TV," Shaw says. "But in Utah we get the energy back from the audience. It's more like we're having a party than putting on a show. We love that involvement; it works well here."
The Wicked Tinkers started in 1995, when Shaw and Casey happened upon each other at the Celtic Arts Center in Los Angeles and hit it off. They began playing together, and others wanted to join in. Since then, they have toured the country, often playing at festivals and Highland games.
Shaw, who is of Scottish descent, began playing the bagpipes after a trip to Scotland when he was 16. The "wailing music spoke loudly" to him, he says.
He also loves the pipes, he says, "because there's always more to learn. I've been playing them for more than 30 years, and there's still more. They are not a forgiving instrument, not like the piano, for example. You have to blow and squeeze and tone. There's always a lot going on."
And with learning them, he says, "there's no instant gratification. Sometimes you wonder why you didn't take up the ukulele. But it's a disease for which there is no cure," he says, with a laugh. "You fall in love with the pipes, and you are hooked for life. The good thing is that you get so involved, you don't notice that it's work."
Atwood, who "in real life is a piano player and a conductor," joined the Tinkers in 2000. "They are a great band. I had always loved their sound. They were coming to play in Rhode Island, where I lived at the time, and I had heard they were losing their didgeridoo player, so I asked them if I could just sit in. We found we all have this deep affection for Scottish and Celtic music, and here I am."
Atwood often appears in "tribal makeup" which consists of a blue handprint across his face. The kids especially have fun with that, he says.
He enjoys playing the Bronze-age Irish horn it's a sound that was lost for thousands of years, he says. But he's also been known to play something as modern as a metal gas cylinder it makes the perfect clinking sound.
Casey has "always walked to the beat of a different drummer." He was always more interested in world music than the pop music his friends were listening to. At 16, he built his first instrument, a skin-headed bass drum called a tapan. That's what he still plays today, along with several other drums that he builds. He loves the thundering sound of the bass drum but is equally good at finessing the bodhran. Drums, any drums, resonate deeply in the soul, he says.
Jones loves the fact that "everyone gets to wear kilts," but he, too, loves the music the Wicked Tinkers play. "It grabs you. It's not mainstream, but there's a real history to it. There's a passion that a lot of modern music doesn't have. How far does pop go back? How long will it last? We are playing music that goes back thousands of years."To have lasted that long, he says, it has to have real substance. "It touches you in many ways."