This article originally appeared in: Acoustic Guitar Magazine, January 2004
The Battlefield Band’s newest member, guitarist Pat Kilbride, gushes when asked how he enjoys sharing a stage with the young Hebridean fiddler Alasdair White. “He’s fantastic. It’s hard to get that fresh performance in the studio, and he’s even hotter live. Of course, when I was first with the band he wasn’t even born.”
Kilbride, unique among all the veterans of three decades of shifting Battlefield Band lineups, is back with the rocking Celtic quartet after 23 years pursuing his music on both sides of the Atlantic. His adventures have taken him to Brittany, to Brussells, to New York, and to Spain, finally landing him back with his original trailblazing band at exactly the right moment.
Kilbride’s partners in the current lineup for the Scotland-based Battlefield Band are Glaswegian and founding keyboardist-vocalist Alan Reid, American-born piper Mike Katz, and Isle of Lewis native White, also a whiz on pipes, whistle, bouzouki, and anything else he can get his hands on. While delighted to be working again with Reid, Kilbride seems most excited about the youthful energy that White brings to the band and the style that resonates with his own Irish roots. “His fiddling style is very attractive to me as an Irishman. Alasdair’s style is much more ‘Irish’ than any other fiddle player who’s been with Battlefield. He’s got a beautifully fluid, expressive style.”
Kilbride brings his own fluid expression to the band’s sound. Soon after leaving Battlefield in 1980, he moved to Brittany, hooked up with Patrig Molard, Dan Ar Braz, and the whole burgeoning Breton scene, and recorded “Rock and Roses,”which still shines as one of the sweetest Celtic albums ever released. As he did on “Rock and Roses,” Kilbride still balances his delicate fingerpick guitar work with his more driving flatpicked cittern playing. And increasingly he’s adding flatpicked guitar to his performing mix.
“I’m an Irishman,” he states simply, “and one of my true loves, other than guitar music, is Irish traditional music. Picking out tunes is something I love though I find flatpicking more difficult than fingerpicking. But they’re both my favorite children. Of course, when I rejoined the Battlefield Band I had to really get my flat-picking chops back up. I’m learning a lot about Scottish music from the boys in the band this time around. More than before, as I’m more mature—more prepared to listen.”
In the 70s, Battlefield was famed for its sheer rock-and-roll power. Today, the energy is still there, but the band isn’t trying to knock out the back wall anymore. Kilbride explains, “Scottish traditional music is very subtle. The inner rhythms of the music are extremely powerful—shadows within shadows. For me, that music has its own power. You don’t have to push it. People will always respond to it.”
His emotional subtlety has grown and developed through Kilbride’s time in Brittany, eight years in Belgium hanging out with jazz musicians, a very happy and productive decade at the center of New York City’s Irish scene, and migrations to London and Madrid. In New York in 1999, shortly after assembling The Pat Kilbride Band with musicians famed for their work with Suzanne Vega, Lou Reed, and Manhattan Transfer, Kilbride’s journalist wife was transferred to London. This turned out to be his toughest move.
“It was a heart-wrenching time for me. I never had any idea that I could come to New York and work at that level. That first album in London in the rain and all — I’d just sit there on the couch and cry sometimes, for what I’d walked away from.”
But sniffing out the hot Irish session at the Swan in Stockwell, Kilbride found a new musical outlet. With top young talents like Athena Tergis and Brian Kelly, he was soon running the session and reconnecting with his Celtic roots. Thus energized, Kilbride recorded “Nightingale Lane” in his home studio and called up producer (and Battlefield manager) Robin Morton, who agreed to release it on Temple Records. And so, when Battlefield’s guitarist Davy Steele got sick, Morton’s first call was to Kilbride.
Hitting the ground running, Kilbride has already recorded one studio CD and the new live “Out for the Night” with Battlefield: The Next Generation. In addition, he’s released three more solo albums, an extended “Rock and More Roses,” and two CDs with the band Kip’s Bay. His most recent solo CD, “Nightingale Lane,” including tracks like the haunting “Lough Beg Waltz,” reveals Kilbride’s musicianship and writing skills at their peak.
“The feeling is everything to me,” he says. “I’m not a big technician — not a 10,000-notes-a-minute kind of guy. It’s got to come from the heart. I can just hear a melody and it can reduce me to tears. My wife calls it ‘The Melancholy’ and she says my son has it, as well. I’m practicing and he’s staring off into the middle distance and I know he’s not brain-dead… I know it’s the opposite. He’s connecting with something that’s very spiritual, indeed. And I think you have to give yourself time to do that.”
Nightingale Lane, Temple COMD2089 (2002)
Loose Cannon, Green Linnet GLCD1148 (1995)
Undocumented Dancing, Green Linnet GLCD1120 (1993)
Rock and More Roses (all of Rock and Roses plus 6 new tracks from 1986-87),
Temple COMD2011 (1990)
Rock and Roses, Temple TP004 (1980)
with the Battlefield Band:
Out for the Night, Temple COMD2094 (2004)
Time & Tide, Temple COMD2090 (2002)
with Kips Bay:
Into the Light, Green Linnet GLCD1164 (1996)
Digging In, Green Linnet GLCD1130 (1992)
What They Play
Kilbride currently tours internationally with one of two Godin Acousticaster 6 Deluxe models (www.godinguitars.com), one with with 2-chamber mahogany body, one with maple. Each has a rock maple neck, 18 tuned metal tines mounted under the bridge, and a 3-dimensional LR Baggs bridge transducer with custom preamp. His Elixir strings (guages: 54 44 32 24 17 12) are tuned to DADGAD. Closer to home and in the studio he also plays his beloved 1973 Nelson 0026, made by Irish luthier Derrick Nelson (who later worked under the Danvel brand) and his mid-‘80s spruce and rosewood Martin D-28. All guitars are fitted with Fishman Acoustic Matrix Natural II under-saddle active pickups.
Kilbride’s cittern is a Stefan Sobell spruce and rosewood 5-course (www.sobellinstruments.com) tuned DADAD (guages: 54 42 32 17 12), fitted with a Fishman pickup. His 1979 10-string bouzouki is by Peter Abnett (DAbnett@aol.com), with a Dimarzio humbucker in the soundhole, powered by a Trace Elliot preamp pedal. Kilbride uses Elixir strings on all his instruments.