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Scotland’s Tannahill Weavers celebrate five decades

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The Tannahill Weavers are, from left, Phil Smillie, Roy Gullane, John Martin and Lorne MacDougall. (Courtesy photo)

Not many musicians can make the claim that Scotsman Roy Gullane can: He’s made a decent living playing music in a traditional folk band. The Tannahill Weavers. It was 1970 when he first joined the group, named for national poet Robert Tannahill, aka The Weaver poet, whose songs the group often covers. Gullane and company — flute and whistle player Phil Smillie, string player John Martin and piper Lorne MacDougall — are on a prestigious 50th anniversary tour, and still having a blast. “Plus, we have a new album out (“Orach”), and commemorative T-shirts have been printed up,” he adds.

The list of ex-Tannahill Weavers members unspools like a Biblical scroll. What were the requirements to join? Just showing up at rehearsal?

Ha! Well, I would think a rich, resonant singing voice might be some sort of qualifier. But hey — of course there was bound to be tons of former members. We’ve been around for half a century!

Have you ever colored outside your folk-parameter guidelines? Done something a bit too edgy?

No, not really. I mean, as we developed the band moved forward. But it was folk music in the beginning, not traditional music as such. But we’ve got a pretty big catalog of material, and I’d like to say that we just stay in our comfort zone, but we don’t like to do that. So we just don’t stray too far from it. But when it comes down to it, we’re ready to give anything a go.

Is your music impressing a new generation of kids overseas?

Oh, God yeah! It’s unbelievable what’s happening in Scotland right now. They’ve really learned how to pass the music along, and the young cats coming up now are just amazing, blindingly good players. Because when we started, there were so few young people playing the music, and now it’s dozens of them, just dozens. And they’re all so very good.

So you guys were pariahs then?

Eh, not so much pariahs. But actually, I think we were kind of revolutionary. With the type of music we played, the market had been cornered by these quasi-operatic singers who would take a Robert Bond song and then orchestrate it out of all recognition. This was the way our traditional music was being played, but our music wasn’t really like that — it was the people’s music, the music of the farmers, the fishermen. So we’ve always tried to take it back to that root.

A 50th anniversary is pretty monumental.

Maybe if we hadn’t told anyone, no one would have noticed. But we never set out to be some hip commodity, anyway, so we just keep plugging away.

IF YOU GO
The Tannahill Weavers
Where: Freight & Salvage,2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 16
Tickets: $22 to $26
Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.ticketfly.com

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