Craig Downie Talks About Celtic Rock Band Enter The Haggis’ Staying Power

If you haven’t seen Enter the Haggis live, you are in for a treat this weekend as the Canadian Celtic band from Toronto prepares to rock Boston’s City Winery Friday night. The indie roots-rock quintet is comprised of Craig Downie (highland bagpipes, vocals), Brian Buchanan (vocals, fiddle, guitar), Trevor Lewington (vocals, guitar), Mark Abraham (bass), and Bruce McCarthy (drums).

The band got its start back in 1995 and has since been at the forefront of Celtic rock with their kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing and fun lyrical style. To date, they have released eight studio albums, the most recent debuting at #9 on the U.S. national Billboard Heatseekerscharts.  Best known for songs like “One Last Drink”, “Down With The Ship” and “Gasoline, Enter the Haggis has also performed on national television shows like “Live With Regis and Kelly” and “Breakfast With The Arts” on A&E.

Enter the HaggisPhoto Credit: AJ VandenBerghe

We caught up recently with the band’s founder, Craig Downie, to talk about the band’s funky name, why Celtic rock has become such a dominant force in the music industry and what Haggis Heads can expect at this weekend’s show.

You were one of the first Celtic folk rock bands that is still going strong. What do you think has been the secret to your success?

I guess we all still get along with each other and that’s pretty important. For a lot of bands, it’s a challenge, but we really enjoy each other’s company. There is also a lot of verbal one upmanship to see who can come up with the most inappropriate comment.

How did you come up with the band’s name?

I wanted to say where the roots came from. I was born in Scotland and thought Haggis might not be a bad name, but there was already a band with that name. A friend came up with the idea of Enter the Haggis and I thought it was hilarious. We designed the logo with sort of a Yin and Yang, Enter the Dragon type look, but with bagpipes that morphed into a face.

Did you ever think the band would have the staying power that it has over the years?

Not really in the beginning. Most bands last a few years. I was quite shocked at how we we were received when we first started. I wrote most of the songs on the first album and Trevor (Lewington) has been writing a great deal now. I remember sort of worrying if people would think our music is crap and get them off the stage (laughs). We opened for a band, TIP (which stands for Toronto Irish Players) Splinter Group, and after some frantic rehearsals, we got our sets together and the owner of the club got us involved at the North by Northeast Festival. After we played that gig, people started asking us to play in pubs. This was around the time of Riverdance and the whole Celtic vibe that was going on in the entertainment world. I’m pleasantly surprised that we have had the staying power that we have had.

Where do you find your musical inspiration?

All over the place. Most of the stuff written lately is being written by Trevor. He seems to find it from all over the place. He reads a lot of history about small towns and their roots. For example, our album “Broken Arms”  was inspired by Banfield, Ontario. We wrote the whole album on interesting stories, things that happened there and a lot of historical roots.

Why do you think Celtic rock has become such a dominant force in recent years?

It was a natural evolution. Rock has been around for a long time and so has Celtic music. It was just a matter of time that they’d come together. It has been given a lot of exposure in the festivals. Celtic rock music is quite organic. You won’t hear it on the Top 40 stations. It happens through other ways to get music like through satellite.

Favorite moment on stage?

One time in Germany, we were singing “Donald Where’s Yer Troosers” and we’d switch up the middle of the song. We were there during the World Cup and that day Germany beat Italy. We were playing the night after the game. Brian and I would converse back and forth as the fiddle was playing a cop and he’d ask me ‘Have you had anything else to drink?’ and I’d ask the crowd and they would go crazy. He asked what happened to my pants because I was wearing a kilt and I had a German flag and wrapped it around him like a kilt. A huge cheer went up. They just loved it.

What are you most looking forward to when performing in Boston?

The people and the city. We have gotten to know quite a lot of people from there. We always have so much fun in Boston and love going to Faneuil Hall.