Monday, December 10, 2012

Birmingham Underground Part 1

by M. David Hornbuckle

Birmingham is rife with subcultures that fly under the radar of most people. In this series, the Birmingham Free Press pulls the lid off this underground world and lets you take a peek inside.

The Celtic Music Scene

Ian Sturrock Memorial Pipe Band
photo by E.T. Brown
On a Wednesday around lunchtime, two bagpipers stand in front of the Highland United Methodist Church playing “Auld Lang Syne,” and a crowd of people are gathering around the fountain to listen. One of them is Ryan Morrison, Pipe Major and de facto leader of the Ian Sturrock Memorial Pipe Band, of which this is only a small sample. The other piper is Pipe Sergeant Jeff Jones. The full band has a dozen pipers and seven drummers (Morrison’s wife Sherry plays the bass drum). Several of the onlookers take Morrison’s business card. He plays a lot of weddings and funerals. The ISMPB also frequently performs with the pub band Jasper Coal, of which Morrison is also a member.

The last Sunday of every month, you can find Morrison among a large group of other Celtic musicians at Black Market Bar in Five Points. This is the Celtic Session, an open jam session where Irish and Scottish musicians gather together to play traditional songs. “People come from Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, and Auburn,” Morrison says. “And there are also sessions in those cities that we all go to.” He says there is a certain protocol to how the session goes, but new people catch on quickly. Members of popular local Celtic music groups like Jasper Coal and Henry’s Notions often come to participate in the sessions. Musicians at every level are welcome, and many people show up just to watch and listen.

Both the pipe band and the Celtic session are sponsored in part by the Caledonian Society of Alabama, a group that is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Gaelic culture in the state, largely through music. Ian Sturrock, the namesake of Morrison’s pipe band, was one of the founding members of the organization. The Caledonian Society also hosts four events every year, the biggest of which is their Burns Supper in January, celebrating the Scottish poet Robert Burns. At this event, the pipe band performs and members eat traditional Scottish food while reading selections from Burns’ poetry, including his “Address to a Haggis.”

Caledonian Society:
Ian Sturrock Memorial Pipe Band:
Celtic Sessions in Birmingham:
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