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Less Braveheart and more AC/DC: The Scottish bagpipers turning the genre on its head

The Bagpipers hail from Scotland
Gold Crown Photography
The Bagpipers hail from Scotland

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are playing live in Ventura County on Saturday.

They have the tartan kilts…and the sets of bagpipes, but that’s about as traditional as it gets at a show by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Yes, PIPERS.

"We had the name 22 years ago and it was tongue in cheek Scottish humor. We had no idea when we done that, that in 20 years time we will be playing in the city, sometimes the same venues and the same festivals as the actual Red Hot Chili Peppers," explains Willie Armstrong, the musical director from the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

"One last year it was a daughter - and her mother got a package to see, as she thought, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it turns out it was us! But then it came from the show and they utterly embraced it and enjoy themselves so much. That's the thing went viral, so much so that the [Red Hot Chili] Peppers got involved and they gave them tickets for one of their shows."

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are playing live at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center on Saturday May 4
The Red Hot Chilli Pipers
The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are playing live at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center on Saturday May 4

This time, the Pipers are bringing their unique musical show of rock, pop and the occasional tear-jerker to Thousand Oaks.

"It's not a concert. It's not a gig. It's as a show. So we'll get dancers, we've got the best musicians in Scotland - they're all got Academy degrees - and we take the audience on a journey. So we'll have them all clapping on their feet, . And the bagpipes are quite an emotive instrument, so we can have them crying in the aisles and the next minute we'll have them jumping up, clapping, stomping and dancing," said Armstrong.

Armstrong says that mastering playing the bagpipes isn't easy.

"So basically here you've got a bag under your left arm and this allows a reservoir of air - and people think that you need to have big lungs to play bagpipes, but that's not really the case. What you need to have is a big left arm because that's where you control the flow of air through your reeds, and you just top that up using your lungs and your mouth," he said.

"It's like rubbing your belly and tapping the top of your head. And that takes a lot of getting used to," he said.

He’d had time to get used to it - Armstrong has been playing the bagpipes since he was a young kid growing up in Glasgow, Scotland.

"My grandfather was a bagpipe player during the Second World War, and I used to love hearing my grandfather playing his pipes and I took it up when I was seven, and I've been doing it constantly since I was a wee boy," he said.

"Quite a lot of the bagpipes I hear, I would probably say 80%, are wildly out of tune. And that's why you always hear this thing, 'Oh, I heard bagpipes getting played and it sounded like a cat being strangled'. And I think, 'Well, if you play them out of tune, it sounds exactly like a cat being strangled," he said.

"The thing is, you have to stay away from bagpipe karaoke," says Armstrong of their show. He says they don't aim to keep it simple, but to provide an assault on the senses for their audience, going between rock tunes and traditional music.

So while they’re truly Scottish when it comes to their music, there's no word on whether that extends to their kilts.

"What we wear underneath our kilts is the future of Scotland," laughs Armstrong.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers play Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center on Saturday May 4.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.