Tommy and the Tannies

It was a miserable drive to the concert on Tuesday but well worth the trip. It was the Tannahill Weavers after all.
I don’t do well driving on dark, rainy nights. I never have thanks to astigmatism — even in my 20s driving home from orchestra rehearsal in Dover I had trouble seeing the white lines on rainy nights — and now I have the additional problem of newly developing cataracts causing fuzzy vision. The rain fell steadily but not necessarily heavily on Tuesday, making amends for the summer drought, but traffic, especially big trucks, threw up spray and obscured the stripes, magnifying the visibility problems. But the concert venue, Happy Days Lodge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, was dry, warm and bright.
The Tannies may be unknown to the average person, but they are one of Scotland’s finest traditional groups, blending fiddle, flute, whistles, bodhran (a traditional Irish drum), guitar and bagpipes on scorching instrumentals, spirited songs about Scottish historical figures, and lovely ballads, accompanied by leader Roy Gullane’s often outrageous tongue-in-cheek stories.
Named for Scottish poet-weaver Robert Tannahill, the Tannies released their first album in 1976 and have been performing, recording and touring continuously since, anchored by Gullane and Phil Smillie, the latter playing flute, whistle and bodhran. John Martin plays fiddle, and Lorne MacDougall plays Highland pipes, smallpipes and whistles, the latest amazing musician in a steady procession of pipers whose reddish-brown hair contrasts with the gray of his bandmates.
I first saw the Tannies 25 years and six days before Tuesday’s concert, on Sept. 23, 1990, introduced to the group by my friend and bandmate Tom Perkins, who led me down the delightful path of traditional Celtic music so long ago. Tom had TW albums on vinyl back then and began buying new albums on CD as they were released, and I quickly learned much of the band’s repertoire by listening to Tom’s albums. That concert was held in Harkness Chapel on the Case Western Reserve campus and firmly cemented the Tannies as one of my favorite Celtic groups. I’m no singer and prefer to make music with fingers on strings, but that evening I couldn’t help quietly singing along on the irresistible chorus to “The Final Trawl,” a song about the scrapping of a fishing vessel and the decline of Scotland’s fishing industry.
I saw the Tannies again a couple years later in Cleveland, next at a pub in Columbus’s Short North district, and most recently (and too long ago) in October 2005 on the OSU campus. It had been too long since the last performance, and I was excited to see them this week. They retain their remarkable musicianship and showmanship, their drive and fire, that they exhibited as young men.
I couldn’t help but think of Tom as I entered Happy Days Lodge near Peninsula Tuesday evening, having learned of the band from him and having attended three Tannahill Weavers concerts with him. Tom introduced me to the world of traditional Celtic music back then, and he gave me his vinyl records when he retired and moved west in 2005. Three years later he died of an aggressive brain tumor.
We musicians often cite famous players and composers when we discuss those who guide us in our musical adventures, but Tommy, as his wife called him, was one of my most important influences. I’m sure he would be happy to know I still follow the Tannies and that they thrive to this day. Thanks, Tom, for the music.

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