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Wicked Tinkers enchants with bagpipes, didgeridoos and kilts
The Oregonian/OregonLive
By Dillon Pilorget

Looking like the Ramones making cameos in "Brigadoon," Wicked Tinkers took the stage at EF Nursery Saturday night to a crowd of listeners in lawn chairs. As three young boys wrestled on the grass nearby, the tribal Celtic band played an ancient battle song, just one of "all the greatest hits from the 1700s." The flatbed trailer on which the band played rocked with the rhythm of Tiki King's bass drum. "It's got an oceanic feel to it," said bagpiper Aaron Shaw, who cofounded the band almost twenty years ago.

Alongside King and Shaw (was) didgeridoo player CJ Henderson. As Henderson's mohawk pointed down the length of his tubular instrument, he growled out delightfully nightmarish sounds resembling a cross between a crocodile's guttural roar and the buzz of a doped mosquito.

Why does a Celtic band feature the Australian didgeridoo, Shaw asked the audience rhetorically? "Because we like it," he answered. The band also makes use of a hand drum from Mali and the ever cartoonish jaw harp. This combination of instruments creates a unique sonic landscape that is at times more storytelling than musical performance. According to Shaw's stepmother, Sue Groszmann, who is affectionately referred to as the wicked stepmother, "liking it" is something the four men in the full-time band can apply to their jobs as musicians. Shaw's father told him many years ago that finding work he enjoys is most important, Groszmann said, "and this is what happened."

Groszmann brought Wicked Tinkers to Forest Grove to perform as a benefit for the United Church of Christ, to which she belongs. Mixed in among other church members were a handful of already established Tinkers fans, but aside from the band, only Shaw's father, Max Groszmann, wore a kilt. His was a black utilikilt that, when paired with his black tee shirt and glengarry hat, mirrored the rock 'n' roll clansmen getups of his son and his bandmates.

--Dillon Pilorget

Celtic group returns for benefit show
Michael Sproles

It all started 22 years ago at a Celtic jam night in Hollywood, when Aaron Shaw met bass drum player Warren Casey at The Celtic Arts Center. When other musicians filed out of the spot to grab a beer, the pair began playing together — and soon discovered the simple beauty and power of the music created by Shaw's bagpipes and Casey's drum.

The Gaelic music group Wicked Tinkers was born that night. They'll be banging their drums and blowing their bagpipes in Forest Grove at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at the L-Bar-T Bison Ranch, 43465 S.W. Hiatt Road...

Shortly after their formation, the group began playing on a street in Santa Monica known to the public as a popular spot for musicians to show their stuff...The band became heavily invested in attending Irish and Scottish festivals around the country.

Shaw has been playing the Scottish bagpipes since 1976, and is a well-respected pipe teacher. He first heard the bagpipes at age three in the highlands of Santa Cruz, where he grew up. When he was 16, on a trip to Scotland, he bought his first set of pipes...

'Tinkers' were known as people who played instruments and entertained at parties. "My bandmates' girlfriend at the time was from Boston, and they referred to a lot of things there as 'wicked,' and we put in front of Tinkers — that's the story behind our name," said Shaw.

Shaw's father and stepmother live in Forest Grove, which makes the trip easy for the band. The benefit concert is a stepping stone to a Scottish event they'll be playing at the next day in Washington state — the Kelso Highlander Festival.

"The benefit show every year is pretty informal ... a couple hundred people sit out on the grass or in chairs, and we play a few sets," said Shaw. "Our vibe is 'we're having a party and you're invited,' that's how we like to approach our gigs."

Green Man Review
The Wicked Tinkers, Portland Scottish Highland Games, Mt. Hood Community College, Gresham, Oregon, USA.

Hot sun, cold beer, bagpipes, drums, didgeridoos, and four wildly funny, talented, sexy men in kilts...OK, maybe that's not your idea of Heaven, but I've seen the Wicked Tinkers so I know better... The Wicked Tinkers perform at Celtic festivals, Highland Games, and Renaissance Faires up and down the West Coast. I caught their act at the Portland Scottish Highland Games. Throughout the day they played several sets lasting about 45 minutes each; I had planned to see their 1:30 show only. When it ended, I asked my husband if we could go back for the 3:30 set, and I didn't have to ask twice. These guys can jam.

Both sets consisted of old favorites -- unlike myself, most of the spectators were obviously familiar with the Tinkers' work -- and some pieces from their newest album Banger for Breakfast. The first show opened with some rollicking "jigs about birds" -- "The Hen's March/The Seagull/The Geese in the Bog" -- followed by "Pumpkin's Fancy," ...Aaron introduced the "Mackenzie Battle Charge," warning us that it could incite trouble if there were any Mackenzies in the audience: he didn't warn us that the entire band was going to march off the stage and circulate through the audience!

Surprises like this went on throughout both sets. Local radio hamsteak Dave Scott joined the band onstage toward the end of the first set for "Flower of Scotland/The Black Bear Hornpipe" and held his own on the drum surprisingly well. During the final song of the first set ("Radar Love," and no I am not kidding you) a tiny blonde tyke called Lauren rushed the stage and danced her little heart out -- the Tinkers played what might be called "the extended version" and by gum that little girl kept up with them for so long that fans were placing bets on who would drop first!

During the second show we were treated to the amazing Bog Set featuring a gigantic didgeridoo made in Oregon and the haunting Celtic horn, the pleasant "Fiollaigean" and the exciting "Hammer on the Anvil." Even better, there were more impromptu fan performances, including a hornpipe danced by the "Wicked Tinker-belles" -- the Belles, a trio of lovely teenage girls named Erin, Mary, and Mary, were apparently competitors on the Highland dance stages who donned Tinkers t-shirts and joined in the fun...Oh, and I learned that bodhrans make handy beer trays... The second set ended with more jigs but not before a short set of what Aaron claimed were "songs that should never be played on bagpipes," including "Stairway to Heaven" and "If You Think I'm Sexy."

The Wicked Tinkers are crazy in the way that only very, very good performers can be, with a nuttiness that is enticing rather than intimidating. Consummate performers, they work together like the proverbial well-oiled machine, albeit one oiled with mutton grease and lubricated with plenty of ale. All four are, as I said previously, rock-star sexy -- though they just ruin the fantasy when they mention that three of the four are married and two are new fathers or fathers-to-be! Be still my heart.

Admittance to the Highland Games is ten dollars, with the performances included in the price. I've paid five times as much for tickets to see bands ten times as famous in venues twenty times as large, and not had half as much fun. If you ever get the chance to catch the Tinkers onstage, don't pass it up. It goes without saying that you'll want to pick up a full set of their CDs.

Wicked Tinkers, Banger for Breakfast.
Recently I attended a Wicked Tinkers show at the Portland Scottish Highland Games. As I said in my review of the show, "The Wicked Tinkers are crazy in the way that only very, very good performers can be, with a nuttiness that is enticing rather than intimidating." Banger for Breakfast, subtitled Live & Raw, is their most recent CD -- and it admirably demonstrates my point.

The liner notes explain "[Banger] originally started out with 60 hours of music recorded live across the country. We whittled it down to a couple hours of our greatest hits. This first of two CDs is a bunch of favorites snatched from our three previous releases, with ten new tunes thrown in to boot." In fact, all of the Tinkers' previous albums have been reviewed by GMR. Of Wicked Tinkers, Editor-in-Chief Cat Eldridge said "Wicked Tinkers is one of the best albums I've ever heard -- And after hearing literally thousands of Celtic CDs in the past twenty years, I'm more than a bit jaded. From the opening set of jigs titled "The Bird Set" ("The Hen's March/The Seagull/The Geese in the Bog") to the "Wallop The Cat" jig ("We do not advocate cruelty to cats, hares or any other creatures, for that matter. In fact, we hope this tune is about a cat named Wallop...") with its gratuitous silly sound effects to the closing jig/hornpipe combo of "The Man From Skye/The Judge's Dilemma," this is a damn near perfect album." Of Loud, reviewer Peter Massey enthused "You might say the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I found myself reaching for my Claymore, just to kill off a few more sassenachs. For make no mistake about it, this is real Sterling music!" And of course they're both right -- the Wicked Tinkers are my new favorite band, and Banger for Breakfast has been played dozens of times since we picked it up at the Games last month.

As mentioned, this CD is made up of live recordings, and they didn't just include music. Bits of their hilarious stage patter are interspersed with the tunes -- all of this comes across well except the comparison of Wayne's hair to Aaron's sporran, which really needs the visual for full impact.

The recording is really well done for what must have been almost entirely outdoor, open air'll want to turn up your base when you listen to the Tinkers as their music is an incredibly visceral experience...windy cliffs and smoky mead hall feeling with energetic drumming, and Aaron Shaw is, frankly, the best piper I've ever heard, at least in the context of a band. His rendition of "Danny Boy" is plaintive, but arranged at just the right tempo to avoid becoming maudlin. "Atholl Highlanders" has not appeared on their previous CDs, and Aaron leads the tune with a frenetic but never rushed piece of perfect piping.

A particular favorite on this CD is a jam with the Men of Worth on "Sleepy Maggie/The Sugar Merchant/Bratach Brana". Hornpipes always make me wish I knew how to dance properly, and the Harry's Hornpipes set ("Jake Warren/With Drummers in Mind" by Harry S. McNulty) has the usual affect. "Wallop the Cat" from Wicked Tinkers is probably one of the Tinker's most popular tunes, but I much prefer the closing piece, "Bog", which utilizes the Bronze Age Celtic Horn and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Banger for Breakfast is a fun and exciting CD and I look forward to the second half of this project. At 63 minutes this is a solid chunk of fine entertainment, and I think they've got yet another damn near perfect album here.

Wicked Tinkers, Loud.
I would love to hear what comedian, and once upon-a-time folk singer, Billy Connolly would have to say about the Corn Na Lliran (Bronze Age Irish Horn) and Didgeridoo on the aptly named opening track 'Bog'. Because you see, on this side of the pond the word bog is often used to refer to the toilet! Now don't let this put you off the album! For although I thought the horn part was a bit too long, and I was just about to hit the fast-forward button, when the Highland bagpipes and drums set in my confidence was restored. You might say the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I found myself reaching for my Claymore, just to kill off a few more sassenachs. For make no mistake about it, this is real Sterling music!

...On this album you have what the Wicked Tinkers call Gaelic Bagpipe Music, not the refined playing of a normal pipe band, but their own version of what the ancient tribal bands might have been like. It's the sort of sound you might have heard at Scottish weddings, ceilidhs, or around the campfires of a highland raiding party. Before playing the album, on reading the sleeve notes, I wondered how the hell they could make an album consisting of a bent piece of Irish plumbing (that does not even have a mouth piece!), Highland bagpipes and some drums even remotely entertaining to anyone other than a Scotsman. Well I am here to tell you they have! The repertoire depends mainly on tunes from the Scottish Highland. Jigs and reels, strathspeys, marching, battle tunes, mixed in with some Irish reels and a slow aire, plus a lament. There is just one song on the album, 'I Will Go', blended in with the tune to 'Hey Johnny Cope'. The set comes to an end with the funeral march "Lochaber No More."

The title track "Wicked Tinkers" is a set of 4 tunes consisting of a couple of contemporary works such as "Farewell to Whiskey" by Michael Mullen and "The Wicked Tinkers" and "Donald Varella's Jig" named after the author. "Percussion Suite" after a fade-in, it has what I think is a short song by Warren in Macedonian or Bulgarian, but whatever it is, it sounds okay.

I am the first to admit that bagpipes may not be to everybody's taste, but I defy anyone to keep their feet still when the penultimate "Reel Jam" kicks in after "Piobaireachd" (Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay..trad). It is a collection of favorites like "Sleepy Maggie," "Sugar Merchant," "High Road to Linton," "Jock Wilson's Ball" and more. But of course the album has to end with a set headed by "Flower of Scotland" by Roy Williamson and the traditional tune "Black Bear", two of my all time favourites!

When in Edinburgh, I once asked a similar sounding band "Where do you practice?" their reply was "Och, never the same place twice!" If you are a fan of Deaf Shepherd or such like, you must get this album. The Wicked Tinkers are obviously fun loving guys and have produced a great album here. Even if you think you do not like pipe music, this could well change your mind. Pour yourself a glass of single malt Scotch whiskey, sit back and let the music sink in.

We got a great review from "DIRTY LINEN"
If my car suddenly acquired one of those earthshaking sound systems that vibrates windows for a block in each direction, this might be the first CD I'd play. There's nothing subtle, or serious, about these guys -- just three smiling lads from California with a set of Highland bagpipes and assorted drums, having a lot of fun blasting away on an assortment of traditional and modern Scottish jigs, reels, hornpipes, and marches. A percussive wall of sound from snare and tenor drums and a booming Macedonian bass tappan reinforce Aaron Shaw's turbocharged piping on most tracks, with a couple of slow airs thrown in for a breather. Highly recommended for anyone who likes Scottish pipes and drums played with skill and power, or who just wants to scare off the neighbors.

T.J. McGrath -- © Dirty Linen, Ltd. All rights reserved