Interview/gig preview, The Haggis Horns

If you’re looking for a band with plenty sax appeal, then you might want to check out The Haggis Horns at the Bongo Club this coming Friday night.

A brass-heavy, bootie-shaking funk band who have played with everyone from Robbie Williams and Amy Winehouse, to Jamiroquai and John Legend – when it comes to laying down a groove, they’re the group of choice for the top hitters in popular music. Are you ready to add the neeps and tatties?

A slinky bunch in their own right and with new album What Comes To Mind to promote, Haggis Horns’ live shows are notoriously big ‘n’ bouncy affairs. So don’t be surprised if the English 7-piece juggernaut manages to tear off the Bongo’s many roofs this weekend.

 Having worked with Duran Duran and toured with Mark Ronson recently – the latter being responsible for putting funk back into the musical lexicon – as you might expect, band leader and guitarist, Ben Barker, maintains the Haggis lads are feeling rather Horn(y).

 How would you describe The Haggis Horns to someone who hasn’t seen or heard of you before?

 “A proper, funk-fuelled, balls-out party band. The main intention is to get everyone in the room dancing their arses off. It’s not about showing off or being clever – it’s all about the vibe.”

 Where did the band name come from?

 “The three horn players are Scottish. Malcolm (the trumpeter) is from Inverness, Atholl (sax/ flute player) is from Dunfermline, and Rob, the other saxophonist, is from Edinburgh. The name was originally dreamt up by founding member and saxophonist Jason Rae (from Aberdeen), who tragically died in 2008.”

You’ve all worked with many big names in music. What’s it been like rubbing shoulders with them? What have you learned from them?

 “All of these stars are just normal people, who can have good or bad days. We did a rehearsal with Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran once – and with Mark Ronson. Afterwards, he couldn’t get his motorbike started. When he finally did get it kick-started, it leapt out of his control and went straight into a concrete bollard. The Ronson tours were very rock and roll – our tour manager said we were more rock and roll than The Who. At times it was utter carnage.”

For better or for worse, the likes of Uptown Funk and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky has thrown funk back into the musical lexicon again. Why did you guys decide to get involved with the genre? Do you think Messrs Ronson and Pharrell have done funk, as a genre, a justice? What is it about funk that’s so appealing?

“Funk has got lots going for it. It has soul. It is great, fun, party music and is wicked to dance to. When we were at Leeds Music College, everyone was playing funk – like Tower Of Power – but we were more into Kool and the Gang and The Horny Horns, but it was a really natural genre for us to play. It’s great that people like Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk are bringing funk into the mainstream. It will hopefully help bands like us become more popular.”

 You’ve been around a wee while now – what is it, do you believe, that separates you from your peers?

 “We don’t like churning out music for the sake of it, especially when you’re working on an album. You want every track to be great, all killers, and no fillers. We are also very lucky that the chemistry is there when we write in the studio, it has gotten easier over the years and it is fun. We enjoy taking risks and really hope that our enjoyment means that others will enjoy it, too.”

What can someone expect from your live shows, particularly when you come to Edinburgh at the end of the week?

 “We want to blow them away. Our band is made up of absolutely fantastic musicians – who are all of our mates – so it feels like a party when we get together and play.”

 Speaking of Edinburgh, have you played here before? Do you like the city?

We’ve played in Edinburgh quite a few times over the years with various bands. I absolutely love Edinburgh and we all have mates there, so it will no doubt be a great party. We played a gig on Hogmanay in Edinburgh a few years back with The Haggis Horns, which was great. We can’t wait to play there again.”

 The Haggis Horns, The Bongo Club, Cowgate, Friday, 2 Oct, £12.50 (£15 on the door), 7pm-10pm, 0131-558 8844

Words: Barry Gordon