Southwestern Ontario Celtic rockers Mudmen are on the road again celebrating their unique brand of bagpipe rock, with shows this month in Hagersville (Oct. 18), Windsor (Oct. 19), St. Thomas (Oct. 25) and London (Oct. 26), as well as Blyth (Nov. 1), Fergus (Nov. 2), Alymer (Nov. 16), Cambridge (Dec. 6) and Milverton (Dec. 7).
We sat down with piper Robby Campbell to see what’s up with the band.
You guys have a busy October schedule with plenty of dates in Southwestern Ontario. Not only is this your home, but it’s also one of your busiest tour spots.
Well, it has been recently. Over the years we’ve toured a lot across Canada, through the States, and different places, but we’ve rebranded ourselves in Ontario, and staying a little closer to home, and keeping the overhead down and trying to play nicer halls and theaters, and better music venues, and stuff like that. That’s easy to do when you’re doing it closer to home, you could make sure that the press is done and the town’s are postered and stuff. It’s hard to do Edmonton when you’re living now in London.
What is it about the area that makes you want to call it home?
I guess when you were born here, and you grew up here and you have friends and whatever else, you never strayed too far away. We’ve lived in many places across Ontario, but I guess you just settle and you’re happy enough with the area, and you stay here.
Where did you grow up, and what was it like for little Robbie as a kid?
I grew up in Alvinston, and I was born in Strathroy. I grew up in Alvinston Ontario, which is just outside of Petrolia. Then I went to high school in Petrolia. We didn’t have the typical upbringing other kids had with playing baseball and hockey and stuff. We were more picking cucumbers, driving backhoe and digging graves and playing in the pipe band. We were destined to be different. So, we said, when you look back at your childhood, you’ll talk about hockey, friends are forever. Well I hardly ever put the skates on, so I wouldn’t know.
Western Ontario doesn’t seem like the breeding ground for Celtic rock bands. How did it all start?
Well my brother actually was supposed to learn the fiddle and the fiddle teacher died. Then one of the bagpipers in the local pipe band is the barber in Glencoe, and he’s still there cutting hair. I think he’s 90 years old and he’s a great guy. He was offering free bagpipe lessons if you’d join the pipe band because pipe bands are always struggling to keep members. You don’t get paid when you play in a pipe band. You just donate your time, and a lot of out of pocket expenses and stuff. This is where you hear some of these people talking about paying their dues, playing in bands and stuff and say, “Well you know, some of us had to pay to play in cold Santa Claus parades, and I’ve done my share at rough bars at the Deer fly and everything else.
My brother took lessons and then he taught me and we toured with the Irish Rovers and the Chieftains and John McDermott. We wanted to do something different with the instrument, not just be known for funerals and wakes and weddings and Santa Claus parades. Unfortunately, when people see the bagpipes, you’ve been pigeonholed to be an old, old guy playing the same old song and fluff is key and then out of tune and blah, blah, blah.
We wanted to change that. We were kind of hell bent on putting the band around ourselves. I think we might be the first and possibly the only bagpipers to get a full record deal. We didn’t have a singer at the time we had the EMI Capitol Records deal. I don’t know too many other people that have done that.
We’re currently writing a book which has taken longer than expected and it’s 20 plus years in the mud and it is going to have a DVD with it.
You’ve met the Queen, and you’ve played with tons of great bands. Is there a moment that shines the greatest for you?
Well, I would have to say performing for the queen would be that moment because our mom’s a big fan of the Queen and the monarchy and all that good stuff. When we said Ron McClain has been one of our best supporters over the years, and he was there, he announces his good pals to Campbell brothers and he said, he doesn’t get much better than that. And we said, we were at a party one night, Jim Cuddy’s, a fabulous guy with Blue Rodeo. And he said to us, “you have accomplishments that I don’t have.” And we’re like go on please, thank you. And, and he mentioned a couple of things that he could still get, but he didn’t have at the time. And playing for the queen is one of those.
For more on Mudmen or to check out music from their nine albums, visit mudmen.ca.