Jamie on Bagpipes, Mark on Bass
ON THE RECORD WITH OFF KILTER
by Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
article appeared in the May 22, 2001, Issue #87
of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
You're strolling around Epcot's World Showcase at Walt Disney World, soaking up the sunshine, pausing occasionally to watch one of the live performances, when suddenly you hear it. It's coming from the Canada pavilion, over the sound of pounding drums, a thrumming bass, funky keyboards and the exciting lead guitar, it's the unmistakable wail of... bagpipes?
Yes, bagpipes. The cry of the pipes is the signature sound of high-energy Celtic rock band Off Kilter, which has been wowing guests with its unique blend of traditional and modern music forms for nearly four years.
"Our initial idea was high energy rock with a Celtic influence," says Jamie Holton, Off Kilter's energetic bagpiper and frontman. "When we approached Disney with the idea, they were very supportive -- they told us they trusted us to do a good job with it." When they finally auditioned, Holton says they were enthusiastically welcomed. "As far as I know, we're the first band here that was ever listened to and hired on the same day," he adds.
Melding this combination of far-flung musical influences on a Disney World stage is a far cry from Holton's early days as a solo bagpiper in his native Daytona Beach, Florida.
"My parents come from a Scottish background and loved bagpipes, so I started studying how to play them when I was young," he explains. After winning the first competition he ever entered, he "continued up the competition ladder," searching for the best teachers and playing in a pipe band in Daytona Beach.
In 1990, Jamie, by then an accomplished piper, was able to convert his unusual skill into a full-time position at Walt Disney World, when he became a member of the Caledonian Bagpipe Trio, which performed in World Showcase. The following year he traveled to Tokyo Disneyland, where he originated the Fantasyland Bagpiper, a solo act that combined piping with comedy. (The act continued with another performer as the piper, even after Holton returned to the states, until just last year.)
By 1996, Jamie started to develop an idea he'd had: to blend his love of bagpipes and traditional Celtic music with rock-and-roll to create a band with a "world music" sound. He met Irishman Mark Weldon, a musician (and former All-Ireland motocross champion) with a wealth of Celtic musical knowledge, and the two began talking about the concept. They shared their growing excitement with keyboardist Tony Escapa, then, after several mismatches, recruited lead guitarist Randy Holbrook and drummer Scott Zymowski, who had been working in a band at Disney's Pleasure Island.
Once they'd been accepted as World Showcase performers, the Canada pavilion was chosen as the appropriate venue for the new and, whose members had already decided to wear traditional plaid kilts when they performed. "Canada is as multicultural as the U.S., if not more so," Holton explains. "It seems to be the best place for us, since we are not just Celtic, not just high energy rock, but just about any type of music."
The band, whose name is indicative not only of their fresh and rather unusual sound, but of the bright red and blue plaid tartans they sport, will celebrate its fourth anniversary this July 1. Visitors to Walt Disney World can catch their trademark high kicks and hijinks on their home stage in the Canada pavilion several times each day. ("And I think we're the only band to have a stage built at Disney World especially for them," Holton points out.) But as the band has grown in popularity (unofficial surveys consistently indicate they are one of the most popular live acts in Epcot), it has not outgrown its original concept.
They have produced two CDs (the self-titled Off Kilter, and the recent release, Etched in Stone). They have also expanded their performing opportunities and are venturing outside of Walt Disney World more often. They recently headlined at the Sunfest in West Palm Beach, Florida, and have gigs slated later this summer at Irish festivals in such diverse places as Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Euclid, Ohio; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"It's good for us to get out in different venues," Holton notes. "And it's good for Disney World, and the Disney company, too, because we spread such a positive message."
Even though the band enjoys its time away from the World Showcase, Holton says they have no plans to leave their Mickey Mouse gig behind.
"Of course, you never know what's going to happen -- that's the nature of the entertainment business," he explains. "But the Disney company lets us do what we want to do. They're very supportive of us, so I can't imagine us doing anything else. In fact, I think I'm one of the luckiest people in the whole world!"
From PJ: Is your tour schedule of performances outside of WDW posted somewhere?
JAMIE: Yes, please check our website at http://offkilter.net. We have our tour schedule there.
From Karen: Is "Fields of Athenry" still in your repertoire? It's one of my favorites. Also do you know how can I find the lyrics to some of the Celtic songs?
JAMIE: We play "Fields of Athenry" almost every day! And we do take requests, so let us know if you're at a show and there's something you'd like to hear. As far as lyrics to the songs we perform, we do have some on our website right now (including the lyrics to "Fields of Athenry"). We're hoping to have more on our website soon!
JAMIE: We used to play fewer sets each day, so we were probably performing longer sets then, maybe 25-30 minutes. Now we play more often throughout the day, so we're only playing 20 minutes at a time. That's about 3 or 4 songs each set.
From Bill J: Do you know which tartans you and the rest of the boys are wearing?
JAMIE: Yes, sure do. I'm wearing the Nova Scotia (blue) tartan, because I wanted to represent Canada. (Ed. Note: Nova Scotia means New Scotland.) The rest of the guys are wearing the Royal Stuart (red) tartan, mainly because they were left over costumes from the Caledonian Pipers.
From Margaret in Westmont, IL: Hello! Here are a few questions for you! I was wondering how many/any of the members are from Nova Scotia, more specifically from Cape Breton, as my mother is from there? Do you write your own music? And, how many members make up the Off Kilter group? Thanks!
JAMIE: Actually, none of the guys in OK are from Nova Scotia. We're from all over, really -- Mark's from Ireland, most of us are from here. We do write some of our own music and, now that the second CD is out, we are trying to do more of that, in fact. And finally there are five of us in Off Kilter: Mark on bass, Randy on lead guitar, Tony on keyboards, Scotty on drums and me on bagpipes.
JAMIE: We've been in other bands, but none of us were ever in a drum and bugle corps, to my knowledge. Sorry.
W: I love Off Kilter!! When I was on the college program in the spring
of '99, my friends and I discovered that Off Kilter regularly played at
the World Showcase and we'd go to see them. The last week of my program
a couple of my friends found out that Off Kilter had a CD that was sold
where they played. They got it and played it for the rest of us. We loved
it! They even got the band to autograph the CD insert!
Unfortunately, I never made it back to get a copy for myself. My question is: How do I get one of their CDs without going all the way back to the World Showcase? Thanks.
JAMIE: You could order a CD and other OK merchandise from our website, http://offkilter.net . Also, if you ever see us performing outside of WDW, we sell our CDs and other merchandise on the road. (Ed. Note: You could also try the WDW Mail Order Merchandise line at (407) 363-6200.)
From Renae M of Lexington, KY: I'm a true fan of Off Kilter! When we visit, we are the ones sitting on the benches early to get a good seat! At what point did you combine Led Zeppelin type music with the bagpipes?
From Richard M: Was your band, Off Kilter, inspired by the Australian band 'Brother'? Do you know who first started putting kilts and bagpipes into rock-and-roll?
JAMIE: I've heard of Brother, but I wouldn't say we were inspired by them. We're pretty different from what they're doing. I would say that *any* kind, or *every* kind, of music has influenced us. As far as who *first* started using kilts and bagpipes in rock-and-roll, I have no idea. It didn't just evolve overnight. Bagpipes have been used by lots of folks, and with lots of other instruments, so I don't know if you could say who was first. We just try to be the best at it, take it to the next level.
From Alan W in Desborough, Northamptonshire, UK: My first introduction to Off Kilter was originally from the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.disney.parks (RADP). This led me to find OK fans' websites and downloading their music from Napster (before buying the CDs) and finally seeing them in America. They were great! They all signed my latest CD and even gave me one of their postcards. My daughter loved them, dancing away to Misirlou. So I was wondering if they know how big their internet following is and if they are aware of their fansites? If so, do they visit them? And do they ever visit RADP?
I'm not as big of a computer guy as some of the other guys are, so I'm
not sure about the fansites or the newsgroups. I do know that we receive
email through *our* website on a daily basis. And we certainly appreciate
all the support of the fans out there. (Ed. Note: The band's public relations
person indicates that it receives on average
10 emails each day. She makes sure all mail is answered, so don't hesitate to drop Jamie and the others a line at http://www1.offkilter.net/html/contact.html
From Jim and Lee Ann H: Off Kilter is our favorite attraction at WDW. We have both CDs and listen to them frequently. Last November while on a mini-family reunion trip, we introduced my husband's family to their music. Is there another CD in the works? We were thinking they needed to add a CD of holiday music to the collection. We also noticed that one member might be absent and a substitute would be filling in. Is this how they get vacations? We could go on and on. But we won't. Thanks!
JAMIE: First off, yes, we've talked about doing a holiday CD, so that's a big maybe. And we will be putting out another CD eventually. We try to take all of our vacations at the same time, so that we don't have to get substitutes. It's very hard for another guy to come and fill in for one of us -- hard for them and for us. But if you saw a substitute it was probably that one of us was sick -- that does happen sometimes!
From Laura G in San Diego, CA: What do you wear under your kilts?
JAMIE (laughing): We get that question a lot and we have a couple different answers. I like to say we wear white socks and Doc Marten boots under our kilts. But, of course, the real answer is bike shorts.
From Jeanette Chitester: I don't have a question, just wanted to tell you that your unique music traverses the many age groups from the youngest to the old grey hairs on my head. Your group doesn't just play music -- each one of you perform and take your work to a near art form. My daughter Debbie and I plan our vacations to Epcot around your performance schedule and we hardly miss any time Off Kilter is on stage. I still play your CDs at work to a very CAPTIVE audience. Hope to see all of you in CLEVELAND. We will be in the World in May -- I'll be with my daughter, and she'll be the one with the sign. "Faster, Faster, Faster!" when you play "Mary Mac." We wish Off Kilter, health, wealth and happiness.
ALL EARS® and its readers thank Jamie Holton and Off Kilter for taking the time to talk with us and look forward to many more years of their entertaining ways!
Many thanks to Dotti Saroufim for the use of her photos. All photos are copyrighted Dotti, Dwills and Deb Koma, and may not be reproduced without written permission.
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.