09 Jul 2021

HebCelt Survival Sessions Q&A: Willie Armstrong, co-founder and director of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers

Can you tell us a little about the journey Red Hot Chilli Pipers have been on and what continues to inspire you?

Great question, I continue to pinch myself that it’s been 20 years since I first wore the red sporran. We started off as a small 5 piece acoustic corporate band, 3 pipers and 2 drummers. We all had other jobs and we just thought our wee band was better craic than doing solo weddings and funerals. At that stage no one took it that seriously. Stuart phoned me one night with a true stroke of genius. He had found a name for the band…. The Red Hot Chilli PIPERS. We entered the BBC tv show ‘When Will I Be Famous’ and after we won that it all exploded. We were getting invited to play European festivals and huge corporate events. It’s easy to be inspired as we have all turned a hobby into a paying gig. We all still love playing and if the band work dried up, we’d still play because of our love for the music.

What and who do the RHCP like listening to, are there any particular influences?

We’re lucky because there are so many of us and there’s a huge age range so we get to hear music from different generations and genres. We also travel a lot so someone will always have a different playlist on that will catch your ear. We’re very careful when we choose music for the band. Gordon Duncan always features and through the last 20 years his music has been a constant influence.

How have you had to adapt to the pandemic?

We haven’t really done anything music wise. We still get together over zoom or Skype, but for us and everyone else the live music scene has ceased to exist over the last 18 months. I’ve been asked this a lot and I’m always careful in my answer. No one I know has died from the pandemic and I regard myself as very lucky, there’s little point in moaning about my lack of gigs when people have been through way worse than me. I still regard myself and my mates as very fortunate because we got the opportunity to travel the world playing music and getting paid, we’ll be back doing that very soon.

What can we expect from your Survival Sessions work?

We’re working in the amazing Coda studios with Stevie Richmond and his team. As we can’t play to a live audience we thought we’d spend as much as we can on the production as it’s so difficult to try and recreate a live music vibe when you have no audience. We’re using our new lighting rig and lighting director so we’re all looking forward to seeing this. This is our first virtual gig we've agreed to because of our fantastic relationship with HCF.

What have been the particular challenges /opportunities in producing this?

Lots of challenges. Lots to overcome. We had to tailor the set list to meet them. Unfortunately we’re unable to perform to a live audience therefore no crowd interaction is the biggest challenge. Making it as impactful as it should be given the restrictions has resulted in many late night meetings and phone calls. Pre-production has taken a full day and it’s nice to see our lovely dancers back with their smiling faces.

Do you think new ways of working brought about by the pandemic will lead to new opportunities?

No, not really. Working from home and remotely doesn’t work for us obviously. Social distancing definitely won’t work. I just hope there will be a pent up desire for people to get back into live music venues and listening to bands again for everyone’s sake.

Posted in Blog on Jul 09, 2021