Bluegrass Beyond Borders: The Langan Band blends Celtic with old time music

The Langan Band pay no heed to any particular parameters, and have maintained that mantra for some 15 years. The band, which consists of John Langan on guitar, Alastair Caplin on fiddle, and Dave Tunstall on bass, formed after finding each other unexpectedly.

“We came together in Glasgow,” guitarist Langan explained. “I returned home from living in Spain, looking to find a band back in Scotland, and to make a proper go at it with the music. I found bassist Dave Tunstall playing in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with another band. On making some enquiries as to who that guy playin bass was, it transpired that we were actually neighbors. When I went round to introduce myself, Dave was locked in his own house, manically trying to get out ‘cos he was late for a date. So I put a demo cd through his letter box and left him to it. When Dave finally got in touch — many months later —  he invited me round for a jam. When Dave opened the door, he was stark naked, wearing some bicycle tires like a sack and said ‘Sorry, I can’t jam today, I’m too tired.’ Our cringy relationship with puns carries on to this very day.”

The relationship took a further turn from there, and, like that initial encounter, it was somewhat strange at times. “For a while in Glasgow, Ali and I were arch enemies on the busking scene,” Langan  continues. “I somehow managed to get to the pitches first, and that got up my nose, so a musical friendship did not seem to be in the cards. That is, until one hazy summer evening, we both ended up at a cocktail party in the treehouse of Ali’s cousin, Adam, in Fife. We got blind drunk, played some tunes together, and the musical sparks started flying… Yet I continued to hog the busking pitches. It’s a dog eat dog world on the streets of Glasgow.”

Caplin personally originated from the Isle of Lewis, “in front of a peat fire,” Langan said. Tunstall can be found anywhere on a bicycle, preferably in a hilly area, he added. Langan is from Ayrshire and, he says, can generally can be found on a narrow boat on the canals.

If that explanation of their origins seems somewhat sardonic, garnering any description of The Langan’s Band’s sound from the members themselves is, by contrast, somewhat hazy. “We wouldn’t dare try, just listen to it,” Langan responded when asked. “One album reviewer used the words ‘uncatagorisable,’ another said, ‘unpigeonholeable.'”

Whatever it is, it’s certainly worked well. Early on, the band was the recipient of the prestigious Danny Kyle Awards at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival.

Likewise, the musicians cite a wide array of influences. 

“There are too many to list,” Langan says. “I’d say all sorts from classical, jazz, metal, electronic dance music to folk and roots from all over the world. “For Ali, it’s Rage Against the Machine and Puccini. Mine are Freddie Mercury and Ocean Colour Scene. Dave likes Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.”

Despite their differences, the band is a solid, cohesive outfit. “We spent many years playing all over the UK, from big festivals to tiny rural cowsheds,” Langan explains. “We’ve always felt quite blessed that our music takes us to some beautiful, weird and wonderful parts of the country. In recent years we’ve being going a bit further afield, to France, Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand. As I speak, we are just finishing off an epic tour of The States, from New York to Louisiana to North Carolina.”

Clearly, they’re pleased with the results as well. “We’re absolutely loving our early endeavors in the US,” Langan mentioned. “It’s really fun here and full of good folks. We’re looking forward to seeing more of your beautiful country.”

In addition, the band has performed at any number of major festivals — Glastonbury, Shetland and Orkney Folk Festivals, Cambridge Folk…. “The majority of the big UK festivals,” Langan said. In addition, they’ve played at major festivals in Australia and New Zealand.

They’ve also worked at any number of gatherings in the States, among them, Folk Alliance International, MerleFest, Festival International de Lafayette, and Mountain Stage Radio. “Plus, we’re coming back in June to play Telluride Bluegrass Festival and in September, Americana Fest and Sisters Folk. In August, we’ll play the Edmonton Folk and Bear Creek festivals.”

At the same time, Langan said they’ve had the opportunity to perform alongside with a number of notable musicians.

“We had the pleasure and the honor of sharing the Mountain Stage and playing on the finale song with Bettye Levette, Kathy Mattea, Megan Jean, Keller Williams, and the amazing house band,” he added. “We’re looking forward to making more connections and doing more collaborating over here.”

In the meantime, Langan said that that the group has attracted a devoted legion of fans and followers at home. “Our music is always been well loved,” he insisted. “We have a good solid following of loyal fans.”

To date, the group has two albums to their collective credit — Bones of Contention and Plight of Sheep, each of which can be found on Spotify and in their online merch store. They specialize in original music, although they occasionally include such covers as La Llorona, a traditional Mexican tune, Djelem Djelem, a Romanian gypsy melody, and Come When You Call Me, originally recorded by  both Woody Guthrie and the Klezmatics.

The diversity of material ties into their love of bluegrass as well. “It’s such an exciting blend of so many cultures, and it speaks to a broad audience,” Langan maintains. “And it’s just dog dang fun!”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.