Bagpipe metal

Twenty years on, Splashy Fen is a weird but wonderful gathering.

In fact, it is two gatherings that coexist, rather uncomfortably, side by side.

In 2009 its roots as a festival founded by hippies and folk singers are still intact. The now-ageing hippies arrived en masse with kids in tow to celebrate their festival’s 20th birthday.

They wouldn’t have been disappointed either. The line-up this year was folk- and blues-heavy, with plenty of veterans, such as Syd Kitchen, Tony Cox, Madala Kunene and Fiona Toazer, coming out of the woodwork to grace Splashy’s stages.

The duality of Splashy Fen

Twenty years on, Splashy Fen is a weird but wonderful gathering.
In fact, it is two gatherings that coexist, rather uncomfortably, side by side.

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But the new breed of Splashy Feners also turned out en masse. They are mostly young males from Durban and Pietermaritzburg who come to Splashy to get as drunk as possible and usually to hurt themselves.

Most of them have little interest in folk music—or hippies for that matter—so the music becomes more incidental and they spend their weekend sitting around the beer tent with their funnels and their drinking songs.

As you can imagine, catering to these two crowds at one festival is a real headache for the organisers, because it is hard to be family- and hooligan-oriented at the same time.

But it seems that in 2009 Splashy Fen finally found the answer—and their name is Haggis and Bong.

Yes, the answer is Gauteng’s very own bagpipe metal outfit, who at 12pm on Saturday played to a crowd of thousands while the beer tent sat near empty.

I managed to corner these unlikely Splashy sensations later in the day to find out what they were about and how they arrived at their crazy sound.

Their dreadlocked drummer, Thomas Hughes, filled me in.

According to him, Angus Nixon and Dominic Skelton, the two bagpipers in the band, met at school and he met them through a mutual friend.

Hughes says they shared a deep love for contemporary metal bands such as Slayer, Lamb of God and the Black Dahlia Murder.

“We were all into metal and Angus really wanted to start a band, but the only thing he could play was the bagpipes,” says Hughes. “So we just started mixing my metal drumming with the bagpipes and we got such an original sound we thought we’d stick with it.”

“We just learned from all the metal bands that we grew up listening to. We learned from their songwriting and used it to do our own original thing,” says Nixon. “We started off with the traditional Scottish and Irish songs that we were playing and tried to mix them with the drums.

“Those songs lend themselves to very fast drumming,” says Nixon. “Celtic music is all about partying and heavy metal is all about partying, so it works.” A year and a half later Haggis and Bong play to thousands in festival marquees around the country.

“We have all these bookings for festivals in Gauteng after Splashy,” says Hughes. “So, hopefully, we’ll keep getting invited.” Don’t be surprised if Haggis and Bong headline Splashy Fen next year, once all the ageing hippies have gone to bed.

A hot bowl of Haggis
Haggis & Bong
Fire in the Bowl
South Africa has a rich musical tradition, but now we can claim bagpipe metal among our exports. This debut album by Gauteng’s Haggis and Bong contains a number of traditional Irish and Scottish songs that have been arranged by the band, such as The Black-Toothed Bandit, which is a medley of Scotland the Brave, Sleepy Maggie, In and Out the Harbour and Mozart on the Rampage.

But more than half the album is original material the band have written themselves, such as my favourite, Spandex (It’s a privilege not a right). On the whole it is a solid release, but the band is just so dynamic live that the CD may leave you a little disappointed.

Lloyd Gedye

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