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The musical traditions of Scotland are fused with the dynamic drive and electronic instrumentation of contemporary music by Capercaillie (pronounced: Kap-ir-kay-lee). While their initial repertoire focused on traditional tunes collected from Christine Primrose, Flora MacNeill, and Na h'Oganaich, the group has increasingly incorporated modern influences. In a review of their 1999 album, To the Moon, Victor Arenas wrote, "It has been more than a decade of a constant evolution, of modeling their traditional past with those modern ingredients that have made of their music that for which no doubt they will be known in the future."
The inspiration for Capercaillie was sparked in the early '80s by high school friendsKaren Matheson (grand-daughter of traditional Scottish vocalist Elizabeth MacNeill and a former member of a folk group the Etives), and English-born/Scotland-raised keyboard player Donald Shaw. The original band included Scottish bodhran and whistle player Marc Duff (who had played in several bands with Shaw), fiddler and vocalist Joan MacLachlan, guitar and bouzouki player Shaun Craig, and bass and fiddle player Martin MacLeod. After building a reputation with local performances, the band recorded their debut album, Cascade, in a fast-paced, three-day recording session.
Capercaillie has gone through numerous personnel changes with only Matheson, Shaw, and Duff remaining from the original group. Shortly after British fiddler Charlie MacNeill replaced Elizabeth MacNeill in 1991, the band recorded their second album, Crosswinds, and embarked on their first American tour. Their earliest success came in 1988 with their commissioned soundtrack for a television series about the history of Gaelic Scots, The Blood Is Strong. A soundtrack album, introducing Irvine, Scotland-born bassist John Saich, sold more than 100,000 copies in Scotland and was reissued on CD in 1995.
With the addition of influential Irish bouzouki and guitar player and vocalist Manus Lunny in 1989, Capercaillie became one of Celtic music's most respected ensembles. At the same time, they continued to reach to a much larger audience. With their fourth album, Sidewaulk, produced by Lunny's brother Donal, the band began to incorporate English-language lyrics. The group reached their creative peak with their fifth album, Delirium, in 1991. A ground-breaking fusion of traditional and modern influences, the album included "Coisich a Ruin," a 400-year old song that became the first Scots Gaelic song to reach the U.K. Top 40 when it was used as the theme song for a British television show featuring Prince Charles, A Prince Among Islands, and "Breisleach," which featured lyrics by Edinburgh-based poet Angus Dudb (Black Angus), and became the theme song of a Gaelic-language soap opera Machair.
In 1992, Capercaillie released Get Out, featuring live tracks and tunes from earlier albums, and a video, Two Nights of Delirium, that captured the band's live performances. Although their albums Secret People, released in 1993, and Capercaillie, released the following year, featuring new tunes and remixed versions of earlier material, were highly criticized for their overly commercial sound. Capercaillie's soundtrack for the film, Rob Roy, was released in 1995, and the group rebounded with the impressive albums, To the Moon in 1996 and Beautiful Wasteland in 1997; Nadurra followed in 2000.