April 19, 2022

Backstage at the Egyptian with Willie Armstrong of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers

Interview with Willie Armstrong of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Interview conducted by Erin Cronin.

ERIN: How were the Red Hot Chilli Pipers created?

WILLIE: The Chilli Pipers started as a 5 piece band consisting of 3 pipers and 2 drummers. We performed at weddings and corporate events throughout Scotland. A misfile of a CD led to the name. Basically a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD was filed into a traditional music pile. When asked why that happened, it was because it was misread. It was because they had read it as ‘Red Hot Chilli Pipers!’ The name was born and then we won the big TV talent show and never looked back.

E: How do you pick songs to cover? Does this task become more difficult because of the various instruments you all perform with?

W: We have to avoid Karaoke bagpipes as that is too simple and wouldn’t have any musical merit. It’s a little challenging as the pipes only have 9 notes and they’re in a fixed pitch. We’ll maybe start with 100 ideas and then whittle that down to about 5. We try and avoid playing a well known tune all the way through as that’s just another ‘covers’ band and we want to have our own identity and sound.

E: Where has been your favorite place to perform?

W: It’s a difficult question as it’s hard to prioritize one venue/country over another. Some of the guys prefer festivals because you’re guaranteed huge crowds, but then the crowd aren’t necessarily there to see your band so the audience is more generic. I prefer a dedicated Chilli Pipers crowd. Some guys prefer standing audiences but I’m not so sure as it’s always pretty cool to get the sitting audiences to stand anyway. So my (very diplomatic) answer is that I’m happy and content to play anywhere really as long as the audience appreciates what I’m trying to do. If a musician can’t appreciate their audience no matter how big, or small, then they’re in trouble. When asked about music I always tell the same story. I practiced and practiced and practiced until one day I looked up and there were all these people and they were clapping.

E: What is the most exciting part about being back at the Egyptian Theatre?

W: I love the Egyptian theatre and I’ve played there many times over the years. I’m led to believe it has been done up during the pandemic, so I’m looking forward to seeing it.

E: Do you or your fellow performers have any pre-show rituals to help you get ready to perform?

W: Yes, we all do actually. It’s a mixed group of very talented people so as you could imagine everyone has their own thing. We all adjust our in-ear equipment to make sure it’s tailored to our own personal requirements. Some of us do hand and arm exercises, others are very quiet and contemplative. People ask if we practice before we go on stage but I always think “it’s a bit late for that!” I personally get pretty excited still after all these years. Being on tour is a lot of hard work, but the wee bit when you get to go on stage, that’s the best bit.

E: What is one thing you hope your audience takes away from this performance?

W: That they’ll come back and see us again and that they’ll tell all their pals. I have a duty of care to look after the wants and needs of the audience and I take that very seriously. We all do. We just want them to enjoy the experience of live music and feel that their money has been well spent.