The Belgian band Griff is, in my opinion, one of the more interesting bands from this great small country. My review of their last album, The False Fly, got noticed by the band and after a short ‘thank you’ for the review, they corrected a mistake I made in my description of the band's history. What better way to make up for this mistake by asking them to tell the story behind Griff. One of the few bands that is capable of creating bagpipe music for a non-bagpipe-freak audience. Bagpipe player Remi Decker and Uilleann pipes player Raphaël de Cock reveal the band's secrets.
Both musicians grew up in a home where music and dancing was always around. Remi’s parents were into folk music and dancing, while Raphaël´s father was a dancer at the Royal ballet of Flanders. This doesn’t mean his father played classical music only, from jazz to funk and from Mambo till Greek music, all styles were loved. Raphaël fell for the Uilleann pipes after hearing a recording made at the famous Dranouter festival, featuring Liam O’Flynn and Donal Lunny. He was sixteen years old and fell desperately in love with the instrument. After contacting the Irish Uilleann Pipes society, he met a pipes builder in Belgium and his grandmother bought him one. It’s the start of a creative search through styles, harmonies, sounds, techniques and more. He quit his job as a biologist and became a professional musician. And although it’s not easy to earn a living as a professional musician, he never regrets his choice.
Remi started playing small children flutes and keyboards at the age of nine. When his father took him along to a music course in Borzeé, he saw, at least in his memory, a giant guy with a big beard playing bagpipe. The instrument impressed him so much that he nagged for a year until his parents allowed him to start playing the instrument. From that moment on his interest in the bagpipe and the Belgian and French traditional and dance music only got bigger. Nevertheless he considers the fact that he became a professional musician a coincidence. The only thing he knows that he wanted to become a creative professional, he turned out to have a musical talent.
Griff might be one of the musician’s main bands, they are involved in many other musical projects. Remi is part of Minuit Guibolles and is at the start of new projects including a duo with a Portuguese accordionist and Moroccan musicians and he is more and more attracted by the art of singing. Raphaël plays Gaelic/Scandinavian music in Northern Lights, cooperates with a Siberian musician in Nadisuna and plays traditional Italian music in a project called Muntagna Nera by the Graindelavoix ensemble. To just name a few of his projects. Both feel attracted to search new paths in music, from early music to avant-garde but also love following the traditional roots.
It is Remi who got the idea of starting a bagpipe project, he thinks that the music played on the instrument is often a bit boring and predictable. He told Raphaël and founding member Birgit that within a year he wanted to perform at the Dranouter festival with an exciting bagpipe project. It took them a year longer, but they succeeded. They started as a sextet, three bagpipes and three backing musicians. The idea of forming a trio besides the sextet came to mind in a period a few musicians left the band. Earlier Birgit, Remi and Raphaël performed in Italy as a trio because the other musicians had a delayed flight. The challenge of performing as a trio is to create a full, rich sound on bagpipes, vocals and occasionally some percussion, only. Not just playing a few nice, familiar melodies, but explore the possibilities of the instrument. In their own words, they found a way to combine traditional/early music with modern sounding arrangements and compositions.
After finding new musicians, the band continues both as a trio and a sextet. Since this new start in 2008 they play a new repertoire with own compositions and new arrangements of traditional pieces. When I ask about the basic idea behind the Griff music of today, Remi thinks it a difficult question. Remi: ‘I see our music today as a kind of floating island. No solid ground, but moving and always ready to change directions. I can’t name it without getting the feeling to lock myself in. We make music ourselves and don’t want others to interfere. It’s the music of three, or six, musicians with their personal experience, their moods and dreams.’ Griff works in an organic way, one of the musicians brings in an idea or a melody and from there they start experimenting and see what atmosphere suits best. If all involved like the idea they start working more seriously and a new song arises. Often the bagpipe players and the other musicians work separately on their parts. At the end they bring their ideas together and a new piece is born.
It’s a cliché question, many interviews end with asking what future plans the musicians have. Remi and Raphaël only want one thing: play! Both as trio and the sextet, search for new routes. Playing all over the world, but they asure me that nearby countries as The Netherlands, Germany and France would be great to explore in the near future. As a trio they are working on a 100% Belgium repertoire. After traveling so much the past few years, they feel the urge to work with music from their own roots.
Photo Credits: (1) Griff (by Variole Asbl); (2) Remi Decker (by Fernando Branquinho); (3) Raphaël de Cock (by Michel Stuyts); (4) CD Cover 'Griff: The False Fly' (from website).