POP MUSIC : Great Scot! The Other Stewart Honors Celtic Folklore

Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

First came Rod the Mod. Now here's Andy the Antiquary, the second warbling Scot named Stewart to play in Anaheim this month.

Rod Stewart threw his rock 'n' roll bash for the masses at the Anaheim Arena. Andy M. Stewart, a leading figure in Celtic music for 20 years, will operate in cozier precincts suited to his tradition-steeped folk approach.

When he sings Friday at the Rose & Crown British Pub and Restaurant, he and his partner, guitarist Gerry O'Beirne, likely will feature some songs that were hits back in the day of Maggie May's great-great-great-great-grandfather.

No song that the rock 'n' roll Stewart has sung--not "Maggie May," not "Reason to Believe," not "Mandolin Wind"--is more moving than "Land o' the Leal," the sublime ballad that ends the Celtic Stewart's fine new album, "Man in the Moon."

Written more than 200 years ago by Lady Nairne, a Scottish noblewoman, "Land o' the Leal" is a sadly beautiful deathbed oration that comes off as a more poetic answer to "Danny Boy."

Stewart acknowledges that when he sings the song, he can gauge its success partly by how effectively it tugs at his listeners' tear ducts.

"You want to give it all you have, but taste is the watchword for these kinds of things," he said, discussing the art of the tear-jerking ballad during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Pittsburgh. "You wouldn't want to do any song filled with mawkish sentimentality, but (if it's) something with genuine feeling, if you draw a tear you've done your job."

Stewart's firm, emotive tenor is ideally suited to ballads, but there are other dimensions to his take on Celtic tradition.

"MacGregor's Gathering," another highlight of his new album, is a fiery poem by Sir Walter Scott that Stewart set to music. It's the anthem of a rebellious Scottish clan that vows vengeance against usurping overlords. Centuries later, the lyrics can help illuminate the tribal pride and ethnic fury behind any number of bloody clashes that are spreading across the globe:

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If they rob us of name and pursue us with beagles,

Give their roofs to the flame and their flesh to the eagles.

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Stewart's songbook isn't all blood and tears and lyricists from the 18th and 19th centuries. But even the songs he writes himself, and the material he draws from other contemporary folk songwriters, are deeply rooted in traditional forms and themes.

"A lot of the songs I've written, people have thought they were traditional songs," he said. "That's not an intention of mine, to sit around and reproduce something. But that's the way I compose, and the way they come out."

Stewart, 42, traces his traditional roots to his upbringing in the farming town of Blairgowrie, in the Perthshire region at the edge of the Scottish Highlands.

"Now it's got a lot of tourists and skiers, but at that time it was mostly farmers," he recalled. "It's not the case now, but back in the '50s there was still a lot of Ceilis (traditional Celtic dances) and things. People would get together and play something.

"I was always interested in traditional music, but growing up, of course, I loved pop music. All kids do. But I never went that route because I don't think I'd be good at it. I have a much better understanding of traditional music. Hopefully it's not a blinkered, one-track approach to music, and influences come in from different kinds of music."

Stewart was part of a generation of young Scottish and Irish musicians who set about retrieving Celtic music from mothballs.

"When I first started performing in Scotland, there was very little of it on the radio," he said. The popular stuff of the day "was music-hallish Scottish music, the 'Brigadoon' type stuff. Really awful. Suddenly, more genuine types of music came through. Bands started to get a much wider acceptance. Now, Celtic music worldwide can be played in symphony halls. It's certainly spread from people just wanting to get together."

In 1974, Stewart found his first full-time gig when he was asked to join Silly Wizard, a Scottish band that earned acclaim for putting across traditional music with rollicking energy and virtuosic musicianship. In 1983 he branched out with the first of five albums under his own name. Several were collaborations with an Irish guitarist, Manus Lunny. Stewart's new sidekick is O'Beirne, a versatile Irish string player whose songs have been given exposure by Maura O'Connell, a Celtic-rooted singer who is building a career in the country music market.

For Stewart, Celtic tradition, if rightly conceived, defies the archival stuffiness that can set in if artists forget the lively qualities that enabled the tradition to survive in the first place.

"The music was for fun and relaxation, for having a very good time. Historically, it took people away from a harsh regime of work. Music and dancing was a great relief. If people come to the concert, they'll discover it's far from studious or boring. It's meant to be good fun, otherwise I wouldn't do it. I like to have a good time."

* Who: Andy M. Stewart, with Gerry O'Beirne.

* When: Friday, April 15 at 8 and 10:15 p.m.

* Where: The Rose & Crown British Pub & Restaurant, 20 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim.

* Whereabouts: Take the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the Harbor Boulevard exit. Go north and turn right at Lincoln Avenue. Turn right again, from Lincoln onto Anaheim Boulevard, then turn left on Center Street, and left into the Rose & Crown parking lot.

* Wherewithal: $14 at the door, $12 in advance.

* Where to call: (714) 662-3721 for advance tickets; (714) 778-5606 for the Rose & Crown.

MORE POP MUSIC:

Two bands that know how to merge catchy pop with driving, punk-influenced rock team up on a double bill Thursday, April 14, at Our House in Costa Mesa. Fullerton's Joyride is one of the best bands on the O.C. scene, while Sister Psychic hails from the Posies' pop-splendor side of the Seattle rock. Opening is Sour Mash, a new band from Bellingham, Wash. (714) 650-8960.

Having moved out of rockabilly and the heartland rock of his previous releases, ex-Stray Cats front man Brian Setzer will lead a 17-piece, horn-driven big band through jump tunes, ballads and swing numbers Friday, April 15, at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. (714) 496-8930.

Rule 62, fronted by Brian Coakley of the Cadillac Tramps and featuring former Adolescents' guitarist Frank Agnew, will be shooting concert footage for its debut video when it plays Friday, April 15, at the Foothill, 1922 Cherry Ave. in Long Beach. Also appearing: Naked Ape, Big Fat Dragster and Famous Last Words. (310) 494-5196.

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