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Seven Nations rocks and remembers

It's your typical band publicity photo. Four young men stare down the camera with tough, sexy glares. There's a lot of long hair, black leather, a pair of Doc Martens and _ nice knees.

No kilt jokes, please. The lads of Seven Nations have heard them all.

"We're getting ready to publish our own book of 101 kilt jokes," said Neil Anderson, bagpipe player for the Celtic rock band that will appear at this weekend's SPIFFS 1997 International Folk Fair.

The kilts are not a gimmick, Anderson explained. They're a tribute to the group's Scots-Irish heritage. This band is solidly American, but its bloodlines were forged in the Gaelic world: Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Galicia and the Isle of Man. Thus the name Seven Nations.

"We're very proud of where we came from," Anderson said.

Anderson, 34, is a native of St. Petersburg and a graduate of Brandon High School and the University of South Florida.

Two other band members grew up in Jacksonville: lead singer/keyboardist/piper Kirk McLeod and bassist Struby (he goes by one name), both 30.

The only band member born in the British Isles is drummer Nick Watson, 31, who's from Killyleagh in County Down, Northern Ireland.

Together, they produce music that's difficult to describe.

"We're pretty off the wall. Very eclectic," Anderson said.

"We're tough to categorize, and we like it that way. We don't want to be known strictly as a Celtic band."

Yet Anderson's "Jimi Hendrix-style" bagpiping gives Seven Nations its signature sound, an electric, high-energy translation of traditional Highland tunes, plus the band's original material.

"I treat the bagpipe as if it were a lead guitar," Anderson said. "To my knowledge, that's unique among Celtic bands."

Anderson was 5 when he first heard bagpipes, played at a street fair.

"I was hooked on 'em. I knew I had to play that instrument."

He learned a variety of wind instruments _ sax, clarinet, oboe, tin whistle _ but the bagpipes remained his first love. He spent one summer performing in the Canadian Showcase at Epcot.

In his teens, he met McLeod, also a fledgling piper. They became friends and performed together in regional bagpipe bands. Both were fans of Silly Wizard, a high-voltage Scottish band, and Moving Hearts, a 1970s Irish group.

"They were a traditional band, but they took a lot of jazz and rock and integrated it all in a very unusual, articulate way," Anderson said.

Seven Nations has been through several incarnations. First they were "119," named for one of the New York City clubs where they played original rock music on traditional Scottish instruments. Then they switched to a more Highland-sounding name, clan na gael, and began to incorporate some Scottish ballads and reels into their repertoire.

Rehearsing in a barn on a South Carolina farm owned by McLeod's father, they produced their first album, Rain and Thunder (1994).

Old Ground followed the next year and shifted the band into a higher, more electric gear. Seven Nations began performing at Highland festivals around the country.

"We just caught on on the Scottish circuit," Anderson said.

At a regional bagpiping competition in Pennsylvania, Anderson and McLeod found the group's current drummer, Watson.

"We had heard he was really good, that he played in the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band," Anderson recalled. "And then we met him in line at the beer tent."

A third album, Big Dog, was released in 1996. By then Seven Nations had added colleges and Irish pubs to its list of venues. The band has been on the road constantly for almost two years.

"We basically live in the van," Anderson said.

Earlier this month, they packed the Harp & Thistle Pub in St. Pete Beach for five nights. They'll return there May 21-25. Their summer schedule includes a week of performances in Sweden in July, a week in Canada, then a tour of Scotland in August, which will include a performance "on the fringe" at the esteemed Edinburgh International Festival.

Anderson said they're not nervous about performing in the country of their band's origin.

"We've played in front of a lot of native Scots and Irish in this country and we've gotten really positive feedback from them," he said.

Last year, they toured New Hampshire with a band of teenage bagpipers from Glasgow.

"Those kids heard our live show numerous times, and they loved it."

Seven Nations' music appeals to all ages. It's typical to see several generations of a family in their audiences, Anderson said.

"It happens time and time again at our shows. We'll have a kid who's 10 years old come up and tell us how much we rock. Then his grandmother will come up behind him and thank us for the traditional tunes."

So far the band has self-produced its albums. Fans buy CDs and tapes at concerts, by mail order (P.O. Box 3666, Brandon, FL 33509) or from the band's web site (http//www.sevennations.com).

"I can't tell you how fortunate we feel that that number of people enjoy our music," Anderson said. "We feel very thankful for it."

He cheerfully answered the age-old question about what a Scotsman wears under his kilt.

"Depends on the weather," Anderson said.

At a glance

Seven Nations will perform the following schedule at the SPIFFS 1997 International Folk Fair:

Friday _ 6-9 p.m., All World Beer Garden.

Saturday _ 1:15 p.m., Main Stage; 6:15-9 p.m. All World Beer Garden.

Sunday _ 6-7 p.m., All World Beer Garden.

The fair is in Vinoy Park, at the corner of Fifth Avenue N and North Shore Drive in St. Petersburg. Parking and a free shuttle service are available at The Pier and Bayfront Center. Admission is $5 adults, $3.75 senior citizens, $2.25 youths 6-14 years old.

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