(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Grace")


The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between deployments, the regiment's 24 pipers and drummers found the time to record an album. They had a healthy financial incentive. Universal Music signed them to a $2-million deal. The recording is called "Spirit of the Glen," and it will be available at the end of this month.

The album was a change of phase for producer Jon Cohen. He is best known for his work with the Backstreet Boys and the Operababes. But Cohen relished the opportunity to work with the pipers and drummers of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. For the opening track, Cohen wanted the regiment to rerecord a song it had done in 1972, "Amazing Grace."

(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Grace")

Mr. JON COHEN (Producer, "Spirit of the Glen"): It was considered that this piece was so important for the regiment. It plays such a key part in the history and in the musical tradition. They had a huge hit in the UK 35 years ago with "Amazing Grace." It was a number one single for several weeks, and something about it really connected with the British public at that time. And so we thought it was fitting to start the record with a nod in the direction of that song.

(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Grace")

HANSEN: How did the whole project come about?

Mr. COHEN: I think that originally the genesis of the project was connected with the fact that it was 35 years since the original "Amazing Grace" had come out, and someone said it might be quite nice to do another version of "Amazing Grace" and see if they could repeat the success of the original. And then, from there, I suppose a logical extension was, why don't we make a whole album with them.

HANSEN: Now, did you get involved with this once Universal had signed this amazing contract with the unit?

Mr. COHEN: It was very shortly prior to actually signing the deal. I got involved at the point at which they were in discussions with the regiment about making the record, and I went over to Germany with some of the people from Universal, and we met with the regiment and had talks about what kind of record we could make and what we might like to do together. And then, shortly after that, the contract was signed.

HANSEN: You went to Germany because that's where the unit is stationed.

Mr. COHEN: They are indeed. Yeah.

HANSEN: You've worked with people like the Backstreet Boys. What was it like for you to be working with pipe and drum as opposed to the, you know, the traditional instruments that you would use…

Mr. COHEN: Yeah.

HANSEN: …in rock 'n' roll for example?

Mr. COHEN: Right. It took a bit of getting used to. I had to do a bit of studying up on - particularly on the pipes - how they work because they are an unusual instrument, and they're not really designed to be combined with traditional concept instruments like, you know, violins and pianos.

The tuning is different, and it took a few - there were a few logistical hoops to jump through and figure out how to approach the record in a way that we could marry up these ingredients in the right way. And it was a fairly steep learning curve for me as well and they are very, very loud.

When you're in a room with a bunch of pipes playing, it's a big noise. They weren't designed to be played in recording studios. They are designed to be played on the top of mountains.

(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Grace")

HANSEN: I bet these guards were pretty easy to work with when compare them to some of the rock stars. I mean, they're used to following orders, right?

Mr. COHEN: They were fantastic. They really were. And they were not really what I expected because I thought that they would come in and just be very business-like about it because they're used to following orders, and I wasn't sure how much spirit, if you like, would be involved in the process. I was completely wrong about that. They were very disciplined in their approach and very professional but, at the same time, really, really involved and very moved by a lot of what was going on.

And the greatest thing for me was that at the beginning they were just - the guys. It's just a bunch of pipers from an army regiment. And by the end, I, you know, I knew them all by name, and they were all people with stories, and I was really touched and blown away to work with them.

(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Grace")

Mr. COHEN: They spend long periods of time away from their families and their friends doing difficult work, in very difficult circumstances where - often in politically sensitive arenas, and they do so without questioning and without complaining, and they're just incredibly professional. I really came away with a newfound admiration and respect for the serving forces.

HANSEN: Do you think the atmosphere is such that here is this regiment that has played in Afghanistan and Iraq, and England has certainly lost, and Scotland -quite a few soldiers in this past war. Does it make it - the culture seems very receptive to it.

Mr. COHEN: It makes it extremely relevant, and there's really a story that need to be told here. I mean, these are very, very brave young guys. Some of them only barely into their 20s, and they are out there doing what they need to do. And whatever your view is about where the troops should be in one place or another, we have to all understand that these are heroes, and every time one of them is lost, it's a huge loss. And so I think you're right. The climate for something like this is good. And if this record does raise awareness of that, I think it's a really good thing.

HANSEN: Jon Cohen is the producer of "Spirit of the Glen" by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. It goes on sale at the end of the month, and the regiment's royalties will go to military charities.

Jon Cohen spoke with us from our London studio.

Jon, thanks very much.

Mr. COHEN: Thank you.


I'm Liane Hansen.

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