Good tunes, well played. There you have it, a four word summary of the ‘Live in Ireland’ concert given last Saturday by ex-members of the 78th Fraser Highlanders pipe band from Ontario – with a select group of Grade 1 pipers and drummers in support.
The concert, in a respectably filled main auditorium at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, was, of course, much more than that. We had snazzy uniforms, heaps of nostalgia, beautiful singing and a lesson in how to build a successful pipe band show.
Indeed, Ken Stewart’s voiceover opening lines declared that when the 78th put on the original concert in Ballymena in 1987, they established a template for all such concerts for the future. P/M William Livingstone wisely followed his original format – a winning combination of 6/8s, MSRs, solo spots and medleys. Yes, there was the odd early chanter, and as usual the drums were too loud, but that aside, the playing was really very, very good, the tone, lower pitched perhaps, thoroughly attractive and solid.
There were no tenor drums and, though I never thought I would write this, I missed them. As long as the tom-tom sounds are controlled and subtle, I believe these drummers add to both the visual and musical effect delivered by the modern-day pipe band. However, there were only two tenors at the original concert and they did not, if reports I hear are correct, play very much on that Ballymena stage. You certainly cannot hear them on the recording. So, true to the 1987 show, they were deemed superfluous here.
Not superfluous were compères John Wilson and Bob Worrall, piping’s Francie and Josie, (or Jack and Victor as Bob said) who strung things together well, their mutual teasing setting an amiable tone for a thoroughly pleasant afternoon of pipe band music.
I won’t run through the programme, you can check your CD for that. My favourite tunes were the Clumsy Lover, the 6/8s Ishbel T. , Cameron MacFadyen and Fairview Cottage, the reels Ness Pipers and the Little Cascade, the intro march Up to the Line and the Irish air, the Cliffs of Duneen. Of the individuals, Ian K MacDonald was outstanding (listen to the clip below) as was young drummer Grant Maxwell, Reid’s son, his control and dynamics instantly appealing to this listener.
There was no support from any folk or rock band – a refreshing innovation. Band concerts have become too reliant on the synth backwash and drum kit. ‘Live in Ireland 2016’ proved conclusively that our music, in the hands of experts, can sustain and entertain on its own.
I, and I think the audience, would have liked to have had a word from the pipe major, but he was obviously focussing all his attention and energy on keeping the music flowing. This he did with consummate ease, conducting through the slow airs, playing every note and giving us the ground of the Lament for the Children to boot:
After three hours, pipers and drummers left the stage to a deserved standing ovation. As they did so, one reflected that this concert had a message for all pipe bands: pick your material well. Do not present a new tune to the public just to be different. There were no poor melodies at the ‘Live in Ireland’ concert, no hand-knitted constructs, bazouki-style straight from the Beirut bazaar. Just good solid pipe music – some of it new back in the 80s – but all melodic and all suited to the parameters and modes established by the Highland bagpipe itself. And I’ll wager that when the team assembles in 30 years time for the next anniversary show the music will still sound fresh and attractive. Good tunes, well played cut it every time.
A Warm Welcome Awaits at the South Florida Pipe & Drum Academy