I think the old football cliché of a ‘game of two halves’ neatly sums up Field Marshal Montgomery’s ‘Impact’ concert last night at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Whilst never falling below the standard of excellence we have come to expect from this band, there was something almost reticent in their delivery in the first. But maybe they, like the audience, were befuddled by booming bass – and I mean booming.
A microphone too close to the drum, and a sound man unaware of the thudding, distorting, reverberations it was causing, must have upset the equilibrium of the pipers and drummers on stage. It certainly did in the upper tier where I was seated. I predict mic spillage difficulties when it comes to mixing down for the CD/DVD.
The second half was a whole different ball game with significantly less in the lower register and thrilling sets from the band and Keith Orr’s drum corps. The side drums were trimmed to no more than seven playing at any one time and this had a beneficial effect on the overall sound. (I was reliably informed by someone who knows about this percussion business that the corps were really on form). The band seemed to relax and the music flowed. The pipers’ solo and combination work left one almost breathless at the technical dexterity of the fingers. What they played in the solo spots might not always have pleased the grumbling carles among us, but there could be no mistaking the quality of the execution.
This band is gifted. To get through the door of the practice hall you must have to be a veritable GS McLennan. Already there, and leading the way in the electric hands department, were Andrew Carlisle, Bradley Parker, Kris Coyle, Graham Drummond, Ross Hume, Connor Sinclair and Sandy Cameron. They are all young, and with this quality of player to call on Field Marshal will be knocking at the door of the major championships for many years to come.
It takes a maestro, however, to corral this abundant talent into some order and in P/M Richard Parkes, a man with ten World Pipe Band Grade 1 titles to his credit, they have the ring master par excellence. The sound he produced – heard to best effect during the Gaelic song air and Phil Cunningham’s ‘Ruby’ – could not, surely, be bettered. Once or twice I wondered about the low Gs but this may have been altered to suit the synth and fiddles of the backing band. That aside, the chanters had clarity and projection; the drones never moved.
Then there was the unison and the expression to consider. The amount of work bands put in to put on the pre-Worlds concert is immense. Yet last night there was nary a dropped gracenote, never a wrong note, not a hint of bad intonation, super phrasing and the only detachment in the whole unit came in the second part repeat of the Shepherd’s Crook where the singer, Catriona Watt, had a slightly different melody from what the band played. Other than that the whole show was a model of professional delivery. Stick outs were all the old favourites The Sandpiper, Train Journey North and, of course, the Fiddler’s Rally. But I enjoyed the MSRs too and how refreshing, as compère Bob Worrall pointed out, to hear a band playing the Braes of Badenoch by P/M William MacLean.
The concert hall was packed to the gunnels; 2,100 souls impresario Douglas Orr of the promoters Glasgow Skye Pipe Band told us. It is without doubt the biggest night of Worlds Week and it takes a big band to pull it off. Unequivocally the magnificent FM did just that and after a three-hour performance the audience wandered off into the damp city streets, sated, satisfied – and with that booming bass a distant memory.