Review: Fife Police Pipe Band Concert Marks Ten Years ‘On the Beat’

By Duncan Watson

On the evening of Saturday 14th April, I attended the concert at the Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen featuring the Fife Police Pipe Band hosted by Bucksburn Pipe Band. The show was entitled a ‘Decade on the Beat’ as the Fife polis band has been in existence for that time. Their progress has clearly been significant and as a result the event was most enjoyable. Sadly the likes of Fife Police Force no longer exists and, speaking as a former policeman, the organisation which replaced it appears to be a mismanaged monolith.

On arrival at the venue Alan Clark and I gatecrashed the Fife tuning room. I have never played in a Grade 1 pipe band and I am always in awe at how the pipe majors manage to get such a phenomenal sound. Seeing PIpe Major Douglas Murray setting chanters was therefore most interesting. There was so much extraneous noise in the room, with other pipers also apparently assisting in the setting up, that it was beyond me how they managed to keep improving things. However they did, gaining success by the minute. Of course drone tuning devices were in use and these must be a big help.

The band tunes up

I was pleased to see piper Cameron Barnes present and enjoyed meeting him. He was once a pupil at the Aberdeen City Music School at which I did some teaching. Cameron is multi-talented and has had singing lessons from a lady, Gillian Jack, who for 20 years was a soprano with Scottish Opera. She identified that Cameron had significant ability as a singer and has been giving him lessons. We looked forward to hearing Cameron later.

However, we were not there to chat and listen to the tuning of pipes and off we went to take our seats. The concert commenced with the Fife Police band taking the stage.

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The content was varied and there is no need to go into precise detail.  There were diets of hornpipes and jigs and the demonstration of a competition march, strathspey and reel. The playing was obviously of a high standard, but due to the tremendous volume of the drumming it was not always clear how good the performances actually were, which was a pity.

Cameron Barnes on stage

It is tempting to involve as many drum corps personnel as possible in this sort of show, but there could be merit in sharing some of the performances, giving some a break for certain sets, and maybe thinking a little more about the audience. When, occasionally, the drum corps did reduce the huge volume to a more balanced arrangement, it was evident that this was an outfit who were very good indeed and who are going to continue to make a dent on the Grade 1 lists.

I must say that I am not sure I am fond of tunes being hacked about and jazzed up, clever though this may be. It is something that seems to be common to bands. Maybe digressing a little, but serious orchestras play pieces and the focus is on playing them well and not altering them or carrying out some unnecessary changes to precious music.

P/M Douglas Murray on stage during rehearsals

Cameron Barnes came on and he had a very powerful voice and without doubt Gillian Jack, earlier referred to, would have been very  pleased at his performance. Doubtless Cameron’s talent could be further developed, but he seems to have the temperament for performing. It was a nice surprise to see and hear him singing.

The concert presentation was visually very attractive and this was nicely enhanced with two dancers. The Bucksburn bands, both senior and junior performed. I have been to several of their concerts and, for what it is worth, I have found that on each occasion there has been improvement in various areas of their sound and in their playing.

Bucksburn’s senior band is a Grade 2 outfit and the difference between them and a Grade 1 band is fairly obvious. However, with Bucksburn’s reduced drum sound it was possible to hear the playing clearly – and worth hearing it was too.

In the second half of the concert, we had another song from a lady from the drum corp of  the Fife Police and that gave further variety to what was, all in all, a very pleasant evening.

Duncan Watson (from the back seat of the hall!)

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