I think I know after nearly three hours of listening to them at close quarters what makes St Laurence O’Toole the band they are, writes the Editor. There is a spine of excellence running from the pipe major through their heartbeat, bass drummer John Dunne, to the admirable Creighton, D/Sgt. Stephen of that ilk. Pipe Major Alen Tully has a quiet command about him and Stephen homes in on every eyebrow fluctuation. John is just John, probably the best bass of the lot. Again, a keen eye on the P/M.
Underpinning all of this is the band’s sound. Accurate to a fault, full, projecting, thrilling. You run out of superlatives. I don’t think there was a waver at all during last night’s show and when an outside tenor started to misbehave out came the drone cork to do the necessary.
This was promoter Glasgow Skye’s 24th Worlds Week concert and a major success for them and their main organiser Kurt Mackintosh. A great way for the Skye to celebrate their 50th Anniversary.
The evening began with a short film and voiceover restating the band’s ethos of excellence in performance, hard work, friendship. To that end there were clips of them enjoying themselves after contests. These really summed up what SLOT are all about. Yet for all their mastery and success (they are the current UK and Scottish Champions) the band struggles for proper recognition in its homeland. I remember Alen’s father, former P/M Terry, telling me in 2010 when they last won the Worlds that they hadn’t even been given a civic reception by Dublin’s mayor. Well we appreciate them. And at last night’s finale 2,000 plus people got to their feet to underline just that.
The concert was spilt into four quarters emphasising the band’s musical journey, a journey which paid homage to their founders, their history, their country’s rich musical store and their emergence at the top of the pile in the pipe band world.
We were treated to music from every genre. It was delivered on stage in two sections of an hour each. There was nary a slip or dropped gracenote the whole time. I was only a few feet away from the fingers, so trust me. This band is full of brilliant pipers – 22 played. There ain’t no weak link. They exude a calm that comes from innate ability and serious endeavour. Some of them are very young. SLOT are future-proofed.
And as long as they have Steven Creighton driving them on they will be at the top of Grade 1 years without number. Not since watching the great Alex Duthart up close have I seen a percussionist living his music the way SLOT’s leading tip does. He’s there with the pipers on every nuance, every phrase ending, lifting the mono-dynamic of the pipes to another musical level. Wisely Stephen had positioned his corps behind a wall of perspex sound baffles and this killed the drum corps curse of Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, a curse which has taken the shine off many an otherwise enjoyable evening on the biggest night of Worlds Week. More than anything Stephen enjoys what he is doing and his beaming countenance was a feature of the concert.
He makes the perfect team with his Pipe Major, the quiet spoken Alen, a gifted piper in his own right. Another star of the evening was the compère, the humourously self-effacing Eric Stein from New York. Eric told a story of when visiting Alen when he was a boy of seven the youngster boasted of now knowing twenty pipe tunes. Asked to play one and expecting the Minstrel Boy the prodigy produced all six parts of Highland Wedding.
Everyone who left the auditorium last night was uplifted by St Laurence O’Toole’s music and the understated brilliance of its delivery. It is no surprise their shows are so popular and I am sure the recordings of Turas Ceoil will prove likewise.