National Youth Pipe Band in Concert at Celtic Connections

Our reporter at large, MacStig, rolled into town from his winter hibernation to catch the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland concert, braving the weather and wintry roads of Argyllshire to hit Glasgow for the early afternoon start on Saturday….

‘Made in Scotland’ – NYPBoS Concert – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

It was a nippy start and I cruised down the western side of the loch, Ben Lomond glistening in the late morning sun. It was -5C on the dial but warmed up as Glasgow got nearer. On to Killermont Street (an 80s pop reference for those of an age) and a winter warmer in prospect.

In the midst of the hectic Celtic Connections season, the acclaimed National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland loaded the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with fans for its winter concert.

A venue synonymous with the pre-Worlds concert, but at this time of year it’s Celtic Connections and much more besides. It hummed and bounced with a lovely programme showcasing this talented young ensemble and various combinations of the brightest and best from its ranks.

Under the guidance of Director Alasdair McLaren, celebrating a decade in charge, and along with his college of tutors, this band, free from competition and in concert formation, let rip from start to rousing finish.

Populated by youth players who have competitively auditioned for limited spaces, the splash of colour with their variety of kilts and band tartans, showed how wide and varied the members’ ‘home teams’ are. I saw the best of the Juvenile bands represented with North Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Dollar, Preston Lodge, along with older players who have graduated to Grade 1.

And they all seem to get along – no partisanship, just as the piping and drumming world should. As the old saying goes ‘it’s the music, stupid!’ – okay, that’s a new version of the old saying, but it should be a version.

There is something special about the freedom a concert programme brings to performers and, regardless of what nerves the young guns might have been feeling in those wings before walking into the floodlights, their breezy flashes of brilliance and highly polished performance belied any at all.

The confidence of youth of course, but sound in the knowledge that the repertoire, because of solid technique, repeat practice and rehearsal, was securely delivered.

For those who weren’t there, and I assume good reason can be provided like an international rugby match in Edinburgh or something, the programme followed the sensible pattern of large scale ensemble pieces, neat smaller group slots, the demonstration of the conveyor belt of talent through the ‘development band’ (which delivered a ‘Beaches of Harris’ Mr Saul would have loved).

The mums, dads, grandparents and sundry relatives of the up and comers whooped and cheered their players, and deservedly so. I had feared, as I often do in this hall, that the volume from the percussion (snares particularly) would be too oppressive and rattle my cage.

It has happened before in the venue and no doubt will again. Not this time, as these seasoned concert performers hit the balance right, including the interaction with the tuned instruments in ensemble.

Fergus Muirhead guided the audience through the concert with his knowledgable style and panache, settling those he interviewed and putting them at ease. The P/M who was teased about being late for practice because she was trying to parallel park (as a new driver) was a classic.

Some ensemble highlights, for the traditionalists particularly, included a March Strathspeys & Reel that motored along at a great tempo – Argyllshire Gathering, Cabar Feidh and MacAlister’s Dirk.

A neat set including Cabar Feidh as a jig, Paddy’s Leather Breeches and Butterfingers – the standard of playing was spellbinding.

The NYPBoS – anything but blue!

The first half was a showcase for the Development Band and they delivered two classic Gordon Duncan tunes: Ian Green of Greentrax and closed their set with The High Drive. 

The second half roared off with The Annihilator set and that March, Strathspey and Reel I already mentioned. 

In tag team the bright stars that are Kenneth MacFarlane, Lewis Russell and Ciaren Ross outdid one another and showed such dexterity that there were audible gasps from the audience. Well played fellas. 

In a celebratory section there was a birthday greeting for Euan Malloch in the backing band and then on to the two Pipe Majors retiring and a few other members too. Always a nice touch to thank the Director’s wife after her 10 years of service to the band too.

Get help for your band from the RSPBA’s fund – click here

A Tune of Lottie rolled in as did a new one on me ‘400%’. Thunderstruck, another Gordon Duncan classic from the AC/DC catalogue: in a word. Wow!

Then it seemed time had flown and the concert reached the end, sending the audience out into the mid afternoon in step, and joining the throng of Glaswegians going about their regular Saturday business. 

With the competitive season approaching in a matter of weeks, the National Youth Pipe Band will revert to care and maintenance whilst members head off to band halls, schools and other establishments to get into competition mode.

They will appear again here in Scotland and overseas in due course and if you missed this one, make sure you go along next time. The quality of playing was seriously good, in fact scarily good, and whilst the band members left to the cheers and applause, there are real plaudits for the Director and his gang of Pied Piping and Drumming tutors who lead this merry band of talented youngsters. A five star performance – and in their own words, ‘Made in Scotland’. Now where are those snow boots…..

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