Review of Simon Fraser University Pipe Band’s new album ‘Live in Chilliwack’

P/M Bevan leads the band on stage for the live recording

Well here we go with my thoughts on this band’s latest album, recorded live during a concert in the town of Chilliwack (British Columbia), in February this year. Thankfully Covid-19 had not impacted Canada at that time otherwise this album would never have been produced – and it is a corker.

Pipe Major Alan Bevan has put together an array of pipe band music, 17 tracks including, competition medleys, arrangements of popular tunes such as MacIain of Glencoe, the Skye Boat Song and the famous Hallelujah theme.

By Barry Donaldson

All the tracks serve to demonstrate how talented the band is. With the exceptions of certain idioms, Pipe Major Bevan drives the music at a pace which requires a top end pipe and drum corps. The unison of playing is as good as it gets and the quality of sound is excellent. 

There are two interesting tracks which are back to back selections of hornpipes. The first, ‘Homegrown Hornpipes’ are the tunes Calum Beag and Journey to Tattooine (a new one for me). The next are the tunes Abbotsinch to Aldergrove and the King of Cardenden.

The band plays the first ‘Homegrown’ selection in traditional cut and dot format whilst the second is played in modern reel style. I would think this is deliberate with the view to highlighting the band’s versatility in being able to change playing style according to the rhythmic structure of the piece.  They are musically crafted and the use of piano accompaniment in the ‘Tattooine’ piece adds to the overall dramatic effect of the playing.

I loved the selection of John MacLellen’s marches Highland Mary, Dream Valley of Glendaruel and Bloody Fields of Flanders. Classic simple tunes played by a band of this calibre are a delight to listen to.

The band has made this track available online:

There are jigs aplenty, some original modern pieces e.g. £50 Cash Back, to the more traditional-sounding pieces like The Skylark’s Ascension. Indeed this is where the driving pace of the band can be heard at its best. The use of the percussion in some tracks is quite innovative, however I would understand comments such as ‘a little overpowering’ here. Personally I liked it and one must remember this is concert material designed with the audience in mind, not adjudicators.

A drum fanfare which salutes the now deceased Willie McErlean features. Willie was lead drummer with Vancouver’s Triumph Street Pipe Band and in 1979 his corps took first place at the World Championships held in Nottingham that year, a first ever for an overseas pipe band.

The victorious Triumph Street drum corps under the late L/D Willie McErlean pictured at the Nottingham Worlds in 1979

I’m always in awe of top drum corps and what they are capable of producing. Reid Maxwell’s SFU corps is no exception. I found this piece exciting, particularly in the introductory phrase where bass and tenor predominate. The bass drum sound is tremendous.

There is a solo performance from Jack Lee playing a selection of hornpipes and jigs which demonstrate his virtuosity and technical brilliance. Jack can still produce the fancy finger technique and thrilled the live audience with a powerful, entertaining performance. 

Equally as good is the duet by Gordon Conn and William Nichols, the first tune, Terror Time, giving you an insight as to what to expect in this medley. This set everything, breakneck speed, harmony, modern finger technique, counterpoint. How these two pipers managed to lay this down without blemish is incredible and must have taken hours of rehearsal.

Exciting stuff from Reid Maxwell corps

For me the only thing missing in this album is the classic March, Strathspey and Reel. I can only assume this reflects an understanding of the audience and consideration of the type of material that would be most appreciated. However I believe, and I may be old school, that this is the genre where a band truly shows its mastery. Otherwise this is a fantastic album and I would thoroughly recommend to all.

  • The album is available for download here priced $9.99CAD. Tracks are also available individually for $0.99CAD. Barry Donaldson is a multiple winner of the World Pipe Band Championships Grade 1 title with Strathclyde Police, is a senior adjudicator on the solo piping circuit and an accredited adjudicator for the RSPBA.

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