Review: ‘Names & Places’ Concert, Celtic Connections

Awa’ tae yer neeps. So said Ian Duncan after thanking everyone involved in this electrifying concert, thus evoking his Aberdeenshire roots and his family’s quiet brilliance as entertainers across the generations, writes Jack Taylor.

The occasion was a Celtic Connections celebration of P/M Ian’s, and Vale of Atholl Pipe Band’s, groundbreaking album of 1990, ‘Names and Places’.

The youngsters started proceedings. The National Youth Band of Scotland played selections reflecting Vale sets over the years. Smaller than before, but no less innovative, they sparkled musically and technically, blending with, but never overpowered by, their drummers and backing musicians.   

This old stager recognised only one tune – R S MacDonald’s Showacho – showing just how much pipe music has changed in 50 years. A programme, often a savoured ‘read in bed’ after any concert, would have helped.  

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Now for the neeps and tatties. The idea for the concert came to Ian, his wife Chris, and former Vale piper Kenny Forsyth last year in a dim middle eastern hostelry and was well formed after the jet journey home. (Older readers will remember Kenny’s father Billy, champion Highland dancer.)

‘Names and Places’ was an album where four Vale Pipers teamed up with the folk group Eclipse First to play tunes together, new ones at that, still unpublished and many nameless, composed by Ian Kirkpatrick and Martin Hughes. This concert would remember that, and recognise Ian’s immense contribution over decades.

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Those four – Ian, Adrian Melvin, Malcolm Robertson and Gary West, were the centrepiece and, oh boy, did they give us a tasty main course. Ian strode on, drones perfect to low A, our first soloist. Mesmerising.

Then solos from Gary, and, later Malcolm. All showing poise, immaculate technique and musicianship, with Malcolm raising the roof as the professional backing pipers looked on agape. Hair may be grey, sparser now, but all 40 fingers were still spring chickens. Again no tunes recognised, but every one a winner.  

A short excerpt from the concert finale…..

The four were augmented in varying degrees by bagpipes, bombarde, harp, fiddle, flute, accordion and drum to give a mix of slow, fast and the frankly insane, all aided by excellent sound balancing and lighting.

It was only after P/M Ian had sent us awa’ tae oor neeps that he gave us the next recognised tune – MacCrimmon Shall Never Return – before setting the entire company, including the Youth Band, off into El Paco Grande, both from the Vale’s ‘Live in ‘Well’ album.

Then a march off with Green Hills, continuing into the foyer where they were led by Malcolm Robertson into Gordon Duncan’s arrangement of the Mexican Hat Dance. Frantic, unflagging, fun-filled. Only then did they get the brogues off.

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