Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Johnstone Pipe Band Concert at Celtic Connections 2018

What a thrill it  must have been for the youngsters brought on to the stage for the finale of Johnstone Pipe Band’s Celtic Connections concert yesterday, writes the Editor. It made for an emotional end to what was a thoroughly pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The concert began with warm up sets from Finlay MacDonald, Angus MacColl jnr. – at times you could have sworn it was dad up there – and the spectacular uillean piper Jarlath Henderson. This was the first time I had heard Jarlath and he is clearly a master of his complex, exciting pipe. His closing, rousing set of reels brought the first half to a vibrant, exalted climax.

Beginners join the band on stage for the finale

But to the main course. Seeing Johnstone’s three bands, Grade 1, Grade 3A and Renfrew Schools (NJ) all lined up on the biggest concert stage in the pipe band world was visual testament to the incredible work being wrought by one of our youngest pipe majors, Keith Bowes. Keith is ably assisted by the old man, Keith snr., and former Inveraray P/Sgt Douglas Campbell. Indeed the rise of this band is bested only by that of the current World Champions. Johnstone made Grade 1 last year via winning the Worlds in G3A in 2014 and G2 in 2015 and 2016. On the evidence of this concert they will be in the top echelon for the forseeable future.

Their discipline, their tone, their music warmed the 1,000+ audience on what was the coldest weekend of the winter in Glasgow. I would venture to say that they do not yet have the precision in some of their execution that the top six bands in G1 possess, the last part of Allan Dodd’s Farewell to Scotland a case in point. Here the descending melodic sequence and its attendant doublings proved particularly challenging.

And maybe the drums were a little loud. The blowing improved when the pipers could hear their instruments better as in the Gaelic air (lovely singing here from Dingwall lass Kirsty MacKenzie). Last grumble – ditch the Pipers Warning piobaireachd/march thing. Pipe major! It just doesn’t work! Other than that, here was an excellent choice of material carried off with some aplomb. The band demonstrated a thorough understanding of the rhythmical requirements of each idiom.

Jarlath Henderson – a master of his instrument

For most of the pipers and drummers it would have been their first time on the big stage. Nerves must have been close to the edge. Yet they rose to the demands of such a high pressure performance admirably. On and off the stage like professionals, each set was right on cue and this enabled the concert to build in momentum until that heartwarming ending with each section stepping forward to take a collective bow. Plaudits too to the dancers, a not over-chatty MC and a discreet backing group. For those who couldn’t manage along, I understand the BBC’s ‘Pipeline’ show has recorded the event for broadcast.

Johnstone Pipe Band are Grade 1 – make no error. Still a bit raw, they are a work in progress, but with their organisation, their feeder system, their knowledge and quality sound, they will be around for many years to come. Their commitment to teach is worthy of the highest praise (140 SQA certificates since 2014). The band are currently celebrating their 75th anniversary. What a way to kick off a year of celebration. Congratulations to everyone involved.


New Recording from Donald MacPherson added to PP Archive/ RSPBA Update Prescribed Tunes

A treat for piobaireachd aficionados today with the posting on the PP Audio Archive of a performance of the Lament for Mary MacLeod by Donald MacPherson, writes the Editor. The recording was made by the BBC in 1977 during a recital Donald gave with P/M Angus MacDonald at the Eden Court Theatre, Inverness.

We are grateful to Donald McBride, one of Donald’s former students. for passing it on. Donald’s playing reflects all the touches of a master and, interestingly, he plays  a high A instead of the more common high G in the third line of the variation doublings. Listen to the tune here:
Read more about Donald here.

The PP Audio Archive is brought to you free of charge thanks to the support of our advertisers and your support for the Piping Press Shop.

Chris Terry playing outside the HQ of the Transvaal Scottish regiment in Johannesburg. Chris is ‘top of the pops’ on the PP Audio Archive

Reviewing the list of recordings it may be of interest to readers to find out which is the post popular. Well way out in front is South Africa’s piobaireachd expert Chris Terry whose performance of the Glen is Mine has had 1,149 listens. Well done Chris! Chris is one of the judges for this year’s Shasta Piping Society Piobaireachd Composing Competition.

Next we have Chris’s teacher John MacFadyen with Too Long in This Condition with 689 listens and following that is Alasdair Gillies’s recital with 664, then yours truly with MacDougall’s Gathering on 651. Next is Donald MacPherson with Lady MacDonald’s Lament on 624 and his recital with has the piobaireachd Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor has 610 listens.

Robert Wallace, Company’s Lament, 598
Jimmy McIntosh, Lament for the Children, 581
Donald MacLeod, Jigs, 532
Andrew Pitkeathly, ceol beag, 515
John MacDougall, Former Winners’ MSR, 513
Donald MacPherson, MSR, 498
Angus MacColl, MSR, Oban, 483
Robert Reid, MSR, 481
Jimmy McIntosh, Earl of Seaforth, 466
RU Brown, MSR, 448
Govan Police PB (first ever recording of a pipe band), 416
John MacDonald of Inverness, Lament for the Children, 410
Gordon Walker, MSR/H&J, 372
Jori Chisholm’s winning Shasta tune from last year, 301

One shouldn’t read too much into these figures; some recordings have been posted for a much longer period than others. The success of ceol mor tracks does show the thirst for knowledge and information on how specific tunes may be timed. There is an extensive library of music on the Piobaireachd Society website which those who enjoy the PP Audio Archive recordings may also like to tap into.

If any reader has a tape or mp3 of music they think would be suitable for our archive please forward it to the usual email.

The RSPBA has updated its list of prescribed tunes for lower grade competitions for 2018. Among tunes added are: Thomson’s Dirk, John MacDonald’s Reel, Glen Caladh Castle (used to be a a Grade 3/ Grade 4 favourite) Hugh Kennedy, Barren Rocks of Aden, Weary Maid, Burning of the Piper’s Hut, the Maids of the Black Glen and Forest Lodge. The tunes contained in each category are now very extensive with something to suit all tastes. Check out the full lists here.  The Association website states:

Major Championships – Grade 4B and Novice Juvenile B
4 x 2 parted Marches from the RSPBA Prescribed Tune List
All tunes played must come from the RSPBA Prescribed Tune List

Major Championships – Grade 4A and Novice Juvenile A
4 Parts March (in 2/4 Time Signature), 4 Parts Strathspey and 4 Parts Reel
1 x 4 Parted 2/4 March or 2 x 2 parted 2/4 Marches
1 x 4 Parted Strathspey or 2 x 2 parted Strathspeys
1 x 4 Parted Reel or 2 x 2 Parted Reels
All tunes played must come from the RSPBA Prescribed Tune List

Minor Contests:
Grade 4 and Novice Juvenile remains as stipulated currently – being 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 Minutes Quick March Tempo.
Grade 4 and Novice Juvenile A MSR Contests; Championship playing requirement change will also be applied.

‘These tunes have been carefully chosen to reflect the relative experience and ability of pipers and drummers in that specific grade, presenting them with the opportunity to perform in contests, ‘on a level playing field’, as each piece is regarded as having equal ‘weighting’, and this should be borne in mind when making those choices for contest performances.’

PP Ed’s Blog: WW2 Pipes/ Piobaireachd Society Conference/ CoP Lecture

A couple of weeks ago we highlighted a request from RSPBA Vice Chairman John Hughes for information about a set of pipes presented to his uncle, PoW William Chisholm, during WW2. The pipes had a plaque on them which indicated they may have arrived in Germany via the Piobaireachd Society. We asked if any other readers had similar sets.

Iain Duncan

I was pleased to hear from Iain Duncan, the former archivist for the RSPBA, and son of Archie Duncan the Kintyre composer. Iain wrote: ‘I have a wartime set of bagpipes in my possession which I played intermittently before and during my time with the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band.  They were manufactured by J&R Glen, Edinburgh, according to the bass drone top tuning slide.

‘They are made from cocus wood with good solid sounding drones with EPNS ferrules on the drone joints and stocks.  The bell top of each drone is dressed with a ferrule of the plastic of the time and the ‘projecting mounts’, which were small and just a token to decoration, were turned within the one block of wood.

‘The ferrule on the bass drone stock carries an engraving: ‘FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF HIGHLAND SOCIETIES OF EDINBURGH (1939)’.  An uncle of mine, namely John McShannon, who was a PoW in Germany, was the recipient of these pipes through the Red Cross and brought them back home to Campbeltown on his release after the war. They have been in the family ever since.

‘Around 1966, by which time I had moved to Glasgow, I had imitation ivory projecting mounts fitted by Grainger & Campbell (at a ridiculously low cost) which greatly enhanced the overall appearance of the pipes. Hope this snippet is of interest.’

It certainly was and I asked Iain if he could supply some pictures. He kindly agreed to do so even removing the engraved ferrule for photographing. Here it is:And the pipes:

The set of pipes sent to Iain’s uncle John MacShannon in 1939. Is this John MacShannon related to Ronald MacShannon the senior adjudicator and co-proprietor of the successful Pipe Dreams reads-making business?

Thanks to Iain for that and if any other reader has a similar set of pipes we’d be delighted to hear from you. Read the original story here.

Talking of the Piob Soc, they have announced their 2018 conference agenda: Presentation from Competing Pipers Association – Glenn Brown and pipers; Beyond the Performer Audience through Progressive Programming  – John Mulhearn; Descent and evolution in Ceòl Mòr – reflections – Hugh Cheape, Decker Forrest; Entertainment by students from Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; Set Tunes demonstration. Click on the display ad above or get more details here.

The night before the conference the College of Piping will stage their annual lecture. This year the subject will be the 51st Highland Division in WW1. The speaker is historian Colin Campbell. Presumably the talk will be a draw together of the excellent papers Mr Campbell (left) gave for the Scottish Pipers’ Association’s WW1 project of a couple of years ago, some excerpts of which were carried in PP.  Mr Campbell has published a book on the subject entitled ‘Engine of Destruction – The 51st Highland Division in the Great War’. The book is obtainable here. This will be a fascinating lecture delivered by an expert in the field.


Winter Storm Closing Concert and Weekend Review

With a sell out crowd achieved the day before, the venue was packed for the annual gala concert featuring celebrated soloists, mini bands, Highland dancers and all held together by Ken Eller, the long-standing master of ceremonies, writes our Special Correspondent.

In a nice touch, the students of St Thomas Episcopal, from Houston, Texas, kicked off proceedings, led by former World Champion Drum Major, Jason Paguio of the SFU organisation.

The playbill ran on at great pace as wave after wave of acts followed. The trio of Gold Medal winners, Calum Beaumont accompanying the first batch of dancers, and his pipe major Stuart Liddell followed. A very warm response for the man who has won the lot. The CV being read out was so lengthy that Stuart decided to take a seat.  There was even a cheer for his tuning. He played a Ross Ainslie piece (Durty B with ‘u’ I imagine) to start, and captivated a rapt audience. What more can be said – flying fingers and simply blinding. Entertainer with a capital E but grounded in the very best. Shock and awe!

Stuart Liddell on stage at WS

Stuart was given rousing applause and was then joined by his lead drummer Steven McWhirter. The musical chemistry between this duo is palpable. Top end stuff every time.

Perhaps the most poignant set was when 2017 Glenfiddich winner and Piping Press ‘Piper of the Year’ Jack Lee led a group from SFU, including his pipe major Alan Bevan, in a stunning tribute to the late Andrew ‘Boney’ Bonar. This was Winter Storm in its most sombre moment. They played the piobaireachd ‘I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand’ in tribute to a piper, gentleman and devoted family man who lost his battle to cancer last year. Boney had asked Jack to play the piece at his Memorial. It was fitting in that Jack had taught it to Boney many years ago. There was a rousing ovation in respect of the playing and of course in memory of Andrew. [See pic up top.]

The mood changed and after the break with the drum faculty playing the classic Alex Duthart fanfare – ‘Salute to Max Rayne’. The drum line, led by eight-time world Champion, Steven McWhirter, was filled with Grade 1 lead tips, Creighton, Jørgensen and Gordon Brown of Boghall making his Winter Storm debut. In addition, young Kerr McQuillan of Boghall, the Grade 2 snare winner, joined some of the St Thomas teenagers in the line too. Surely a great memory for them to stand in amongst giants of the snare drumming and bass section world.

Gordon Brown remained and played a classic March, Strathspey and Reel set with piper Anne Gray and bass Steve Foley. Gordon remains one of the best in the business and it was great to see him at his first Winter Storm.

An Inveraray ‘mini band’ gave the audience a chance to hear a portion of that World Championship winning ensemble. The audience in Ballybriest, Northern Ireland, for whom the whole band will play in the spring, are in for a treat. This group blew the roof off.

Fred and dancers

Following that was no problem for the bold Fred Morrison. Kicking off with the great Highland bagpipe and surrounded by Highland dancers, he transitioned to a soulful piece on whistle, before closing out with his classic Hard Drive, last heard by many on Worlds day in the Field Marshal Montgomery medley. Fred had the audience going, and his stage presence and craft worked wonders. He has become a fixture in this concert and is hugely well liked.

Finally a parade of winners and what seems an ever-growing faculty took to the stage, received their ovation, and the 2018 Winter Storm concert was over. Into the night, sub-zero temperatures, up the hill to the hotel complex for the after party ‘Winter Steam’, and more fun.

Beth Wilson, the Mid West Highland Art Fund President, organisers and her team, including long-standing fixer Cliff Davis, run a wonderful event. Arguably the best of its kind in the world. It surely can’t be far away from being recognised as a pre-qualifier for more national and international competitions. For instance, with the World Solo Drumming event adding regional qualifiers to provide automatic semi final places, the Winter Storm Snare Gold Medal competition would be a strong candidate. As an aside, it was won by Grant Cassidy of SLoT, already a pre-qualifier for 2018.

There you have it, and there is no reason to believe that 2019 won’t be bigger as this event has momentum, the faculty, prizes and aura of one not to miss. They seem to freshen things up just enough whilst retaining the core. Well done MHAF – great job, as they say in these parts.

Full results from Winter Storm here.

Winter Storm – Full Results with wins for Sarah Muir, Alastair Lee, Grant Cassidy and Andrew Elliot

Our Special Correspondent reports: Cool running in chilly Kansas. With a record number of competitors, the event ran for around 12 hours, using multiple rooms, venues and facilities in the Winter Storm Campus.

The judges were allocated across the lot and full marks to that crew for sticking at it through the day. They only have the Workshops and Gala Concert to worry about today.

The blue ribbon events were taken by some known names with new winners in other events. The overall coterie of new talent continues to surprise and please. Perhaps the Gold Medal snare drumming will get recognition as a pre-qualifier for the World Solos in due course, just as the piping light music Gold winner gets a run to the Metro Cup.

Prizes were considerable in money terms, travel stipends and pipes and drums. So those headline winners (full list of all event placings below):

Gold Medal Piobaireachd  – Alastair Lee (pictured top)
Ceol Beag Gold – Sarah Muir
Gold Medal Snare – Grant Cassidy
Silver Medal Piobaireachd – Zephan Knichel
Gold Medal Tenor – Andrew Elliot
Gold Medal Bass – (three- way tie; MSR pref.) – Andrew Elliot

Gold Medal winner Andrew Elliot who will teach bass and tenor at the South Florida Pipe & Drum Academy next month

Two other young Scots drummers picked up gold in Grade 2: Kerr McQuillan, Boghall, and in Grade 3, Caitlyn Malloy, Dollar.

The Midwest Highland Arts Fund (MHAF) Board of Directors later announced the full results. Awards were presented on Friday evening, January 12, 2018, at the Kansas City Marriott – Country Club Plaza Grand Ballroom.

R.G. Hardie & Co. Gold Medal Piobaireachd
1st Alastair Lee, Coquitlam, BC, Canada
2nd Andrew Donlon, Germantown, MD
3rd Derek Midgley, Tinton Falls, NJ
Judges: Callum Beaumont, Colin MacLellan

McCallum Bagpipes  Silver Medal Piobaireachd
1st Zephan Knichel, Surrey, BC, Canada
2nd Andy Wilson, Dromore, Co Down, Northern Ireland
3rd Kevin McLean, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
4th Alastair Murray, Moon, PA
5th John Lee   Surrey, BC, Canada
Judges: Alan Bevan, Ann Gray