By Robert Wallace, August 13, 2014
Oh what a night! Spectacular would be the only word for it. From the moment Greater Glasgow Police took to the stage in front of 1700 people at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to the moment they left playing 6/8s up through the aisles, they had us captivated. One wondered when hearing the sound of their pipes just how they have struggled to make the prizelists this season. One thing is for certain, had there been a prize for a concert pipe band last night then the ‘Polis’ would be stepping forward for the trophy.
Unquestionably the biggest happening of the week, the pre-Worlds concert has become something of an institution, and thanks to the efforts of Douglas Orr and his colleagues in the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band, the promoters, it looks like continuing for many years to come. Last night was their triumph too.
The highlights? The sheer quality of sound from the band, and when accompanied by the piano, organ, guitar and bass, we reached heights of musical delight. There cannot be better accompanists on the planet than Allan Henderson, Ewan Robertson and James Lindsey. There was not a chord out of place all night – and that is not something that is easy to achieve with the bagpipe. It takes real musical skill, and a lot of credit for this rewarding subtlety must go to P/M Duncan Nicholson. He demonstrated an unerring gift for arrangement – Quincy Jones in a kilt.
Stand out sets for me were the hornpipes and jigs at the start of the night, Back to Glasgow, Farley Bridge, Lightly Swims the Swan and the MSR with a full fat Ross-shire Volunteers instead of the semi-skimmed version we heard at Dumbarton. These tracks will be the big selling points on the concert CD, of that I am in no doubt.
Band selections were interspersed with solos from Scott Barrie, melifluent Gaelic singer Rachel Walker (subtitles on the overhead screen would have been useful for we unbelievers), and Scott Giffin. Both pipers played well, but what can one say about young Barrie? Three words: gifted, gifted, gifted. With the correct tuition and diligence there is only one place this boy is headed – the stratosphere. Let’s hope we don’t lose him to the ceilidh bands. Humour was also a strong feature of the show, with police sirens, cops chasing hoodies, and stick throwing drummers all bringing a smile to the faces of the assembled pipe band world. Underpinning the light touch was a strong Gaelic theme, and as compere John Wilson said, the band showed a lot of bravery in tackling a fund of melodies not always suited to the bagpipe. They proved that with thought and application it could be done.
Of course Glasgow Police have always had a close rub with the Gaeltacht, their ranks brimming with characters from the Highlands and Islands over many decades. Where would they all be without the great city of Glasgow pulling them together, providing the crucible of creativity that has produced multiple World Championships and the sort of wonder show we heard last night?
A few minor negatives: Those of us whose interest in pop music ended with Elvis may not have appreciated the set ‘Belfast’s Child’ featuring Mick O’Neill from Simple Minds, and the medley which ended the second half got lost in the Gods somewhere. The tom -tom tenors were too loud in the first half and overall the side drummers were too loud from where I was sitting. But these are small grumbles for a three-hour show that captivated.
Almost ten years ago I ran a campaign through the Piping Times to save the then Strathclyde Police Pipe Band. We petitioned the Chief Constable Mr Steven House and won the day. Mr House is now in charge of the new united force ‘Police Scotland’. I would say this to him: You have a gem of a band on your hands at Greater Glasgow Mr House. Your budget could not have afforded what they achieved for police PR last night. I know there are new cash concerns on the horizon. Please remember Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, August 13, 2014, when you make your next big decision. It was a special night from a very special group of pipers and drummers.