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Third Grand Concert of Piping (Greentrax, CDTRAX 260)

The Third Grand Concert of Piping took place in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Academy of Music and Drama in November of 2002. It was, judging by this CD, as enjoyable an evening as ever. Ian Green of Greentrax Recordings deserves our thanks, along with The Lowland and Borders Pipers’ Society, for sustaining this excellent series of concerts and recordings over the years.

Greentrax released the first CD, called “Grand Concert of Scottish Piping” (CDTRAX 110), in 1996. It featured six of Scotland’s avant-garde pipers on Highland pipes, Border pipes and Scottish smallpipes, playing tunes that ranged from the Lowlands to the Highlands, from the Outer Hebrides to the dance clubs of Glasgow, from the most traditional to the wildest experimentation. It was Greentrax’s best selling piping recording ever. Hamish Moore, who had the idea for the concert, and Rona MacDonald (Glasgow) pulled it off, and a new tradition seemed to have been created.

Indeed, it was, for in 1997 Greentrax released a follow up CD called “Second Grand Concert of Piping” (CDTRAX 128) which featured bpipers from Ireland, Brittany, Toronto, Sardinia, as well as Scotland. This CD was greeted with great expectation. Patrick Molard’s playing of Breton tunes on the Scottish smallpipes stands out in my mind as one of the high points of this very enjoyable recording.

Over the last six years I have waited in anticipation of the next Grand Concert recording. It is impossible for LBPS members who live in the UK to understand how important recordings like this are to members, like myself, who live on the other side of the world. We are not likely to experience the Society’s social events, so recordings, publications and the web site keep us connected. A long time coming, here is the third Grand Concert recording.

The first thing that struck this listener is how wide the net is cast, what with some of the most avant- garde Scottish piping, along side medieval piping, Asturian piping, and some thrilling, highly individual piping from Rory Campbell.

Finlay MacDonald and Fraser Fifield start things off with three tracks that cut the edge. Fifield’s original composition, “Psalm”, is a modern classic. The piece simultaneously lives comfortably in the modern world even as it is inspired by the traditional singing of psalms in Gaelic in the Outer Hebrides. Is this perhaps what it sounded like when several pipers played pibroch together three hundred years ago? At the same time it boldly explores the unique harmonic powers of Scottish pipes with a very modern taste for dissonance and minimalism.


If he were alive, I like to think that Iain Crichton Smith might find some solace here for the bitterness he expressed in his famous poem, “At the Highland Games,” which begins, “Like re-reading a book which has lost its pith.” (SELECTED POEMS, Dufour Editions: Pennsyl- vania, 1970) MacDonald and Fifield provide a refreshing tonic to anyone fed up on piping cliches. This is one of several tracks that are worth the price of the album alone.

Anne Marie Summers and Stephen Tyler add the sound of English pipes through the music of 14th Century Spain and Italy. On the one hand, it’s about time this sound appeared on a LBPS recording. But on the other hand, the last time a Border tune appeared in this series was Gordon Mooney’s two tracks on the first Grand Concert recording. Perhaps the interest in Border piping per se is very slight in the UK? Moving beyond this question, however, the music here is very refined and some of the most pleasantly accessible on the album. This bagpipe music will impress even your most sophisticated friends.

There is a long abiding interest in Asturian and Galician piping among many of us. Xuan Muniz is one of the young talents bringing this music to the world’s stage along with Cristina Pato and Susana Seivane. Simon Bradley, who seems to be at home in just about any musical culture and tours the world with a variety of groups, joins Xuan on fiddle. Here is expert piping, beautiful music, but Xuan seems to need a double espresso. He never reaches the same level of excitement as we hear in Cristina’s piping, for example. It might be a question of personal style and taste or it may have been an off night for him.

The album finishes with Rory Campbell playing four cuts, the first accompanied by Malcolm Stitt’s signature jazzy guitar. Rory plays very fast. Rory plays with a very exciting, individual style. Rory plays with more rhythm than any pipe band drum corps. Although he careens dangerously towards the monochromatic, especially when he plays melodically soft tunes at light speed, his piping is more stunningly beautiful than ever. After wearing out the cassette tape of Rory’s first recording, “Magaid a Phipir” (Lochshore, CDLDL 1250) I bought the CD, and have since given many away as gifts. His subsequent recording projects disappointed this listener, however, until now. Here Rory’s bagpipe is mellifluous, well tuned, balanced, warm, glowing. The chanter is steady, true and clear, well up to the stan- dard of his fingering. Rory sails through the tunes like a sloop in the whitecaps off Barra.

This is piping at its most thrilling.

Ironically, in the first pressing of the CD Rory is shown and listed as playing the Highland pipes, when he is actually playing a Border pipe made by Hamish and Fin Moore. This excellent pipe does sound very much like a Highland pipe, so we can’t fault Greentrax too severely for the mistake, which will be corrected in the second pressing. Does it matter? For now at least, Border pipe tone and timbre are not as standardized as Highland pipe sound, which this piper considers a good thing. Perhaps, the next Grand Concert will celebrate the diversity.

John Dally


English and Border Music for Pipes

Dave Faulkner and Steve Turner

In true Ronseal style, this CD is exactly what it says on the tin! The prosaic title almost started me off on the wrong foot, but perseverance with the shrink wrap showed that this CD is not only informative, but is full of beauty, creativity and thoughtfulness. Dave Faulk- ner (Border Pipes) and Steve Turner (accordion) entwine their respective reeds into one sound that is rhythmic, melodic, powerful and sensitive.

Many of the tunes will be familiar to the Border pipe player with The Bonny Miller, The Hungarian Waltz (When I was a lady in the sleeve notes) and Lasses Make Your Tails Toddle in the line up- but these versions are far

from ordinary with Dave’s exemplary skills matched note for note by Steve’s melodic and rhythmic accordion playing.

All the tracks are played to a high standard of skill .... but two that stand out for me are 3: The Bonny Miller/ Rusty Gully where Dave’s nimble fingers flow effortlessly through these two great 3/2 hornpipes and 10: Alloa House. I dare any- one not to be moved by Dave’s low C pipes and the temporary appearance of Bb whistle.

As a fellow piper, my ear naturally homes in on the pipes, but on this album, you cannot ignore the flawless accompaniment of Steve Turner,

who’s deceptively simple arranging style lets the music breath with gentle chords, dancing rhythms and intricate harmonies.

I don’t normally write such one-sided effusive stuff - but this album really has caught my ear. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Border music without hesitation.

Its brilliant.

OK... so I can hear you thinking from here: “what’s     wrong     with     this     album?” Well ... only one thing really. The title. Its both wholly accurate yet it completely undersells this great musical offering. Get a post-it note and stick “MAGICAL” on the front and maybe it will match the contents!

Available    from     18     Breton    Way,    Moretonhampstead,    Devon     TQ13                   8JA. Tel +44 1647 440020 £13 inc p&p. Cheques payable to David Faulkner.

Vicki Swan