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The Collogue’s “Reels and Ragas" concert could easily have been an enjoyable but uneven experiment. Instead it was an evening of memorable music, writes Jim Gilchrist.

NIGEL Richard’s parting shot as chairman sounded an appealing idea on paper - combine some of the Society’s best pipers with top-notch Indian classical musicians; they both use drones, after all - and see what happens. One couldn’t help wondering how things would go on the night: in the event, however, it turned out to be an often exciting congruence of music traditions, an easeful collaboration which never sounded strained or contrived.

Played in front of a gratifyingly large audience in St Bride’s Centre in Edinburgh’s Orwell Terrace, the event was recorded and videoed by Peter Haigh of Pier House Studios, and it is to be hoped that a CD and/or DVD emerges of this memorable concert. The evening was opened by Simon McKerrell playing Border pipes and, on occasion, uilleann pipes, along- side well-known Glasgow-based tabla player Vijay Kangutkar and guitarist Tom Richardson. They generated a lively sound, with a fair bit of bite, as staccato pipes were driven by the rattling, rumbling tablas in up-tempo tunes such as The International Space Station.



An improvisational sequence, Living in the Now, from its languid guitar and tabla introduction gradually accelerated, the tuned drums and pipes once again complementing each other nicely. McKerrell changed to Irish pipes for a Gujarat folk song, and an Irish air became the alap or ruminative introductory section of a raga, before it slipped into a tabla rhythm. McKerrell returned to the Border pipes for some eastern-sounding tunes that involved plangent cross-fingering before things shifted into a reel.

The next line-up - Fraser Fifield switching between Border pipes, low whistle and saxophone, Nigel Richard on cittern, violinist Sharat Srivastava and Cyan Singh on tablas (the latter two from the fine Indian band Mrigya, which has visited Edinburgh in the past) - proved to be a muscular one indeed, perhaps at their most scintillating in a memorable rendition of Willie Murray’s Reel, which had fiddle and whistle answering each other lyrically with much improvisatory spark. Fifield’s own composition Psalm, inspired by the uniquely improvisatory nature of Gaelic psalm singing, seemed particularly suited to the line-up, with pipes and violin drifting together.

Another effective sequence opened with murmurs of cittern over a tamboura drone and Jan Garbarek-ish saxophone strains, sax and fiddle later sparring with each other The line- up’s closing number was the popular 9/8 Highland jig Donald Willie and His Dog, as you’ve never heard if before, with Srivastava’s violin shrilling frenetically and Singh in full flight on tablas and looking as if he was enjoying every minute of it.


The concert’s closing performance, from Allan MacDonald on small pipes and sitar player Mehboob Nadeem, may have been

relatively lower key and occasion- ally suffered from some tuning problems, but once they got into the flow of things (the small pipes birling along nicely over the buzz- ing sitar in a reel), this proved to be a richly rewarding collabora- tion, particularly in the songs - both Scots Gaelic and Indian. At one point, MacDonald sang puirt a beul - Gaelic mouth music, which built   up   over   call-and-response

between pipes and sitar, the pipes sometimes birling away on the “A” while the sitar extem- porised busily.

Nadeem’s ornate and richly toned singing featured in a Sufi religious song, while their closing song, from Argyllshire, had MacDonald singing in that rumbling bass of his, sitar murmuring alongside, before his Gaelic suddenly, though seamlessly, gave way to Nadeem’s quavering, microtonal vocals, before we returned from India to Argyll. On paper, this may seem somewhat esoteric and perhaps less inaccessible than some of the more exuberant moments, but there was something profoundly moving about the universality of this drone-based music - the drone of eternity, as it’s sometimes known, be it from pipe reed or sitar string.



AGM snippets

At the November Collogue and AGM, pipe-maker and piper Iain Kinnear offered to donate a prize set of pipes for the next Recital Competition. Iain’s offer was accepted by the committee amid much thanks and applause