Blair Atholl, October

 Hamish Moore always has a new project on the go and a concert full of luminaries from both the Highland and bellows worlds at Blair Atholl hall on the eve of the Glenfiddich was his latest venture. In an age when attendance at live music events is being killed by live streaming, it was great to see a packed hall – even though there had reputedly been a few sleepless nights waiting for last minute ticket sales to come in.
Dr Angus MacDonald threw down the gauntlet, opening with a full-on selection of tunes played with the dexterity of a man half his age on a beautiful bagpipe requiring minimal tuning. Wow! Brighde Campbell fresh from her Radio 2 Horizon award gave us a lovely take on Highland Laddie and some tunes taken from recordings of canntaireachd in the School of Scottish Studies on her smallpipe, finishing up with a duet with Finn Moore who reappeared on reel pipes for a couple of sets together with his wife Sarah Hoy. This included a lovely tribute set to Jock Tamson’s Bairns and the combination of fiddle and well matched reel pipe was very musical.
Local boy Gary West gave us his staple Drumcorrie slow air and a set of Gordon Duncan tunes while Angus Nicolson impressed on Border pipes with an MSR including Angus Macdonald’s Spitfire and some reels à la Seudan (of which he’s a member).
The final piper was Stuart Liddell who appeared kilted(!) and took requests from the audience which included Highland Wedding, the Black Bear and some clever knee work to produce Auld Lang Syne with all notes at the correct pitch!
In summing up, Hamish commented on the change that has overtaken piping within his lifetime – 20 years ago the only vehicle for hearing pipes was competition in all its formality, today not only do we have a variety of instruments and a depth of sounds and styles to bring out the living tradition but players routinely take time to introduce their tunes, enhancing the audience’s enjoyment.
This will be a hard act to follow – the trouble with an epic event is it’s hard to maintain the quality if you try to do it again and I suspect the ambition to make it an annual event may not work out. But if there was ever a man to come up with something surprising and new, it’s Hamish.

Rona Dawson