page 20

Jock Agnew, indefatigable LBPS activist and champion of the Lowland/Border pipes, has brought out a very useful cassette, LOWLAND AMUSEMENT, showing the possibilities of these pipes, which have not fared so well to date within the cauld-wind revival as the Scottish small pipes. Featuring Jock on a nicely toned Lowland pipe (in A), sometimes double tracking, occasionally accompanied by another musician, LOWLAND AMUSEMENT provides plenty of food for thought, and for the fingers, in terms of repertoire and of technique such as "shivering the back lil", note bending, vibrato and cross-fingering.

It has to be said, also, that some of the piping here wouldn't stand up to severe critical scrutiny. The playing want lightness of fingering at times and the reels, in particular, lack sparkle or fluidity. However I suspect that Jock wouldn't make any inflated claims for this tape other than those of “work in progress”.

The first side of the cassette features traditional “Lowland” tunes or new compositions in that idiom, the second more eclectic material, ranging from a Breton set to morris tunes and even Chatanooga Choo Choo! The opening track pretty well encapsulates the pluses and minuses of this recording: it starts with the ancient Cuttymun and Treladle, played slowly using C natural, giving it a certain haunting air but losing its rant: then the reel Lowland Amusement itself, a nice tune that could do with skeelier fingering: and a nice pairing of Pawky Adam Glen and Robin Shure in Hairst.

Jock’s plangent air Lie Peacefully There is the first of two tracks that feature the strikingly effective combination of Lowland and small pipes, both in A, that gives a very nice sound indeed. My criticism here is in the very pointed use of sliding, which loses dramatic effect a more sparing used slide can have: even more so in Jock’s playing of The Banks of Lochiell, in which the exaggerated sliding, including a squall from high A to G, mars a beautiful tune. The track that really hangs in my mind after listening to this cassette is Jock’s version of The Road North (Alistair Anderson’s tune, not Alastair Fraser’s), which sounds superb on the Lowland pipes, with nice vibrato and effective harmony line from Sam Allen’s concertina. An inspired choice.

Elsewhere there's effective “octave playing” on Lowland and small pipes, with two melodies - Jenny’s Fain and Stumpie - being set in counterpoint to each other. The Top of the Clints is a snappy jig written. By Jock, featuring double-tracked Lowland pipes, while another self-penned tune, the drolly titled I’ve Lost my Sgian Dhu, uses plenty of unorthodox fingering but is a bit laboured, although I liked the Breton feel to the minor-moded air that followed, Grim Douglas. Similarly, on the second side, his “minored” version of Dancing Feet is interesting - but doesnae’ dance! The genuine Breton set on this side has a chirpier feel to it.

Jock Agnew is steadily exploring the possibilities of the Lowland pipes. In making this cassette he is shedding some useful light along his path for the benefit of fellow-travellers. Available from Jock Agnew, 11 Ulting Lane, Langford, Essex CM9 6QB. Price £5.50 pounds sterling including postage.                                                        

JG. April 1993.