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The title of the outstanding CD could be interpreted as Robert escaping from his familiar Whistlebinkies mode and the treadmill of the competition circuit. We must be thankful that the electric fence was turned off long enough for him to do so because this well chosen medley of tunes for bellows blown Scottish pipes gives a great boost to the musical reputation of these pipes. The way they can be played when matched with guitar, piano,              viola and cello in the tasteful arrangements by the prolific but modest Glasgow based                 composer and ’Binkies flute player Eddie McGuire, is a revelation.

Eddie McGuire’s own theme from his opera the Loving of Evain is arranged here for cello and Lowland pipes and shows how well these two instruments can sound together.

One feature of Robert’s piping that comes over strongly to me is influence of competition playing in his tracks of Barra marches (the Isle of Barra March by Duncan Johnstone in B minor followed by the A major Father John Macmillan). These marches are played strongly pointed and cut and the tachums seem to jump out at one. Listening to the strathspey and reel on track 12 (The Ewe Wi’ The Crookit Horn and Pipe Major Calum Campbell) both played on the small pipe in D all the embellishments are to be heard cleanly which is extraordinary given the finger spacing of this small chanter. However, considering Robert’s long and distinguished record on the competition circuit, how could it be other?

Robert’s own composition, The Barlinnie Highlander, is on track one, and this hornpipe is arranged for Lowland pipes and piano by Eddie McGuire. You can find it written down in Robert’s book of music entitled the Glasgow Collection (1986) now in its fourth reprint (Scottish Music Pub). Other tunes from the Glasgow Collection book are Broderick's Bodhran and Andrew Wallace on track 9. Again Lowland pipes and cello sound inspired together. The harmony of two sets of Lowland pipes in the second tune mixed with a string quartet in the second reel is interesting but a little fussy I felt.

The ground and first variation of the pibroch The Old Woman’s Lullaby on track 10 is played on B flat small pipes and has inspired me to attempt pibroch playing if I can find someone to teach me. The rich harmonics from the drones in fifths and the chanter double tracked in the variation of the ground makes a wonderful sound. If I have a favourite on this CD it is this piece. Double tracking harmonies can be heard on the next track of two tunes from Gordon Mooney’s book of music for the Lowland pipes. :

In my judgement this CD ranks as a true benchmark in the continuing world-wide explosion of interest in bellows blown Scottish bagpipes. The LBPS owes a debt of gratitude to pioneers such as Robert and the Whistlebinkies. Proper acknowledgement is made on the sleeve to stalwarts such as Hamish Moore and Gordon Mooney for their contribution in re-establishing the whole tradition of Scottish bellows piping. Buy it and be inspired!   JB                 ANNA MURRAY - INTO INDIGO                    (Lochshore)

Anna Murray’s first album, Out of the Blue, was an eye-opener (er, shouldn’t that be earopener? - ed): here was a fine Gaelic singer and Highland piper (and Gaelic soap star, to boot), wielding small pipes with panache in syncopated company that included the rhythm section of Glasgow’s “alternative” pipe band Macumba. Now we have the follow-up, Into Indigo (Lochshore), complete with colour-co-ordinated title and a faintly weird album cover. Once again this makes for often exhilarating listening, with songs and tunes shifting - sometimes swerving exuberantly - between the traditional and the contemporary.

The standard and tone are set by slow, hypnotic processional of the opening tune, Finbarr

Saunders, from the middle of which Murray’s voice rises effectively into the song Gaol Na H-Oige (“Young Love”). At another point a set on the small pipes suddenly breaks off for a chorus of waulking songs before launching into a reel on Highland pipes; elsewhere among the song tracks there is the simmering reproach of An Deidh’s mo Mhealladh (“After Deceiving Me”) and the raw, blues-inflected Saoil a Mhor am Pos Thu? (“Morag, do you think you'll marry?”), complete with wailing harmony from Macartney.

The accompaniments in general are first-rate, complimenting the pipes and rarely adding excess ballast; although, with often quite hefty ensemble work involving keyboards, drums, fiddles and guitar, bass - the works - one marvels, as ever, at the wonders of modern sound systems at matching such a battery of instrumentation with a delicate wee set of small pipes! I enjoyed the use of a beefy Hammond organ at times, especially during the song A Ghaoil Saoil Am Faigh Mi Thu? (“My Love will you be Mine?”), a pell mell piece of Gaidhealtacht rock, complete with rollicking small pipes break, but found the combination of Hammond and Highland pipes in one set of reels a bit on the cumbersome side.

Far more successful, to my mind, were two snappy jig sets that fairly bounded along - the Southpark House set, with its purposeful opening over an electric guitar stutter, and another which, after a joyful fiddle link, bursts into Atlantic Bridge, a fine jig I hadn’t heard since it was the title tune on a memorable Davey Spillane album.

Anna Murray did a brief but very impressive solo spot at a LBPS Collogue a couple of years back; this album suggests we invite her back - at a Collogue or elsewhere - as soon as possible.

Jim Gilchrist                                                                           

                 Second Grand Concert of Piping                      CTRAX 128

The second grand concert of piping organised by Hamish Moore together with the 1996 LBPS Collogue, was an evening of virtuoso piping which no-one who was present will ever forget. This recording is a worthy souvenir and can be strongly recommended to anyone who was not fortunate enough to be there.

It starts with four players of the Highland pipes, from Ireland, a subset of the St Laurence

O’Toole Pipe Band, playing a haunting Breton slow air, from which they break into a set of Strathspey, reel and hornpipe. They follow with two more sets, hornpipe with jigs, slow air with reels. A well planned series of medleys, played with impeccable tuning and timing, and with some nice harmonies.

Then comes Patrick Molard with two sets of Breton tunes on Scottish smallpipes and one set of dances on the biniou: heard unusually here as a solo instrument, without the usual bombarde player to lead. John MacLean from Cape Breton, plays Highland pipes, with sets comprising strathspey with reels, just reels, and march-strathspey-reel. The Celtic con- nection winds up with Malcolm Robertson on smallpipes again, playing three sets - jigs, slides and polkas.

If all this sounds conventional, the reality certainly is not. Hamish had assembled a group of pipers each of whom had something subtly new to express. The faster tunes were played in that round style which has become more accepted in the last twenty years, and all the players proved, if proof were needed, that “round” does not mean facile or devoid of expression. The tunes were well shaped, if I can put it that way, the phrases rolling out with an infectious foot-tapping rhythm. I felt that the lights and shades of timing were coming in as a byproduct of an overview of how the tune should go, rather than being merely put in by applying rules or reading dots and semiquavers on paper. It is the art that conceals art. (Sorry about all these cliches; in essence I just want to say that you have to listen to it, not read about it).

To the traditionally taught Highland piper, it is perhaps John Maclean’s performance that gives the most food for thought. I have to confess that on the night, at first, it was passing me by. Yes, he did sit to play, which was unusual; and his rhythms, even in the march, were particularly springy. But I thought, wasn’t he playing just like I do? - apart of course from being several orders of magnitude better than I will ever be. Well yes, he was, but then I have never wanted to play the high competition style and I have always tried to play dance music as for dancing. And that was the point. We gather from Hamish that there is still a tradition of pipe music for dancing in Cape Breion which has been handed down unaffected by the trend towards slow tempos, pointing and standardisation that define the “competition” style today. I confess to being always a bit sceptical about claims that something or other has been handed down in an unbroken chain from the distant past; but whatever the history,


this is music to dance to, to listen to, and to encourage other pipers to experiment.

And then (to continue the cliches), something completely different. From a distance the Sardinian launeddas looks like nothing more than three pieces of bamboo cane. Close up, it’s seen to be a finely crafted instrument, three pipes with beating reeds, one a drone, the other two chanters with very accurately cut holes. Franco Melis and Orlando Mascia had a whole suitcase-full of them, in different tunings and sizes. They play by circular breathing and the whole set-up, pipes plus piper, is a bagpipe with bass drone and diverging double chanter, except that the player's mouth is the bag, and the three pipes are just separate pipes. They would start by blowing simultaneously one chanter with drone, then after a few warm-up phrases, nonchalantly pop the second chanter into the mouth without stopping the flow. The music is a lively burbling counterpoint. It takes time to adjust to this continuous rush of sound. In fact it’s a salutary reminder of what our pipe music can sound like to the uninitiated even when well played, and these Sardinian players were masters. The pieces tend to be long and it was explained to us that they are sets of variations on some initial theme which can be a song or dance tune. I cannot claim to have fully understood this music even on repeated playing of the tape, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

All in all this recording is a unique musical experience and I can thoroughly recommend it to every piper.

Roderick Cannon


                                 CELTIC FRINGE; Arrangements and Originals

Here are some 36 tunes from Jock Agnew. Some are his and some he has made his, demonstrating them in church halls in West London and elsewhere, and of course on the Celtic Fringe cassettes we buy from him.

Some tunes are presented specifically for the smallpipes; some for Border or other pipes on which you can cross-finger accidentals and pinch the submediant at the top of the range. There are also duets for pipes and duets for pipes with other instruments. The concertina is the suggested other instrument, because, I imagine, when Jock plays the tunes with Celtic Fringe Sam Allen is on concertina, but other combinations are of course possible and on some tunes maybe better; the fiddle would sound great on some of these arrangements. At the end are some songs.

The parts for the pipes are written in the deeply suspect A natural fingering deprived of which those who graduated from the pipe bands become confused and fall silent. Of course you can treat it as whistle fingering if you play unaccompanied, and then it will really sound in A natural. The duets for non-pipes have the second part both in piping and whistle settings, which helps.

What of the tunes themselves? The first time I tried them out I was pipeless in a spare bedroom in Buckhurst Hill and I did them partly in my head and partly on a whistle. This is a severe enough test of any tune, since the Wild Dance is subdued, if anywhere, in Buckhurst Hill, and a tune, if it is to work in a spare bedroom, must do so in the abstract, without the sonority and gracings of the pipes (the latter, incidentally, gratifying left to our own judgement here.)

Some of the tunes are familiar, but nice to have in print. There is the extraordinarily wonderful and dignified (and entirely misnamed) “Itchy Fingers”; the folkies’ “Layla”. There is “Da Merry Boys o’Greenland” with a good new harmony; (but if the title has to be in vernacular, could it not be rendered in some way that does not irresistibly suggest Joe Pesci talking New York Italian?)

There are some oddities. Jock suggests a new second part to the jig “Maid on the Green”. It is quite good, but not as good as the one I thought everyone played already. Then there is “Haste to the Wedding”, a tune people get carried away on and often make rather un- pleasant whooping noises towards the end of the second part. Jock’s version is sober, and phrased in such a way that whooping is possible only for the really determined. At first I thought he'd missed the whole point, but now I think he’s improved the tune.

And then Jock’s own compositions. Some passed the spare bedroom test. “Open the Gates”, for instance, sings off the page. Some, especially the slower ones, I think you have to play or hear: “Exiled”, for example; looks dullish on the page but sounds great. All of them repay learning, mastering and performing.

I was not sure about the songs. This is partly because I conceived a deep-felt dislike of

“Sing Heigh! for Merry Mankind” ages ago, when I first heard it on one of the Celtic Fringe tapes, and finding it here was a shock. A degree of wooliness is acceptable, even   attractive, but this is several jumpers too far. Most pipers will in any event be inclined to sneer at music with words, however good, so nothing is lost.

Finally, we have the photo on page 6 of the author thrusting his chanter between his thighs in order, it says, to achieve a low F natural. What is acceptable among musicians, who are, when all is said and done, a raffish and disorderly crowd, is not necessarily appropriate                behaviour for the editor of this magazine. We have to question whether the loss of dignity is justified, even if the low F natural was achieved.

Robin Bynoe.