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“The Islay Ball”                  Gary West                   Greentrax, CDTRAX 221)

As Gary's solo debut, this album provides a showcase for his strong, driving piping style.

Naturally the pipes are right up in the front of the mix for nine of the total twelve tracks, solo for two (highland pipes) and backed by deep, flowing colourful arrangements of cello, bouzouki, harp, concertina, fiddle, guitar, piano and more for the rest. The solo 2/4 Marches & title track ‘The Islay Ball’ leave us in no doubt as to Gary's prowess on the pipes. Plenty of swing and bounce comes through on the marches, and while the slow air ‘Saligo Bay’, one of Gary's own, is not his strongest tune, the ‘Islay Ball’ set as a whole is a lovely piece of playing. His pipes are sounding great with just that touch of gritty crunch on the top ‘A’.

Equally well represented on the album are the smallpipes, which slice their way through a wide selection of music from the opening reels to the flamenco-style breakdown finale of the only song ‘A Camilo Jorge’, an enchanting original number in Spanish sung by Carlos Arredondo. The presentation of two pieces from the William Dixon manuscript is certainly the most sensitive rendition of these tunes I’ve ever heard. The usually stark de- lineation between simple and chaotically complex strains is dissolved as Gary makes sense of even the most obscure variations. The whole is given a stately, processional feel under- lined first by the concertina, which is joined in the second piece ‘Ranger’s Frolic’ by an en- semble of bouzouki & cello.

Kilworth Hills is presented on the ‘D’ smallpipes in a spacious arrangement with cello. It’s a lovely tune of course, and the decision to present the first part solo on the pipes is judicious. The cello brings in some sweeping harmonies for a part before taking on the melody very beautifully itself. Smallpipes make their final fiery appearance on track 8. Scarce o Tatties rips along at a cracking pace, hotly pursued by an adaptation of ‘The Gold Ring’, a classic Uilleann Piping jig.

The closing two tracks are the most redolent of an island ceilidh dance of any on the CD. ‘Loosen the Ties’ follows right on the heels of the relatively conservative title track, and you can just picture Gary loosening his tie before diving into this exuberant set. He’s joined by his ceilidh band ‘Hugh MacDiarmid's Haircut’ who do the ceilidh thing in great style with the Muckle Pipes sitting centre stage and blasting their way through some of the most rhythm-driven jigs in the book, joined by a side drum which comes in second time through the set to drive the dance on powerfully. Then after that it’s time for ‘The Last Waltz at the Islay Ball’, and I’m knackered! You can almost smell the fags, booze and sweat, see the couples swaying under the lights to this original composition which has all the feel of the very best of ceilidh waltz tunes..

As a whole, ‘The Islay Ball’ is well balanced, energetically presented and well aware of its roots.

The choice of a straight piping set as the title track is no mistake, Gary's playing is firmly rooted in the tradition and whilst any one of the other tracks may have made for a flashier showpiece the statement can be understood. Overall a great CD and highly recom- mended for lovers of good piping & good music.

Donald Lindsay


Slainte Mhath                                            Greentrax Recordings.


AN exhilarating blast from the Gaelic diaspora, the predominant sound of this eponymous compilation album by Slainte Mhath is that of Bruce MacPhee’s Highland, reel and small pipes, sounding with manic dexterity over Ryan MacNeil’s Cape Breton piano-boogie accompaniment and a purposeful wallop of assorted drums and percussion from Brian Talbot. Throw in additional drive from from mandolin, fiddle and the odd burst of step dancing, and you have Slainte Mhath, if you can catch them.

MacPhee is a powerfuly accomplished young player - enough to make an old man’s fingers corruscate in despair just listening to him. Although, it has to be noted (and I noted it, too, at their roof-lifting concert at Sabhal Mor Ostaig in Skye this summer) that those idiosyncratic things we call drones seem to have largely gone out the window. Very conven- ient, I know, when it comes to tuning; perhaps arguably superfluous, considering the kind of deil-tak-the-hindmaist accompanists you have here, but, hey, isn't there a certain fundamen- tal bagpipe dynamic getting lost?

Also, a leavening of subtlety might be welcome by way of the odd air. The only con- cession, on this album, at least, is a version of the old Irish *Si Bheag, Si Mhor*, rendered on rather heavy-handed piano and couched in a somewhat clipped “string” accompaniment reminiscent of a King Crimson mellotron, *circa* 1970 ... but, there; I’m showing my age again.

Carping apart, be warned: these people take no prisoners. A rerr terr as they say in the west, with punch and panache a-plenty.

Jim Gilchrist.



Border Seasons Matt Seattle with Mr McFall’s String Quartet. (DFM CD0101).

Matt Seattle, well known for his interesting piping style, original compositions and his re-discovery of Dixon tunes, has brought out his latest offering in Border Seasons (DFM CD0101). It is an innovative recording in collaboration with Mr. McFall’s String Quartet, which is part of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and also of Mr. McFall’s Chamber, which Matt describes as “..a gloriously eclectic ensemble”. The result is a recording which brings a Baroque flavour to Border pipe tunes. There are obvious problems with such a union of course - the pipes have no dynamics and therefore can sometimes seem a little overpower- ing for the subtler accompaniment - but on the whole it is a glorious combination and richly justifies the experiment.

There are twelve tracks on the CD, 9 written by Matt himself, of which 4 make up the ‘Border Seasons’ suite with which the CD ends and, to quote its composer “..uses the musi- cal equivalent of a limited palette, each tune painting a season with a different selection from the nine-note pipe scale’’ (shades of ‘The Master Piper’ here with its ‘Nine notes that shook the world’!). The chanter produces some good crossed fingered notes in this suite with exquisite syncopation in the arrangements and fine, even variations.

I was a little irritated to hear ‘Lindisfarne’ making yet another appearance. I know Matt regards it as his “greatest hit so far” but do we have to hear it on every recording he makes,


lovely tune though it is. I was far more impressed with the section entitled ‘A Little Water Music’ which comprised the tunes ‘Cuddyside,’ ‘Leithen Water.’ and ‘Tyne Anew’, each lovely haunting tunes in themselves with excellent arrangements. I could almost hear the water flowing. But perhaps my favourite is the wonderful traditional tune ‘Lass of Livingston’ from Richard Reavely’s Northumbrian pipe manuscript, which Matt arranges in a lively, bouncy syncopated way.

I felt that in certain tracks the pipes were slightly flat, and this may be due to suspect tuning on the top hand. Also in places the top notes were strident and hard on the ear (mainly in the slower tracks) and seemed to go off key when sustained for any length of time which might be due to an unstable reed or variable temperature in the recording studio? But these were only small irritations in what is an excellent and innovative piece of work and a welcome addition to my collection. I note that Scottish Borders Council Arts Service and the National Lottery provided financial support for the production of the CD and it is gratifying to see that at last pipe music is being taken seriously.

Border Seasons is available from Dragonfly Music. PO Box 13772. Peebles, Scotland, EH45 8YE priced £ 12.

Sam Allen