IN GEORGE Square, the loudly beating heart of Glasgow’s annual Piping Live! festival, two Hungarians – a piper and a fiddler – sound out the kind of reedily chirping tunes that might have enlivened some central-European village wedding.
Various Venues, Glasgow
The fiddler is Balázs Vizeli, the piper Balázs Istváni, whose bagpipes, with their goat’s head carving on the chanter stock, are now keening The Lament for the Lost Sheep – the sound, if you like, of the very pastoral roots of bagpiping.
Contrast this with an earlier episode in the same George Square, where probably the most exotically attired of the hundreds of visiting bands in this festival countdown to this weekend’s World Pipe Band Championship, the Sri Dashmesh Malaysian Sikh band from Kuala Lumpur, had just strutted their stuff and were now giving the good folk of Glasgow the selfie opportunities of a lifetime. Resplendent in tartan-sashed white tunics and turbans, they sent up a little camera drone which hovered round the arena, prompting MC Fergus Muirhead to comment that, thanks to modern technology, not only was there a drone orbiting the square but also a Piping Live! app for our delectation.
Such is the nature of today’s global piping scene. The course of the day embraced piping traditions from home and away, including Brittany, Galicia and Ireland. In the National Piping Centre, the fine Nova Scotian piper Matt MacIsaac paced the stage in some crisply articulated marches before demonstrating the all-out strathspey and reel style developed by the Scottish diaspora of Cape Breton Island.
In the same auditorium, there was further bagpipe internationalism as the inimitable Fred Morrison launched an album which he recorded at Piping Live! a few years ago. Supported by Steve Byrne on bouzouki and Martin O’Neill on bodhran, Morrison deployed Highland, uilleann and reel pipes in showpieces such as his Kansas City Hornpipe while his lovely whistle air The Reverend John Walker recalled a strange encounter in Seattle.
Later, in the filtered stained-glass light and splendid acoustic of the converted West End church that is Cottiers Theatre, the Big Music Society, formed by pipers Calum MacCrimmon and John Mulhearn, explored the contemporary possibilities of piobaireachd – the “big music” of the Highland bagpipe – with style and imagination. In an extraordinary, two-part performance, a small string section, plus MacCrimmon and Mulhearn on augmenting bagpipes and whistles, combined with two soloists – the first one of Scotland’s top competing pipers, Murray Henderson, then with Duncan Grant, a piper who pursues a parallel career as an electronic music producer under the pseudonym “Cain”.
There were wonderful moments – Henderson sounding out the ancient Lament for Hugh while MacCrimmon and Mulhearn chanted canntaireachd vocables against pulsing strings, or Grant’s Too Long in This Condition emerging from an electronic susurrus to signal magisterially over the singing of Megan Henderson’s violin.
Earlier in the day a major new International Bagpipe Conference was announced for Glasgow. Organised by the International Bagpipe Organisation, it will take place at the National Piping Centre on 26-28 February 2016, celebrating the elemental universality of the bagpipe. Drones, of the non-flying kind, will prevail.
Seen on 09.08.15 and 13.08.15
• Piping Live! continues until tomorrow. For our coverage of this weekend’s World Pipe Band Championships, see Monday’s Scotsman