“WHAT’S so Celtic about bagpipes, then?” the uninitiated might have asked during this week’s Piping Live! festival, a six-day celebration of piping at its most international leading up to today’s World Pipe Band Championships on Glasgow Green.
True, the city centre resounds to the thunder of tartan-swathed pipe bands, many from far beyond these shores, their origins engendered by Highland emigration and imperial expansion. But there are also many indigenous piping traditions, some long forgotten but lately revived: not least our next-door neighbours, as English bagpipe revivalist and pipemaker Jon Swayne reminded us in a talk at the National Piping Centre.
A founder member of the seminal English band Blowzabella and currently a member of the bagpipe orchestra Zephyrus, Swayne pointed to an established English bagpipe tradition – as illustrated by, among others, the 18th century satirical artists Hogarth and Rowlandson.
He and fellow Zephyrian Dave Faulkner demonstrated his mellow-toned and near-chromatic Border-pipe-style instrument in harmonious duet, including an old tune collected by one Thomas Hardy.
Still in the Piping Centre, it was on to more familiar territory with a recital from Jack Lee, pipe sergeant and co-founder of the formidable Simon Fraser University Pipe Band from Vancouver, six times world champions and part of a veritable invasion of Canadian bands for this year’s championships.
Lee ranged confidently from floor-pacing 2/4 marches, through strathspeys and reels, to culminate in the piobaireachd The Lament for Colin Roy MacKenzie, a stately, sorrowful call echoing across three centuries. Outside, the festival’s Street Café was in full swing, a pipe and drum trio from another transatlantic band, the Los Angeles Scots, drawing lunchtime crowds. Piping as popular culture never seemed so well established.
Crowds also basked in sunshine and reed radiance in George Square, Glasgow’s municipal sit-ootery transformed into a piping arena and on Wednesday given over largely to Canadian bands.
There were more exotic sounds, though, as the Estonian group Ro:Toro showcased their country’s faintly Heath-Robinson-ish looking pipes, their two girl pipers playing fast-fingered, swirling music in a contemporary setting with electric guitar, soprano sax and a bizarre tuned percussion set-up involving water-filled plastic basins.
The Gaels reclaimed the pipes as their own in the evening concert, Òrain nam Pìobairean, with Gaelic song’s relationship with pipe music reflected in Kathleen MacInnes’s beautiful rendering of Tha Sneachd’ air Druim Uachdair – “Snow on Drumochter”, accompanied by Gregor Lawrie on small pipes. MacInnes’s beguilingly smoky tones were nicely complimented both by Lawrie’s vocal and guitar accompaniments and by another fine singer, Sineag MacIntyre.
The powerful Highland band Breabach finished the concert in blazing style, their two pipers, Calum MacCrimmon and James Mackenzie, switching between Highland pipes and whistles, while fiddler and singer Megan Henderson threw some sprightly step-dancing into the mix. It did seem needlessly overamplified, though, muddying their eloquent setting of Edwin Muir’s poem Scotland’s Winter, but the audience loved it, the many Gaels joining in enthusiastically when MacInnes, Lawrie and MacIntyre augmented the band for a stirring island anthem led by Henderson.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east