Celtic Connections review: Piping Concert, Glasgow

Picture: Stephen Mansfield
Picture: Stephen Mansfield
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If everyone involved in this lunchtime performance followed procedure and let their instruments acclimatise to the venue’s temperature beforehand, the backstage must have been piled high with bagpipes that morning.

Piping Concert, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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Something like 40 sets featured onstage in total, together with a palette of accompanying instrumentation and even a few electronic backing tracks, as a longtime annual fixture of the Celtic Connections programme received something of a makeover. Where previous years’ concerts focused squarely on the realm of competitive-style piping and pipe bands, the 2014 line-up also vibrantly reflected the bagpipes’ thorough integration into contemporary folk sounds over recent decades.

Oban’s mighty Angus MacColl opened proceedings in classic style with a characteristically dazzling solo set, before Breabach’s Calum MacCrimmon reprised parts of his instrumental/vocal suite Boraraig, originally commissioned by last year’s Blas festival. With MacCrimmon leading a six-piece ensemble, even these edited highlights brilliantly illuminated bagpipe music’s bedrock role. Galician piper Xosé Manuel Budiño’s winningly spirited, funky set, also featuring saxophone, bouzouki, hand percussion, vocals and those aforementioned backing grooves, added an international Celtic connection, before the über-dynamic Scottish/Irish duo of Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson brought the first half to a breathtaking close.

After the interval, the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland strutted their stuff, their sound embodying a carefully-judged but imaginative balance between traditional discipline and 21st century innovation, though a distinctly ploddy rock-style rhythm section proved rather less than an ornament to the occasion.

Seen on 25.01.14