Music review: Piping Live!, Glasgow

The World Pipe Band Championships kick off tomorrow in Glasgow and will welcome 50,000 spectators and 8,000 performers from 150 nations. Picture: TSPL
The World Pipe Band Championships kick off tomorrow in Glasgow and will welcome 50,000 spectators and 8,000 performers from 150 nations. Picture: TSPL
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IT’S well-nigh impossible to avoid Piping Live!, the festival that counts down to the World Pipe Band Championships which reach their climax today on Glasgow Green.

Piping Live

Various venues, Glasgow

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A stroll up Buchanan Street on Thursday, for instance, found the Canberra Burns Club band forming a strident ring of pipers and drummers below the statue of Donald Dewar, who gazed, unmoved, from his plinth toward distant and possibly quieter horizons.

In the city’s West End, for the College of Piping’s “Piobaireachd of the Day”, Finlay Johnston played His Father’s Lament for Donald McKenzie, written by John Ban MacKenzie after his son died of smallpox. It was one of those melodies that sound as if they’re coming from a long way off, a father’s grief calling over a century and a half.

Back at the festival’s hub at the National Piping Centre, Angus MacColl, a renowned gold medallist, was in mid-flow during a packed-out recital. Between crisp marches and acrobatic jigs and hornpipes, he too took us into the realms of piobaireachd, with the stately Red Speckled Bull.

In the Homecoming Tent in Candleriggs, meanwhile, Austrian piper Michael Vereno demonstrated the bock – not a beer but the old bagpipe of Bohemia, a nicely pastoral-sounding assembly of bellows, goatskin bag and chanter and drone crowned with brass-mounted horns.

Outside, perhaps the most heartening experience of the day was to witness the North Lanarkshire Schools Pipe Band, some of its players so diminutive as to seem positively embryonic, play an impressively crisp set, unfazed by threatening skies. It was a powerful indicator of emerging talent, as was the finale of the festival’s Pipe Idol competition, won by its youngest entrant, 14-year-old Calum Ian Brown from Peterculter, who was presented with a set of Fred Morrison Reel Pipes, sponsors of the contest.

The evening concert in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland featured two suites, the first being Calum MacCrimmon’s Boreraig, celebrating the Canadian-born, Glasgow-based piper’s distinguished piping lineage. He was joined by fellow-members of his band Breabach, as well as fiddler Eilidh Shaw, singer-harpist Mischa MacPherson, Angus Nicholson on pipes and the fine Skye singer Darren MacLean. One emotionally-charged moment was a non-pipe one, as MacLean led the ensemble in a swell of Gaelic song; the other was when Calum stepped down from the stage to play a magisterial piobaireachd written by his father for his grandfather, bass and fiddle creating a rich harmonic background.

Rakish Paddy Blues saw the formidable trio of the Vallely brothers – Niall (concertina), Cillian (uilleann pipes) and Caoimhin (piano) – combine with poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn and guests including another Irish piper, Jarlath Henderson, and Scot Angus Mackenzie on Border pipes and whistle.

They were later joined by two Asturian pipers, José Manuel and Javier Tejedor, just off the plane but introducing an exhilarating shrilling of Spanish gaita.

After an unfocused-sounding opening, things coalesced as, over electronic sound collages or Caoimhin’s delicate piano, Mac Lochlainn’s highly alliterative and evocative poetry celebrated pipers, makers and the life-affirming nature of piping itself. “The whole bar has awakened to this abracadabra of sound,” Mac Lochlainn declaimed: he might have been summing up the whole festival.

• The Piping Live! festival runs until tomorrow