Music: There are bagpipes galore at TradFest this year '“ and not just the Highland variety

Thirty or 40 years ago it would have been unimaginable '“ a mainstream concert platform presenting Scotland's restored panoply of bagpipes; not just the ubiquitous great Highland bagpipe but also the Lowland or Border pipes and small pipes which had long become all but defunct. Yet Edinburgh's 12-day TradFest of folk arts and culture kicks off on 26 April at the Queen's Hall with just such a showcase, featuring the various pipes and piping styles which have enjoyed a significant renaissance over the past three decades or so.

Callum Armstrong celebrates the Borders tradition on Scottish small pipes
Callum Armstrong celebrates the Borders tradition on Scottish small pipes

Bagpipes Gu Leòr (it translates loosely from Gaelic as “bagpipes galore”) celebrates this vigorous resurgence with an impressive line-up of players from piping genres ranging from a contemporary take on Borders tradition from Callum Armstrong on Scottish small pipes with cellist George Pasca, to Skye-born Brighde Chaimbeul, last year’s BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner for 2016.

From Moidart and South Uist respectively, Allan MacDonald and Seonaidh MacIntyre combine piping and singing, with MacDonald’s piobaireachd interpretation informed by his scholarly work on the relationship between pipe music and Gaelic song. The world of top-level competition piping is represented by Roddy MacLeod, director of the National Piping Centre, while the duo of Angus Mackenzie and Fin Moore will play Highland pipes in the old pitch of A, rather than today’s B flat, and Mackenzie also teams up with his bandmate from the group Daimh, fiddler Gabe McVarish.

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The “cauld wind pipes” revival of bellows-blown instruments, the emergence of the Lowland & Border Pipers’ Society and the confluence of the folk scene with established Highland piping have all contributed to developments over the past 30 to 40 years, agrees the concert’s organiser, piper and pipemaker Hamish Moore, who has played an importat part in the revival in his own right. “There’s been a huge renaissance,” he says, “but I felt the full range of it had never been celebrated on a big prestigious stage, so I chatted to Donald Smith [director of TradFest] about it and the Queen’s Hall came up as an option.”

Moore refers to the affiliation or fellowship of pipers – Càirdeas nam Pìobairean – assembled to promote all strands of piping, “so we’re just trying to give the public the opportunity to hear what’s been going on over the past 30 years.”

The concert will open with Angus MacKenzie and Fin Moore playing Highland pipes in the old key of A which Moore made based on the 18th-centiury “Black Set of Kintail” in Inverness Museum.

Moore has been in touch with Historic Scotland and there are hopes of a similar showcase concert in Stirling Castle later in the summer. In the meantime, what of the next 30 years? “I hope that, as more great young players come to the fore and as more research is done, more will emerge of the rich diversity of our piping culture.”

And diversity is a keynote in TradFest. Moore crops up again, this time with fiddler Sarah Hoy, in a May Day concert, “The Flooers o’ May”, that also features Mairi Campbell and fiddler Adam Sutherland as well as Karine Polwart re-uniting with her former Malinky bandmate Steve Byrne. That concert, at Summerhall, is just one of a TradFest series run there by Soundhouse, with acts including Rura, the Kaela Rowan Band, Redwood Mountain (singer-songwriter Dean Owens with fiddler Amy Geddes), Dallahan and the award-winning Irish group Connla.

Other events include a Battle of the Folk Bands at La Belle Angèle on 7 May and the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill on 30 April, while the festival encompasses song, dance and story showcases of Edinburgh people’s heritage at the Storytelling Centre, and a celebration of the Hebridean “psalmboats” in Lorgan Bàta nan Salm, also at the centre. International culture is celebrated in events such as Baghdad is Still Singing and a performance featuring Japanese and Basque percussion.

TradFest runs from 26 April until 7 May, see www.tracscotland.org/festivals/tradfest