Piping Live! festival to put Glasgow at the heart of Scottish piping

This year’s Piping Live! will be a hybrid affair, combining limited-audience recitals with online concerts, but it can still bill itself as “the world’s largest piping festival,” writes Jim Gilchrist

TRYST PIC: John Slavin / Designfolk Ltd
TRYST PIC: John Slavin / Designfolk Ltd

A “tryst” may suggest a clandestine meeting, often with romantic intent, but there’s nothing covert about the TRYST piping collective who will premiere a clutch of new commissions during Glasgow’s 18th Piping Live! festival, which kicks off on 7 August.

An innovative creative piping force to be reckoned with, TRYST will perform new pieces of music commissioned from five musicians in the wider folk scene, each known for their composing strengths – Donald Shaw of Capercaillie, Martin Green, accordionist with Lau, harpist Rachel Newton, multi-instrumentalist Mike Vass and Perthshire fiddle and viola player Patsy Reid. Intriguingly, however, none of these composers – engaged with the help of a PRS Foundation Open Fund commission – is a piper.

It may sound perverse, but as TRYST piper John Mulhearn, head of piping studies at the National Piping Centre which hosts the festival, explains: “As a band we were looking for new material to invigorate us. TRYST was put together by pipers who are composers anyway, so we’d already been down that road with commissions for ourselves. It felt like a good opportunity to look outside the group, but the idea was also to show how far piping has come over the past 25 years since the Piping Centre was established.”

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    The composers seem to have got the measure of the Highland bagpipe in their own ways. Accordionist Donald Shaw, for instance, is well acquainted with pipe music through his band Capercaillie. Fiddler Patsy Reid meanwhile, according to Mulhearn learned the rudiments of piping as a child: “So she had a bit more insight into the practicalities of the instrument, but her piece is, I suppose, also quite inspired by her abilities as a string arranger.”

    TRYST will share a bill with the high-powered fiddle-led Kinnaris Quintet in the Piping Centre Auditorium on 13 August. And while Covid has meant that the mighty World Pipe Band Championships, normally the climax of the festival, won’t be taking place on Glasgow Green for a second year, Piping Live! remains billed as the world’s largest piping festival, this year taking a hybrid approach, combining limited-audience recitals at the National Piping Centre with online concerts.

    The programme ranges from prestigious solo piping competitions such as the Silver Chanter to lunchtime recitals from the likes of Dr Angus MacDonald, James Mackenzie and Fred Morrison as well as spotlighting emerging talent, in association with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The Lowland & Border Pipers’ Society showcases Scotland’s bellows pipes with leading exponents such as Fraser Fifield and Gary West, while other folk-orientated concerts feature the multi-instrumental duo of Mairearad Green and Anna Massie, folk-rockers Mànran and the trio Project Smok.

    Pre-recorded sessions include such renowned musicians as Ross Ainslie and Adam Sutherland, Finlay MacDonald and Marie Fielding, as well as the Torupilli Jussi Trio from Estonia and Brittany’s Enora Morice. There are also two book-launches – Dan Nevans’s Piobaireachd is for Everyone and Iain McDonald’s historical novel I Piped, That She Might Dance.

    John Mulhearn, meanwhile, is himself in the final stages of a book, Let Piping Flourish, its title a play on Glasgow’s motto, celebrating the Dear Green Place as the beating heart of Scottish piping. The book has emerged from his Masters Degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and for it he has assembled a “Glasgow canon” of more than 200 tunes, as well as an extensive introduction charting a piping history “that to a large extent is a story of Highland immigration”.

    He cites pioneering bands such as Govan Police, formed in 1883, the “hugely significant” spread of Boys’ Brigade bands, the various Highlands and Islands diaspora clubs around the city as well as the former College of Piping and the present Piping Centre. Then of course there is the massed international convergence of the World Pipe Band Championships.

    Glasgow, he concludes, has become “the centre of gravity for the global piping diaspora.”

    Piping Live! runs from 7-15 August. For programme details, see www.pipinglive.co.uk

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