There is a point in the great Kiss rock-anthem,”Rock and Rock All Night,” when all instruments stop except a kick-drum, and singer Paul Stanley repeats the chorus of the song: “Ahhh, wanna rock-n-roll all niiiight, and pawty ev-er-ee day.” Live, he usually claps his hands over his head, pulling the crowd along. Then Gene Simmons’s bass line creeps in, Ace Frehley’s power-chord-guitar rejoins, and the band and song are back at full throttle. It’s called a “break-down,” and it’s the hallmark of many exciting pop songs.
A few pipe bands know how this works and the use it to great effect. It started probably in the mid-1970s, when the unlikely band Bilston Glen Colliery made an LP that included “The Hen’s March.” On the record, they took the clever third part of the Donald MacLeod jig, dropped the drums and let the pipe section play a modified version alone. It was simple and effective and by far the most memorable part of that otherwise non-descript album.
Jog to 1988 and the 78th Fraser Highlanders famous “Wise Maid” medley, one of the all-time great pipe band selections. It was made greater by a terrific break-down near the end, where the pipes were left for several bars, and the drum section gradually crept back in, developing this terrific crescendo finish to seal the deal. (Unfortunately for them, one judge didn’t see it that way at the ’88 World’s, and the band narrowly missed a repeat World title.)
Fast-forward to the 2005 and ’06 Simon Fraser University World’s medleys. Here again, Leading-Drummer Reid Maxwell (the common link between the 1988 example and this) spearheads a formidable example of an effective break-down in the jig, “Emancipation.” The gradual build back to full band strength is the centre-piece of the medley.
Pop music has understood for years that break-downs are a way to spark variety through contrast to engage and win-over the listener. I don’t know if these pipe bands (and there are other examples) know that they are using the same technique that Kiss deploys in “Rock And Roll All Night,” but it works in our domain just as well when well done.