April 30, 2001

Bound and Bagged

Skye Bound – Music for the Highland Bagpipe
Compiled by Stuart Robertson
54 pages, 61 tunes
Published by the author

Reviewed by Ed Neigh

The recent publication, Skye Bound – Music for the Highland Bagpipe by Stuart Robertson is a professionally produced publication containing 61 tunes. Refreshingly, the editor did not attempt to represent all time signatures and tune types even handedly, but published the material that he felt merited a look by the piping community.

The result is a book of a high standard containing mostly reels, jigs and hornpipes, along with a few excellent marches and slow airs, and one lonely strathspey. If you are looking for material for a set of 4/4 marches to play on parade, you need not look here. On the other hand, if you are a band or player at a Grade 2 standard or better, there is plenty here to excite and challenge you musically and technically. To quote the forward by the editor, this work is suitable for “the more advanced player to . . . well, any player with hands!”

The material represents seven composers, most of whom play in either the Glasgow Skye Association or Field Marshal Montgomery pipe bands, and all of whom have creativity and more than competent writing skills. It almost goes without saying that the content is cutting edge, top grade pipe band material.

But as such, it will not be to everyone’s taste. The use of naturals or flats on C and F as in Stuart Robertson’s “Skye Pants” will be seen by some as riveting and by others as offensive. The same can be said for the musically demanding syncopation in many of the hornpipes. Kevin Quail’s “The Gadget Man” and Steven Kirkpatrick’s “Stateside” are clever and rhythmically sophisticated, but might not be accepted by everyone as being within the Scottish idiom. As well, some of the reels, like my favourite, “Too Many Bagpipers in the House” by Stuart Robertson, seem more like hornpipes than the hornpipes.

Yet, as I played through the tunes in Skye Bound with my teenage son’s bass guitar vibrating in the next room, I got a brief glimpse of some of the influences on the evolution of this music. There are frequent passages where the melody bounces from high A to the bottom hand in intricate staccato rhythms such as in the last part of the jig, “The Cunning Stunt” by Stuart Robertson. There are an abundance of tied notes as in the second part of Kevin Quail’s hornpipe, “The Long Distance Love Thruster,” where their use especially over the bar line make the fingers want to fall ahead of the tricky rhythm.

Indeed, from the music on the pages inside, to the beer tent camaraderie suggested on the back cover, to the questionable humor in some of the tune titles, this is a work rooted in the modern competitive pipe band culture. It introduces the piping world to some bright new composers, not the least of whom is Stuart Robertson, and it presents a whack of new tunes notated with accuracy that will find favor on the field as well as at the ceilidh.

Ed Neigh was Pipe-Major of the Grade 1 Guelph Pipe Band in the 1970s and early ’80s, an adjudicator, and member of the PPBSO Music Board. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.


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