January 31, 2003

Celtic Connections Report: Fred Morrison and Jamie McMenemy

Celtic Connections, one of the world’s largest Celtic music festivals, is happening in Glasgow over the next three weeks and Piper & Drummer Online has asked Michael Grey of Dundas, Ontario, to report on as many piping events as possible. Here’s the first of his dispatches from Glasgow.

Fred Morrison/Jamie McMenemy
The National Piping Centre
8:00 p.m., January 21, 2003

People in the competitive Highland piping world will know Fred Morrison for his Gold Medal-winning piping prowess. The world at large and, more specifically, the folkie/Celtic music scene knows him as an outstanding all around musician, playing alongside the outstanding bouzouki-player/singer, Jamie McMenemy. With small pipes, flute, and Uillean pipes, his show at the sold out National Piping Centre auditorium underscored this reputation in spades.

Opening his gig was the young band “Co D’athair”, a quartet of talented students from the music programs of the National Piping Centre / RSAMD partnership and Strathclyde University’s applied music program. With Hector Henderson, Patsy Reid, Calum MacCrimmon and Andrew MacPherson standing each as multi-instrumentalists representing no fewer then 10 instruments, the evening was off to a genuinely toe-tapping start. With flute and fiddle standing as real pillars of the band’s groove, their quiet confidence and keen drive will undoubtedly age well.

“Co D’athair” laid the musical groundwork for what was to be a display of the best piping I have heard in my life. Fred Morrison is a genius. His piping – this evening mainly performed on the small pipes – is almost indescribably excellent. It’s hard to imagine this piper playing lines and lines of disciplined and repetitious technical movements (say a taorluath variation): Fred was born for more than that. His passion, drive and down-right soulful way around airs, marches, jigs, reels and hornpipes, dynamically resonated from his hands.

“The pipes are hungry”, he said, after his first set, the crazed – and remarkably complex – “Up South, Too” (the name of his soon-to-be-released CD with Jamie McMenemy); he certainly didn’t let the pipes get in the way of what he had to give the audience.

With a Cat Stevens-like voice and great ear for rhythm, Jamie McMenemy, provided some of the best conceived and tastefully-placed accompaniment a piper – or anyone else – could hope for. Jamie ably meshed with Fred’s capricious treatment of tempo and avant-garde turns of phrasing. The duo’s playing of “Sleepy Maggie” was nothing short of jaw-dropping musical virtuosity.

Great moments included a free-wheeling “Sky man’s Jig”, Fred’s encore display on full-blown, regulator-ready Uillean pipes and Jamie’s “Scotland the Brave”.

It is clear that Fred Morrison has taken the potential of our nine wee notes and turned them on their collective ill-tempered head. He performed this night with what seemed like intermittent nods of encouragement to his pipes, almost as if coaxing more from his instrument(s) than most of us thought possible.
There was to be no let down in sight.

A great show; what a piper.


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