October 31, 2003

Chasing waterfalls

78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band
Maddog Productions

Reviewer's rating: 3 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Willie McCallum

Cascade is the first album from the 78th Fraser Highlanders for some time. As a fan of the band’s previous recordings, I have to say it was received with great anticipation. The album features nine pieces, only 43 minutes total playing time.

The band at the time of this compilation were in a process of change and one gets the impression that the recording was made over a period of time. The list of musicians on the recording does not tally with the current line-up, particularly in the drum corps where John Fisher has replaced Michael Hunter since the recording was completed.

The album is a bit of a mixture of pure pipe band and some “concert stuff.” A couple of the numbers are lifted from the current concert repertoire. The band are at their best when playing material that no one else has attempted, and this is where most of the success lies in this recording.

The CD starts brightly with three very musical hornpipes, “Rockley Beach,” “Lucy’s Frolics” and “David Caldwell,” all composed by Bill Livingstone. The tempo is up and the drive we expect from the band is much in evidence.

The second track, a medley, is well put together and highlights to me the band’s expertise in weaving together tunes and changing arrangements to provide interest to the listener. The 78ths don’t just pull a bunch of tunes out and play them one after the other. The medley sets out very steadily and predictably, but from the Gaelic reel, “The Pompous Trousers,” onwards this is a lesson in putting together a medley.

“Craig Colquhoun” is a tune lifted from their Seanchaidh concert. The tune is written by Bill Livingstone and features a very different set of rhythms and percussions. Very jazzy. The pipes drift in and out and the percussion totally takes over in passages. I wasn’t a big fan of this at first listen but this is one track that’s growing on me.

We then come on to the standard pipe band MSR, which features “Dugald McColl’s Farewell to France,” “Blair Drummond” and “Pretty Marion,” featured as a competition set in recent years. Surprisingly there is some lack of togetherness here and maybe the playing is a bit too safe.

The title track begins with a very interesting arrangement of G.S. McLennan’s classic reel with a slow tempo, backed by Livingstone on keyboard and Jake Watson on smallpipes. This then breaks to Dr Angus’ attractive 9/8 jig, “Chloe’s Passion,” which is very unusual but quite addictive. The set works really well.

The 4/4s and 3/4s number, beginning with Donald MacLeod’s “Road to Balquidder” is a straightforward set of tunes with multi instrument backing by Doug Stronach.

This is followed another medley with the typical 78th Highlanders’ treatment, beginning with “Drunken Landlady” — again, great examples of how to construct a medley.

“Seskinore/Omagh” is a very original piece written By Bill Livingstone, sung by Livingstone and John Cairns, with varied use of chanters, Deger pipes and flute in evidence. Atmospheric and a fine tribute to the Omagh victims.

Cascade finishes with a very traditional marching set of polkas, which most of the major bands have done at one time or other.

It would be easy to look at every second of the album and look for faults. If you did you would always find fault with every recording that comes out. There are some tonal imperfections here and there and the odd passage where the fingering is not as tight as it could be. However, this should be balanced by the musicality and ensemble effect, with the snare drums and bass section very effective throughout the standard pipe band tracks.

The acid test is whether you listen to a CD over a period of time. Cascade has been on in the car over a number of weeks and I still enjoy it enough to play fairly regularly. Overall I like the medleys, the opening hornpipes, “Craig Colquhoun,” “Omagh” and “Cascade,” but I have to admit these are the tracks I tend to skip to most often.

Willie McCallum is a frequent contributor to the Piper & Drummer. He’s won basically everything there is in solo piping, most several times. He played with the Babcock Renfrew and Power of Scotland pipe bands for many years. Willie McCallum is an accountant at Strathclyde University in Glasgow.


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