Scott’s Highland Services
Reviewed by Alistair Hanning
John Cairns’s achievement in winning back to back gold at Oban and Inverness is for many pipers a golden dream. This is not just another Canadian making his mark in Scotland, this is an outstanding piping achievement of greatness that needs celebrating — and why not celebrate with a CD?
Double Gold is excellently produced and aptly titled. John has included a large number of modern compositions together with the traditional in a commendable attempt to add variety and interest. Six of the tunes have been penned from the Cairns family hand, including John’s winning tune “Lament for the Unknown Soldier.” The cover insert explains that this tune was composed and played for the first time at the ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa for the dedication of the new Canadian tomb of the Unknown Soldier. .
Considering John’s double gold success, I was disappointed to find only one piobaireachd. However, John’s selection of the nameless tune, “Hiharin dro o dro,” strikes an excellent balance to please the connoisseur and those new to piping’s classical music. (Why do tunes of this superbly constructed melody and technical challenge continue to languish under the canntaireachd title of its opening phrase?) John’s rendition is very musical and it is probably unfair to mention the occasional looseness of technique in doublings and throws. He is clearly comfortable with this tune, which I thought was a highlight of the CD.
Overall I found Double Gold to be enjoyable listening, spoiled only by a few minor points. The fade-in start on each track became predictable and I really did miss the sound of striking drones. The completeness of the instrument was lacking with some notes unbalanced at the higher pitch, and some looseness in technique included chipping on the low A in some of the tracks.
The balance of new and old tunes is skillfully arranged by John Cairns, which I found to be a feature of the CD. Of the 35 tunes played, I really enjoyed Bill Livingstone’s “Lindsay Kirkwood,” Terry Tully’s “Burnt Mattress” and Bruce Gandy’s “Katrina Baker.” The final tune of the CD, “Johnny’s Jig,” concluded a set of tunes composed by John’s father, Major Archie Cairns, and produced a suitable finishing flourish.
Alistair Hanning is the Pipe Major of the Grade 1 New Zealand Police Pipe Band, former Grade 1 champions in that country. A solo piper of note, he has won many awards in piobaireachd and light music. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
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