December 31, 2001

Elusive in Ireland

Inspired in Belfast
Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band
Monarch Recordings, CDMON 844

Reviewed by Jim McGillivray

Reviewer's rating: 2 gracenotes out of a possible 5

This CD from one of the world’s top competitive pipe band runs a lengthy and uneven gamut from educational to inspirational to disappointing.

The educational quality derives from the standard of the playing and tone, which is superb throughout, particularly for a live concert. This includes the pipe corps, drum line and the overall ensemble. It’s not hard to hear why Boghall has inhabited the upper echelons of the Scottish Grade 1 pipe band circuit for two decades. The musical presentation is tight, crisp and well rehearsed.

And there are inspirational moments. The greatest is “A Call to the Gathering,” a suite penned by Don Bradford and presented in stirring fashion by the pipes, drums and supporting musicians. This unpretentious four-minute twenty-second piece is a model of how powerful and gripping a themed medley can be when the fundamental melody is strong and the supporting percussion quality is high.

But contrary to the title of the CD, this recording of the band’s May 2001 concert in Belfast is in general not inspired. The CD opens with a set of hornpipes of great rhythm and limited melody that simply does not grip as one might hope to be gripped by an opener. The pattern continues with more 2/4 time signatures and variants. The repertoire is dominated by these rhythm-based hornpipes—perhaps better called “whack-pipes”—so common today. Indeed, we wait until track 7 to hear the whole pipe band play something that is not in 2/4 or cut time. The march literally takes a vacation until “Brigadier General Ronald Cheape of Tirroran” struts by in track 16. A superb closing track of 6/8 marches leaves one wondering, “Why not more of this instead of so many maddening whack-pipes?”

The solos, trios, duets and drum fanfares that have become necessary fare for a live pipe band concert are presented in admirable fashion, with perhaps Pipe-Major Ross Walker’s solo and the jig trio by Alvis Kerr, Fraser MacIntosh and Ross Harvey providing the most entertainment. There are also a number of lively tracks by a very talented band of instrumentalists—fiddles, keyboards, flute, drums and congas—that seem to have been parachuted in for the concert and are described and named only as “Additional Musicians.” While they provide wonderful interludes and liven up a number of the piping tracks, they can hardly be billed as part of the Boghall & Bathgate Pipe Band.

It’s too bad that so many musicians and ensembles are intent on filling as much of the 74 minutes available on a CD as possible. This one comes in at 73:10, and while you might call this good value for money, a greater artistic success might have been achieved at around 55 minutes.

Make no mistake: this is a superb pipe band. If you’re looking for high quality pipe band playing in the “modern traditional” sense you’ll find it here in spades. For more than this, it appears you’ll have to wait until Boghall & Bathgate captures that elusive World Championship and feels free to mature as an entertainment ensemble.

Jim McGillivray was the subject of the May 1996 Piper & Drummer Interview. He has many of solo piping’s major awards to his credit, including the Clasp and both Highland Society of London Gold Medals. He is the full time piping instructor at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario, and the proprietor of McGillivray Piping Partnerships, a bagpipe supplies dealership.


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