St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
7:30 pm, August 11, 2010
Produced by the Phoenix Honda Glasgow Skye Pipe Band
Reviewed by Jenny Hazzard
Last night for the first time in years I attended the big “World’s Wednesday” pipe band concert at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – an event that the Phoenix Honda-Glasgow Skye Pipe Band has been promoting for ages, and one that has become an integral part of the run-up to the World Pipe Band Championships.
This year’s concert featured the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band, a group that has been garnering increasing interest and anticipation in recent years, as they have risen strongly and steadily up to the top of the prize list at major pipe band competitions. I believe the pipes|drums Magazine survey question asking who will win this year’s World’s currently has SLOT just edging it, so it’s certainly accurate to call them a hot ticket.
The first thing to note, and something that must have been so gratifying for the band, was that the audience was right up for it. Shouts, whoops and hollers were in abundance, not just at the end of each number but any time something a bit cool happened during a set (which was frequent). It really makes a difference at these events, so the crowd should be congratulated on its exuberance, and SLOT should be congratulated for giving the punters lots to cheer about.
I must admit to being late in arriving (due to band practice believe it or not), and unfortunately missing what was reportedly a cracking few opening sets, including what sounds like a stunner of a solo spot from Alen Tully.
Highlights of the first half that I did manage to catch were the quartets “pipe-off” and an inspired arrangement of “The March of the King of Laois.” The quartets were presented as a sort of mini internal competition between the two groups. The first one – an intricate suite with beautiful harmonies and counter-melodies – I thought was particularly captivating, although I’m not sure if the result of the audience vote was ever actually announced.
The “King of Laois” piece was started by an Allan MacDonald solo, with the whole band and various percussion accompaniments then joining in. I think it caught me in the perfect frame of mind (frazzled, stressed, knackered) and I absolutely loved it -uplifting, affirming, close-your-eyes-and-enjoy kind of stuff.
The rest of the first half was more traditional, comprising a medley and some jigs, all top quality, precise, lively, musical and just plain good.
The second half followed on in the same vein although was sprinkled with various guest artists and other twists to keep things interesting. There were members of Bagad Cap Caval supporting on a Breton set and a full three-set performance by the group Pipe Down. Both of these were excellent quality and well presented, but perhaps due to the inclusion of still more diversions – such as a prize draw, spoken introductions to every set, and a slightly cringey “ass-shaking” competition among audience volunteers – I personally felt that the focus was tipped just slightly too far away from SLOT themselves, and the momentum of the show was inhibited.
Regardless, there was a suitably strong and rousing finish, with a clever Italian/Irish/Galician set, and a warmly welcomed encore of “The Dawn of the Day.” The latter in particular I thought was magic – more than at any other time during the show I really felt the intent coming through – almost like a laying down of the gauntlet for Saturday’s big event.
The band finished by marching off-stage, still playing, and lining the edges of the main seating area, which I thought was a fitting end to a show that had featured so much great interaction between the band and the crowd – even if I was told later that it was just a ploy for the band members to be first to the bar. (Clever!)
Best of luck to SLOT on Saturday, and whatever happens, after last night they can already count 2010 as a fantastic success.
Jenny Hazzard is one of the world’s top pipers, competing successfully in solo competitions for the last 20 years and winning, among other awards, the Silver Medal at Inverness. She works in Edinburgh and all around the UK as a geological engineer specializing in environmental assessments of building sites.