May 31, 2000

Isle of Lewis

Reviewed by Iain Speirs

Published by ISA Music, Glasgow, Scotland, 70 pages, 75 tunes

Lewis Turrell MBE is famous in the piping world as the first overseas competitor to win a Highland Society of London Gold Medal for piobaireachd. He accomplished this in 1958 at the Northern Meeting in Inverness and, in doing so, paved the way for the many others who have made the pilgrimage to Scotland to further their art. Lewis Turrell’s Collection of Bagpipe Music, his first book of bagpipe music, is a substantial piece of work, and Turrell is quite clearly a prolific composer. Fifty-five of the 75 tunes are his compositions or arrangements and they cover all the usual light music time signatures, and include a piobaireachd.

Of the 25 marches there is a good selection of competition standard 2/4s. Both the first tune in the book, “John Wilson, Strathclyde Police” by Lewis Turrell, and “Ian Bruce of Lawes” by Donald MacKinnon, would not be out of place among the more popular tunes heard around the games today. The 6/8 compositions “Pipe Major Frank MacKinnon” and “Miss Margaret Black” stand out as favourites and “Borve to Uig” is a very musical two-parted march that really deserves another two parts.

The strathspeys and reels range from the straightforward to the technically demanding, and each one of the slow airs is melodic. The hornpipes are all Turrell’s compositions, and the piobaireachd, “Lament for Benjamin Lewis Turrell,” is a fine and tuneful composition and a welcome addition.

There is a large selection of jigs to work through—24 in all. This is where the book has a lot to offer those who construct pipe band medleys, and who are on the lookout for something new. The syncopation in “Joanie Weir” appeals, and if squeals from high A to low A don’t frighten, consider “Cameron in the Drain.”

Stuart Finlayson’s version of “Shepherd’s Crook” in jig time is a straightforward translation of the strathspey and doesn’t really contain any twists or turns. However, his jig—named for Lewis Turrell—is a lively tune and worthy of the reciprocal composition, “Stuart Finlayson’s Fancy.”

The opening notes give a brief insight into the stories behind the tune names, but not all the tunes are covered. In keeping with many modern tunes, some of the titles are unusual. “Swedish Sojourn” caught the eye and I found myself wondering about the story behind it and others, such as “Cameron in the Drain” and “12.10 from Gatwick.”

The book itself is a well-presented, quality production. The tunes are nicely typeset and easy to read. This was all the more obvious to me as my music collection consists of old books handed down from my grandfather, most of which have seen better days.

A final mention should be made of the few photographs, some of which feature Lewis Turrell competing in Scotland. Where appropriate, they state the prizes he won on that day and this is tastefully done, demonstrating that Lewis Turrell is a significant player in the piping world.

A native and resident of Edinburgh, Scotland, Iain Speirs is one of today’s top solo pipers. He spent several years living in Canada in the 1990s, and has taught at the College of Piping in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. He currently plays with the Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band.


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