August 31, 2010

Light my fire: Liddell launches Piping Live! with massive riffing

Stuart Liddell

Lunchtime Recital

The National Piping Centre

August 9, 2010

Reviewed by Jenny Hazzard

And so it begins . . . the annual week of piping madness in Glasgow. Today the Piping Live! lunchtime recital series at the National Piping Centre got off to a cracking start with Stuart Liddell. Rarely has there been such an in-form piper as Stuart has been over the past year, and the essentially full house was testament to his audience draw.

Explaining to my work colleagues where I was disappearing to at lunch time today, I tried to get across Stuart’s standing in the piping world. One of my friends asked, “So, he’s like the Jimi Hendrix of piping? Can he play the pipes behind his head?” Well, okay, I thought – not the pipes behind the head thing – but the Jimi Hendrix of piping? Technically incredible, musically expressive, diverse, innovative, respected, entertaining? I’d go with that. According to Wikipedia, a young Hendrix was thrown off stage for wild playing and showing off, and even spent some of his youth in Vancouver. Perfect.

So for all the rock and roll build-up, it was delightful to settle back and listen to the lovely, laid-back ease of Stuart’s introductory 6/8 marches, played on a bagpipe that was immaculate from the start – despite Stuart later apologizing for a new reed and unsteady drones (most in the room probably, like me, wishing theirs were that unsteady).

The relaxed feel didn’t last too long, as it was straight into hornpipes, “The Busy Buddy” and a rather sexed-up setting (by Gordon Walker) of “The Train Journey North.” Both were perfection, and a great example of the art of adding plenty of extra technique and trickery, but never so much that it becomes silly or unmusical.

Not that he needs to, but Stuart went on to prove his more serious piping credentials with a “big” march, strathspey and reel: “The Abercairney Highlanders,” “Lady Louden” and “The Sheepwife.” Again, faultless, although I must churlishly comment that it’s a source of constant amazement to me that so many pipers play “The Sheepwife” so often. I can’t stand it, but given its popularity I’m prepared to admit I’m out on my own there.

After the MSR came the afore-mentioned apology for the state of the drones (which were, in my opinion, really quite marvellous), and a very sweet, “If it’s okay with you” type apology in advance for not introducing the tunes for the rest of the recital, due to a desire to keep the pipes going.

Whether by accident or very clever design, this resulted in a bit of an adrenaline boost, with the next few selections including a set of mad, wild reels (including an alternative version of “The Sheepwife” I’d vote for any day), and some fabulous jigs played while walking, piobaireachd-style around the stage.

Randomly, and complete with a cheeky grin, next up was the old 4/4 favourite “Scotland the Brave,” but again the nod to tradition was short-lived, with the next 4/4 march morphing quickly into hornpipe.

Full of more surprises, Stuart stopped at that point for a wee break, and to take requests. The eclectic selection of shouted suggestions included “The Mason’s Apron,” “Shepherd’s Crook,” and “Lament for Captain MacDougall.” Stuart duly complied with the first two (“The Mason’s Apron” in two time signatures), and I’m almost surprised he didn’t manage an on-the-spot composition of “Captain MacDougall” in jig time.

Things did go rather Hendrix around this point, with various bits of wizardry including super-multiple high-G slidey-type strikes, a fantastic accidental-on-purpose muddle, whole-hand runs down the chanter, and tuning the middle tenor in the middle of a march (on a long D, no step missed). Stuart even had a go – announced before-hand – at Fred Morrison’s trick . . .


  1. What a superbly written review! I give the review 5 gracenotes. It truly captures the excitement and atmosphere of what was clearly an outstanding event. It allows those of us not in Glasgow this year to vicariously experience some of the thrill of the week.

  2. Now that you’ve thrown down the gauntlet, I’m sure Stuart will figure out a way to play the pipes behind his head! There is nothing that he cannot do with a pipe.

  3. ok, so now you lot have me looking forward to getting home so I can practice Crossing the Minch, the Big Birl, and that GD tune doing birls with my tongue.



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