January 31, 2005

Looking good

National Youth Pipe Band
National Piping Centre
January 30, 2004; 2 p.m., ₤7.50

Reviewed by Michael Grey

When you’re used to minus-20 degree winter days and the worst of the best of Canadian winters, a fine January day in Glasgow does the heart good. With the warm, soft afternoon sunlight streaming through the stained glass of the National Piping Centre’s main auditorium the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland (NYPB) blew all the frost away with an absolutely standout performance. Musical, high-energy, inspiring and just plain entertaining the NYPB set high concert standards for not just themselves, but any band.

The NYPB, a co-sponsored project by the Scottish Arts Council and the National Piping Centre, is a group of more than 50 young pipers and drummers from across the length and breadth of Scotland. Since its official inception over 18 months ago the band has, under the musical direction of the mercurial Piping Centre staffer, Paul Warren, already left its mark on the Scottish piping scene. As one of only three bands featured at this year’s Celtic Connections festival (next to Shotts and Field Marshal), the NYPB has already snagged a reputation among promoters as a top-flight group to hire.

While membership may be youthful the talent of the group is deep. Four solo-piping sets opened the show with Ben Duncan (Pipe-Major for the day; the band rotates P-M duties), Alasdair Henderson, Struan Thorpe and Kyle Warren all showing off good, nimble mitts, lots of tempo and a not a little flair.

Along with lead drummer, David Ross, these guys, all in their mid-ish teens or so, are the musical masterminds behind most of the program’s music. On this afternoon the music was fresh and interesting, demonstrating wide-ranging influences from Eastern Europe to Donald MacLeod (sort of sounds like a good name for a bad movie).

As pointed out by Paul Warren at the outset, the NYPB is not a competition band, “it’s all about musical and performance development.” By the looks of things, these words stand as one mission pretty well accomplished.

Here’s the thing: this band of young people took the stage and really performed, and performed well by any standard. A collective relaxed stage presence that included smiling faces (a fancy trick while playing jigs), good-natured back-slapping and loud “heuchs” of mutual encouragement helped the band and the audience connect completely. The band had fun and this flew off the stage in their joyful music.

The band’s “Glasgow Police Pipers” jig set saw the band surprise with a neat shift from 6/8 time to a Chris Armstrong/Finlay MacDonald 7/4 concoction that had the band Motown side-stepping in the best Temptations style. With not a shred of self-consciousness the band would’ve made Diana Ross proud.

So, the band looked good and, as someone said, when you look good, you sound good. And the NYPB sounded good.

Hats off to the NPC and all behind the NYPB. It’s an initiative that’s making a difference. If it’s not yet, it is soon to be a real gem in the crown of our art-form.

Michael Grey is a leading solo piper, recording artist, and composer. He lives in Dundas, Ontario.


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