August 31, 2005

Masterful Medleys: 78th Fraser Highlanders

The 78th Fraser Highlanders are a band that has built, over its 25 years, a reputation for being musically adventurous. In 2004 the band did not make the prize list at the World Championships and this year must go through the qualifying process. Here the band’s Pipe-Major, Bill Livingstone, takes us through the selection they will play at the World’s if they get through to the final.

78th Fraser Highlanders

Bill Livingstone writes:

We have to get through the qualifier before anyone is going to hear our medley. While we’re hopeful, we’re not presuming anything. If we do make it, here’s the story.

First, it seems redundant, and even condescending to explain how we go about building a medley. We’ve established our own style over 25 years, and this year’s medley is, I think, a classic example of our approach.

“Maddog’s Cabaret” – this opener is composed by John Cairns and Jason Briscoe. It cracks along using two-bar phrases alternating between pentatonic tonality in the G mode, and the A mode. Pretty unique and powerful melody and a big kick rhythmically, with all areas of the percussion driving it forward.

The title commemorates a vintage performance by former-Pipe-Sergeant Ian Donaldson (now playing with Shotts) at a Karaoke bar last year in Glasgow when he sang, with considerable style and passion, “YMCA.”

Craig-a-Bodich” and “Miss Drummond of Perth” – These classic two-parters provide nice contrast with each other tonally. The break from the opener features a nifty one-bar intro in harmony that helps establish the strong strathspey idiom when the strathspeys actually start.

“Willie Murray’s Reel” – A tune I’ve wanted for years to play. We play it in a west coast style with a driving, even delivery. Pulsed, but not dot/cut. It’s introduced with a bridge, with both harmony and a counter melody. The bridge foreshadows but does not mimic the melody, and it sets the tune up to rock. A similar but shorter bridge precedes the third part.

“Remember Culloden” – This is John Cairns’s composition. It’s the theme from his suite of the same name, and it’s not quite accurate to call it a slow air. We enter it on a sustained low A to allow the drum corps to establish for the listener where we’re headed, and as well to avoid the sensation of a jarring application of brakes. The result I think is a smooth transition. It has a very processionistic feel, and Drew Duthart has written a terrific score with a lot of rhythmical complexity and interest. Harmonies are employed, as well as counter-melodies. It has received rave reviews wherever we’ve played it.

“The Boys of the Lough” – This wonderful jig was introduced to me by Boghall & Bathgate a few years ago at the World’s. We try to play it in an easy, relaxed style, with lots of open technique, and pulsing to make it swing – something like Terry Tully does with his Irish jigs. Again, Drew’s score here is lovely.

“Upside-Down at Eden Court” – Gordon Duncan’s hornpipe is introduced by slipping from the previous jig into the first part of “Eden Court” cast in jig time, and then transferred to hornpipe. We love to play this, and especially at the end. It’s a grand tune with a great happy melody in E flat, and scads of tricky finger-work. The whole percussion section slaps this piece around with terrific gusto, and the last part is ornamented with a couple of lines of harmony.

That’s it. Seven tunes in all. I do hope we get to play it. It’s as much fun in a medley as we have had in years.


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