August 31, 2007

Piping Live! Festival – from whisky to bellows pipes

Iain MacDonald reports

August 7, day two of the Piping Live! Festival, saw major sponsors Glenfiddich continue its barrel making and whisky display in Glasgow’s George Square, and later in the morning spectators were treated to the sights and sounds of the Edinburgh Tattoo.

While the Square was alive with military pageant, the Piping Centre hosted a reedmaking workshop with Ronnie McShannon and Tommy Johnstone, the duo behind the Ezeedrone company that makes drone reeds for Highland, Lowland, smallpipes and reelpipes, and also a range of premium chanter reeds.

Cool weather kept the crowd small in the Street Café for the lunchtime concert with Patrick Mollard, but the Piping Centre recital hall was full for the 1 pm recital with Chris Armstrong.

Chris Armstrong performance at Piping Live! [Photo: I. MacDonald]Armstrong is a busy man this week: besides a full teaching load, and extra work associated with the Festival, he is in the midst of preparing a band for the Grade 1 final, a quartet for the Tuesday night contest, piping for LD Barry Wilson in the Drumming Recital at the Lord Todd, and still has to get home to tend to wife and new baby. No worries: anyone that can play that fast, and that well, is obviously adept at managing time!

Armstrong showcased his skills in traditional competitive piping with some great MSR playing, along with a range of swinging 6/8s, some great jigs and hornpipes, and even a slow air or two. A highlight of the recital was “Rory MacLeod’s Lament,” played with a bold, confident flow and on an excellent pipe. The traditional repertoire is in great hands with Armstrong, in every sense.

Not a great one for chatting up the audience, Armstrong worked himself hard for a little over an hour, and finished with his mind-boggling “X-Treme” and an equally impossible “Mason’s Apron,” rife with so many of those personal and seemingly impossible technical touches that separate Armstrong from the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Promo shirt for the first ever 'Lord of the Todd' event for mid-sections. [Photo: I. MacDonald]While Armstrong was working hard at the Piping Centre, a large crowd gathered at the Lord Todd Bar at Strathclyde University for an afternoon of drumming fun. First off was the much-talked-about “Lord of the Todd” mid-section competition, also known on the web as “Drumming for Drinks.” This innovative afternoon of entertainment drew a large and appreciative crowd for the five-minute performances, which featured everything from rappish mouth music to a Full-Monty type presentation that stopped short of the, uh, full part. In the end, Steve Foley and his group from the Los Angeles Scots took the title.

This popular event was well-supported by band members and band enthusiasts, and there was a strong marketing presence there from the event sponsors.

The Scottish Lion-78th Fraser Highlanders practice at Strathclyde University. [Photo: I. MacDonald]Just as the mid-section event was breaking up, the 78th Fraser Highlanders assembled their band for a scheduled afternoon practice that turned into one of the well-attended events of the day. The Frasers went through a full rehearsal of MSRs and medley in front of an international audience of fellow competitors. Lots of great music. Whatever the result on the weekend, they are always a fascinating part of the entertainment of “Worlds Week.”

It would be impossible to cover it all, but at day’s end, anyone with a bit of energy left wanders to the National Piping Centre’s Festival Club, where an informal cabaret atmosphere, and tonight, the Lowland & Borders Piping Society hold the floor for a last few hours of music and chat.

Iain MacDonald contributes frequently to pipes|drums, and lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. A well known and accomplished competitive solo piper, he is playing with the ScottishPower Pipe Band while his own band, the Grade 2 City of Regina, is on hiatus.


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