Published: August 31, 2005

Pluck of the Irish

St. Laurence O’Toole concert
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
7:30 p.m., August 10, 2005

St. Laurence O’Toole has made a name for itself mainly for its music, and this night at the luxurious Glasgow Royal Concert Hall showed off that quality in spades, as well as solid tone and a dynamic ensemble presence. This is a flat-out great pipe band, full stop.

One would expect a packed house, what with thousands of pipers all over Glasgow, but unfortunately there were other things to do or the £17.50 ticket was too dear or there were pints to be drunk, as the hall was only, at best, half-full. It boggles the mind that pipers and drummers want their instruments and art to be taken seriously, and then don’t support it well themselves.

Never mind. Those who were present at the band’s Dawning of the Day concert were treated to a show full of imagination, ambition, pure fun, and – yes – music and tone to spare. With 21 pipers, a bass section of five, and six in the snare line the band’s overall sound was perfect for the hall. Complemented by The Trad Lads, an Irish ensemble featuring guitars, flute, bodhran, and voice, as well as an occasional drum kit and the omnipresent conga drums (no pipe band concert seems complete without those), there was something here for everyone. There was even an Irish seanchaidh, John Smyth, who regaled everyone with two rhyming stories while the band attended to their instruments.

The highlight? There were many in the 23 separate selections. But the best for me was the band’s singing – yes, singing – of “The Old Triangle” at the almost-end of the show, followed by a the whole band throwing their SLOT ball caps, rockstar-style, into the crowd. This really got the audience going, and the band rose to the response with a finale and two encores.

Other peaks came when young Alen Tully, Pipe-Major Terry Tully’s son, playing solo with The Trad Lads, as well as the wonderful use of solo banjo and solo Highland pipe, which Gordon Duncan showed can work so well on his 1990s the circular breath release.

It’s easy to think of St. Laurence O’Toole as a newcomer on the scene. Yes, to the “top six in the world” competitive scene they are a new band, but this group dates back to the early 1900s. Jayzuz, we even found out the Sean O’Casey, the Irish playwright, was a member of SLOT back in 1910, serving as the band’s secretary.

This band has staying power. They are a musical and tonal powerhouse. The best part of it is that they have great fun playing their pipes and drums for appreciative people. This was their night to perform for the world.

And their greatest competitive day is sure to come too.

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