March 31, 2002

SFU Performs Glasgow Concert

Simon Fraser University Pipe Band
Live at the Royal Concert Hall
Glasgow, March 26, 2002

Reviewed by Angus J. MacLellan

If it had been suggested to me to hold a pipe band concert on a Monday evening in March, in Glasgow I do not think I would have shown too much enthusiasm. O ye of little faith – how wrong can one be.

But this was no ordinary concert. This one was being presented by the present World Champions, the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band (SFU) of Vancouver, Canada.

SFU had previously taken its show to Carnegie Hall in New York, toured New Zealand and Australia playing in such wonderful venues as the Sydney Opera House, and hosted Highland Arts Festivals in such places as New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and their hometown of Vancouver. So Glasgow would not present too much of a problem – and it did not.

The concert in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall was the last of a three-concert stint held in March 2002, beginning in Vancouver, travelling to Belfast and ending in Glasgow on Monday 25th.

Ably supported by a group called “Celtic Musicians,” and the SFU Pipe Band Highland Dance Team, the band presented and excellent show fully appreciated by the capacity audience of 2,500, with many travelling from Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh, Fife , the Borders, and the north of England.

Master of Ceremonies for the evening was the irrepressible Neil Dickie (formally from Glasgow, now living in Alberta), and after his introductory remakes the band opened the program in traditional style playing three 6/8 marches (“Frank Thomson,” “The Trees of North Uist,” “Monte Catarelto”) in a most musical manner. From there on the program flowed along with something for everybody.

With a lovely, bright full-toned and well-balanced sound, the band entertained with a wide range of music, going from the tried and trusted traditional MSR to modern selections with just the right amount of contemporary music and harmony. Selections were interspersed by contributions from the Celtic Musicians, comprising the lovely Anna Schaad, a classically trained musician playing violin/fiddle and her custom-built five string electric viola, David MacVittie and accomplished performer on acoustic guitars, flute, and many more instruments and members of the pipe band playing keyboard and various percussion instruments.

Most entertaining too was the excellent SFU Dance Team, with their very colourful outfits combing the many steps of Highland, Irish, Hornpipe and National Dances in first class routines devised by their internationally known dance teacher, judge and choreographer, Heather Jolly.

The standard of piping within the ranks of the Band was displayed be Andrew Bonar. Alan Bevan, Stuart Liddell and P/Sgt Jack Lee who showed their musicality and dexterity of fingering in outstanding solo performances, and later coming together as a quartet.

After such a great first half I was a little concerned to see the second half opening with a piobaireachd, but once again any fear was unfounded. The whole pipe section appeared on stage, and under the direction of Jack Lee sang the ground of “Andrew MacNeill of Colonsay” in canntaireachd. They then played the following variations on the bagpipe, returning to the ground in canntaireachd, accompanying Jack who continued on the bagpipe. Excellent, and, for many people, the highlight of the night.

There was more. Back to the traditional music with a classic MSR, this time done exactly as it would be in competition. Putting both sets in the program, the MC made a bit of fun out of drawing which set to play. But it just shows how serious the band takes things, using the chance for more experience of playing under the pressure of competition rules. Good thinking. What followed was a most pleasing performance of “The Clan MacRae Society,” “Dora MacLeod” and “John McKechnie.” If it was not quite 100 percent, it has to be remembered this was the concert platform and not the competition field.

Considering all the travel involved etc. it could easily be understood if a little tiredness was creeping in , but not a bit of it. The program continued in the same bright manner with the drum corps contributing a most enjoyable salute.

The evening was brought to close with the whole ensemble on stage playing an air and a selection of jigs for the Dance Team, ending as they began to the tune “Blue Cloud.” It was no surprise they received such a great ovation from the delighted audience, who appreciated the hard work put in by Pipe-Major Terry Lee, Lead Drummer Reid Maxwell, Pipe-Sergeant Jack Lee and every member of the band and background staff.

After the concert it was great pleasure to meet the members of the Band in a social gathering and congratulate them all.

A wonderful night entertainment – one to remember.

Angus J. MacLellan is one of piping’s legends. A formidable solo piper who won most of the major awards in the 1960 and ’70s, he was also the Pipe-Sergeant of the Glasgow/Strathclyde Police Pipe Band for many years. He was a pupil of the great Donald MacLeod for almost three decades. “Angus J.” lives in Glasgow.


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