December 31, 1999

Surf’s Up

At The Beach, Los Angeles Scots Pipe Band, Monarch Klub Records (CDMON 836)

At The Beach, the first CD from the Los Angeles Scots, contains 17 tracks, of which eight feature the full band. The rest are a mixture of solo tracks, a duet, solo on Deger pipes, pipe corps/percussion and pipe/guitar combos. The sleeve notes are a bit brief, not mentioning the piper on track five (although I assume it is Seumas Coyne), and the names of the tracks are mixed up in track eight.

The pipe band tracks overall have a bright and well pipe section set tone, very reminiscent of the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band—hardly a surprise given the connections between the two bands. The balance of pipes and drums is generally good throughout At The Beach. What’s lacking is a better resonance from the bass drum, though, and it needs to be more dominant. The use of harmonies is plentiful, but in the main enhances the music.

The L.A. Scots play in an enjoyable, very relaxed manner. It is a few years since I heard them and they certainly are moving upwards steadily. The only faults I would pick here are the odd lapses in the unison and blowing.

The pure pipe band tracks very much follow the predictable music of the bands: MSR, hornpipes, selection 6/8s, 9/8s, 3/4s—no real surprises on the content side. There are some fine tunes scattered through the recording, such as the popular 6/8 “Bruce Gandy’s Farewell to the Iron Horse,” the jig “Mr. 4.30,” a slow air “Victoria Harbour,” a 3/4 “Robert Clark of Wishaw,” a 9/8 “Friendly Piper,” and a jig “Mrs. Lynne Clarke.”

The MSR suffers, as I don’t think “Mrs. John MacColl” responds to pipe band playing very well. As a result the band struggles to bring out the finer points of this great march. In the strathspey and reel the playing is very careful and lacks lift and drive.

The standout for me is the unusual track, “Something Latin,” which is played by the pipes with various percussion added. The combination works brilliantly—simple but very musical. Not traditional bagpipe music but very attractive.

The other unusual sound is the track “Deger in Jig Time,” which is a good combination of the Deger pipes and acoustic guitar. These are nice jigs with a real folky feel. Good stuff.

Other mentions should go to the solo tracks. “Buckle up,” shows great dexterity but is too fast to extract any music from the early tunes, but when the piper hits the jigs they are very well played musically. The duet (track seven) shows excellent unison with good jig playing. Stephen Megarity plays quite well also on track 14, and “Alex Wylie’s Hornpipe” is an excellent round hornpipe.

Pipe Major Scott MacDonald’s combo with John Allan on several tracks shows fine balance between the instruments and provides a different approach that works pretty well.

Overall, the 17 tracks on At The Beach are good value and entertaining. It appears that the upward progression of the L.A. Scots will continue for some time yet.

Willie McCallum is probably the world’s most successful competing piper. This year he captured five of the biggest prizes, including the Glenfiddich Championship. He was a member of Power of Scotland Pipe Band for many years.


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