December 19, 2023

Against all odds and out of the ashes – a review of “EPIC New Dawn”

EPIC New Dawn
EPIC East Ayrshire Pipe Band Academy
Kilmarnock Pipe Band
Recorded live, August 6, 2023, Barony Hall, Cumnock, Scotland
Streamed with Apple Music and iTunes subscriptions; download through Bandcamp (£15), and on CD from EPIC East Ayrshire Pipe Band Academy (all proceeds go to the charity)

There was a time only a few years ago when making a pipe band album was an unattainable dream for most pipers and drummers. Today, thanks to technology and teaching, it’s within reach of virtually any piper, drummer or band. But it’s still not easy.

That EPIC East Ayrshire Pipe Band Academy teaching program – started from scratch by Karen McCrindle-Warren and Paul Warren only five years ago, including two years of severe pandemic restrictions and a car crash that would nearly take the life of McCrindle-Warren – could mount a full-length concert and create a commercially available recording featuring pipers and drummers no more than a few years on their instruments is testament to their tenacity and vision.

EPIC New Dawn features eight tracks by the EPIC East Ayrshire Academy learners, another seven by the Grade 3 Kilmarnock Pipe Band, and two with both groups combined. The album starts with Paul Warren reminding us over drones of the vision for the ambitious program:

Against all odds, and out of the ashes of a community that once boasted eight pipe bands: gone. A rich cultural heritage: gone. A schools’ instrumental teaching program that created a generation of local players: gone. No local pipe bands. No teaching. No opportunity for young people to take music in school with their national instrument that creates pathways for young people to pursue performance excellence, further education and career opportunities – opportunities available to young people across Scotland but denied to the young people of Cumnock and its surrounding area . . . yet against all odds and out of the ashes comes an EPIC New Dawn.

The eight tracks by the young players make up with creativity and charisma what they might understandably lack in technicalities – precisely the right priority for compelling pipe band music. They deliver fun arrangements of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” and a few covers of well-kent songs by Queen, complete with a backing band. These young players must have had a blast, and their teachers clearly know how to capture and motivate imaginations beyond endless reps of standard pipe tunes.

Kilmarnock acquits themselves well, particularly with “The Killie Piper,” a set of rollicking creative tunes orchestrated with electric guitars, keys and drum kit. The band’s competition medley and MSR are naturally the best technical performances, and their rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is well done.

The band, flashing the pipe section’s handiwork, finishes their second half set with an air and jigs, including John Allan’s sensational setting of “Caber Feidh,” leaving the crowd demanding more, and both bands answered with an encore of Dougie MacLean’s song, “Caledonia,” including a vocal performance, and a surprise bonus track to complete the night.

EPIC New Dawn is vision and ambition combined with resilience and commitment. It’s a testament to the cause being more important than the technicalities. Indeed, what started from the ashes of a decimated regional pipe band scene, after only a few years, has caught a vital spark, evidenced in the still-building fire of this recording.

– Andrew Berthoff






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