An evening of firsts with The Eagles and ‘The Eagles’ in Edinburgh
An Evening of International Piping with the Eagle Pipers
Scots Guards Club
This evening of masterful piping contained a few firsts. It was the first time that The Eagle Pipers hosted a Piping Live! event at their regular location in Edinburgh; it was the first time they featured an uilleann piper on the bill; and it was the first time their own “The Eagle Pipers Piobaireachd” was performed live in the club, and by none less than the composer himself.
Hon. Pipe-Major Euan Anderson took charge of the packed room to describe the successful partnership with Piping Live! and to give an overview of the evening. First up was master uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson, and he noted that he was likely the first uilleann piper to have a tune at the Eagles.
Playing a three-quarter set of uilleann pipes in B, Henderson took immediate control of the room with his expressive playing of a variety of idioms, always building interest with variations, technique and regulator work as each set progressed. You could hear a reed staple drop as the room leaned in to see how he made such amazing music.
A highlight of his performance was Henderson singing “The Wounded Hussar” while accompanying himself with drones and regulators. The accompaniment included complex changes in backing notes
and chords, and all the while, his voice rose above and perfectly nailed the sad half-step notes of the melody. This piece finished with him changing from vocals to playing the melody on the chanter. The room exploded after, and the emotional impact of the piece was profound. More than one piper in the room said after the fact they felt they needed a moment to compose themselves before Henderson started the next set!
Henderson played a set of Scottish tunes – and in fact, he pointed out that the words for “The Wounded Hussar” were most likely written in Glasgow – and he finished with a set of reels that was wild and playful, with varied rhythmic bumps and stops, amazing finger work on the chanter and the kind of regular work that suggests there is a third hand in play. Simply amazing technical and musical playing.
After a break for the legendary Eagle Pipers meat pies and some chat, Euan Anderson introduced Bruce Gandy, fresh from his piobaireachd win and overall victory at The Masters. Anderson described the competition they held for a club piobaireachd, and how Gandy’s tune was selected from an excellent group of 12 tunes.
Gandy’s pipes were full and resonant, and he launched with a set of 3/4s that included his own tune for his mother’s 75th birthday. “Frances Gandy’s Diamond Year” is one of the great modern 3/4s.
He followed with a slow air of his own, and then a set of rollicking Irish jigs, including “Langstrom’s Pony” and “Lark in the Morning.” Gandy has always had a great feel for these tunes and brings some nice variations to the typical scores.
Members of the Eagle Pipers present later expressed how special it was to have their own tune delivered so beautifully in the club for the first time.
Members of the audience got to select the MSR he played from his contest list, and he delivered beautifully on “The Abercairney Highlanders,” “The Ewe Wi’ the Crooked Horn,” and “The Grey Bob.”
“The Eagle Pipers’ Piobaireachd” was next, and members of the Eagle Pipers present later expressed how special it was to have their own tune delivered so beautifully in the club for the first time. It’s a lovely tune, and well worth the time for piobaireachd lovers to get to know it.
Despite the stifling heat in the room, Gandy was convinced to part with one more set, and he played a set of reels that he learned from a tape recording made when Donald MacLeod visited Victoria, British Columbia, in the 1970s. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to experience Bruce Gandy letting loose on reels many times, and it’s always such a pleasure to hear.
The evening was a roaring success by any standard and well worth the train ticket from Glasgow. The evening ended with thanks to the performers and the many who came out to hear the show, and there’s no doubt this may become a regular feature of future Piping Live! festivals.
– Contributed by Iain MacDonald, Regina