Review: ‘We’re a Case, The Bunch of Us’ – Allan MacDonald and friends
We’re a Case, The Bunch of Us
Allan MacDonald and friends
The National Piping Centre
August 9, 2022
Reviewed by Iain MacDonald
The evening concert at the National Piping Centre carried a great sense of expectation in the waiting area outside. People stacked in, anxious to get seated, and the show was a little late getting started. It turned out that the anxiety was merited, because it wasn’t easy getting seated – the hall was filled to capacity.
The show was opened by Beira, a four-member band featuring Caitlin McNeill on guitar and vocals, Alana MacInnes on border pipes, Shona Masson on fiddle and Fiona Black on accordion. They got the hall warmed up nicely with some great sets of tunes, and a lovely song they wrote and had the audience singing along on the chorus. It was solid 45 minutes of enjoyable tunes and chat, and the only difficulty was keeping the instruments in tune in the gathering heat of the room. They managed it well, though, and kept things moving nicely. They are all excellent players and the blend and arrangements were enjoyable. I look forward to hearing more from this group.
After an intermission, Allan MacDonald took to the stage, supported by Finlay MacDonald (Highland pipes, whistles), Ali Hutton (guitar) and Iain MacFarlane (fiddle). The concept of the show was that it would showcase MacDonald’s compositions and as Iain MacFarlane remarked later in the program, it was simply amazing to have a complete night of such fine entertainment “all composed by one soul.”
What an amazing body of work MacDonald has produced, and to top it off, his performance was first-rate.
Starting the show with a couple of marches, MacDonald seemed visibly nervous, although the playing was faultless. The B flat Highland pipes were throaty and full starting out and then blown through to sweetness. As soon as the other musicians jumped in and the crowd responded enthusiastically, you could see the tension evaporate.
Finlay MacDonald was excellent on Highland pipes and whistle, playing note for note with Allan and sometimes wandering off on harmonic adventures that lifted the tunes to a new place. MacFarlane added both a melody and harmonies as needed, it was all supported magnificently by Hutton on guitar, whose energy drove a lot of the sets. Hutton’s tasteful accompaniment helped build the intensity and create space at different times in all the sets. Each of the four players was a study in brilliance.
There were quite a few sets featuring Highland pipes or pipes and whistle, and then uilleann piper Leonard Barry joined them on stage for tunes on C uilleann pipes with Allan on C smallpipes, and as the evening progressed Allan played small pipes in A and D, before coming back to the piob mhor at the end.
As the evening went on, MacFarlane’s words rang more true: what an amazing body of work MacDonald has produced, and to top it off, his performance was first-rate. The tempos were high and driving, and the crowd was completely behind them all the way.
Allan MacDonald introduced each set of tunes, sometimes with a story behind the name, or an anecdote about the person for whom it was named. It was warm, funny and self-effacing chat that the audience loved. The show completed with a huge blast of energy on the Highland pipes, and enthusiastic encore, and the crowd jumping to their feel to acknowledge the masterful performance.
The feeling in the room, encouraged by the supporting musicians, was that we were all there to acknowledge the tremendous contribution MacDonald has made to the music so far. At one point near the end, Hutton jumped to his feet and shouted “Allan MacDonald!” and the audience roared and cheered in approval. This was an engaging celebration of both MacDonald and his music, and it will be remembered for a long time by those lucky enough to have attended.
Iain MacDonald is a frequent contributor to pipes|drums. A piper of the first order, his teaching and organizational contributions in and around his native Saskatchewan are legendary, and he was voted one of the 15 Greatest Living Canadian Pipers & Drummers in our celebration of the country’s 150th birthday in 2017. A former member of Grade 1 bands Babcock-Renfrew and Simon Fraser University and a current member of the 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel), he was the pipe-major of the Grade 2 City of Regina for three decades until his recent decision to step down. He lives in Regina.