Published: August 15, 2013

Rise up . . . and up . . . and up (HD video highlights)

“Ascension”
Inveraray & District Pipe Band
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
August 14, 2013
£15-19.50

Reviewed by Andrew Berthoff

The eight-year history of the Inveraray & District Pipe Band is a meteoric rise from the bottom of Grade Nothing to the elite of Grade 1. Pipe-Major Stuart Liddell is considered the greatest competing piper today. Leading-Drummer Steven McWhirter has won three World Solo Drumming titles, including the most recent. The accomplishments of the band are already the stuff of legend. The title of the concert was, quite aptly, “Ascension.”

And on this night, yes, they ascended. And ascended. And ascended yet again.

In a two-hours-plus triumph, Inveraray wowed a sold-out standing-room-only concert hall of 2,086 rabid fans from all parts of the world where Highland pipes are played to rise to terrific heights again and again.

With a complement of between 18 and 22 pipers (depending on the selection), a snare line of eight, and a bass-section of seven, Inveraray brought with them a backing band of guitars, keyboards and percussion, one of the hottest fiddlers on the planet, a string quartet, a couple of brilliant Celtic dancers and, for good measure, a six-time winner of the Clasp at the Northern Meeting. If anyone balks at a £20 ticket for this lot, they’d best give their head a wee shake.

The concert opened with the first of many graduated builds. The Bretonesque start began with purple stage lighting and a sophisticated syncopated percussion score, with Treacherous Orchestra players Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie backing up the band.

It was comforting after the first group of tunes to hear the familiar voice of Bob Worrall take the microphone as compere for the night as the band launched into a set of hornpipes, and then an MSR, with a “Bob of Fettercairn” played as it should be: solo-style, with lovely lightness to an easily-laboured tune. The sparkling pipe section tone of the beginning had diminished just slightly with some drone loss, and a bit of section separation in the reel, but it could have been an effect heard only in the balcony.

A set of “Old school” jigs followed, where former bass drummer Mike Cole of Chicago made a return for nostalgia’s sake through “Paddy’s Leather Breeches” and “The Curlew,” with the aforementioned Celtic dancers spicing up the stage at at least 135 beats-per-minute.

The jig set was followed by the first of many audience interactions, with tenor drummer Ruaridh MacDonald prompting the crowd with a little lesson on rhythm and hand-clapping for the drum fanfare to come after a solo piping spot of  impressive rapid-fire technique that received the night’s first really big ovation.

The drum fanfare was clever and captivating, and Steven McWhirter’s charges clearly have learned his own knack for dynamics, with the corps rising from ppp to fff – emblematic of the whole ascension theme, as were just about every selection that managed to soar to new heights. The audience . . .

4 COMMENTS

  1. Couldn’t agree more Andrew. Fabulous concert. Catherine’s Lament was the highlight for me too – intensely moving. A tenor drummer told me this morning she even liked “that piobaireachd thing” so there’s hope for the big music yet.

  2. Wouldn’t it be nice if we started to insert this type of entertaining music into the mainstream? Maybe someday we will have a “Woodstock” type approach to showcasing the best and brightest pipe bands where ALL can enjoy and listen without conventional score sheets and all the baggage the sheets carry with them…

  3. I’d like to commend Mr. Berthoff on such a well-written review which makes those of us who couldn’t be there anxiously await the (hopefully) forthcoming DVD. Bravo!

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