SFU’s Generations concert: ‘A future yet to be discovered for the piping and drumming traditions we hold so dear’
The Generations Concert
Simon Fraser University Pipe Band
SEC Armadillo, Glasgow
7 pm, August 16, 2023
Reviewed by Laura Mullin
If you’ve read the various social media posts, you already know how it went.
Let me first say I had to be convinced to write this. A review is, by definition, “. . . a formal assessment or examination of something with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary . . .”
There will be no formal assessment, and there is no change necessary.
For one, I’m not qualified to critique what is almost certainly the best concert band in the world. Secondly, I’m on vacation and don’t want to spend my time searching for imperfections that are usually mentioned in a review to demonstrate that the author is neutral and balanced.
I am neither neutral nor balanced. I was lucky enough to attend the brilliant Simon Fraser University Pipe Band’s “Generations” concert, and I loved every minute of it.
With the family connections of Lees and Bevans at the forefront of so much SFU history, it goes without saying that the concert was aptly named. Besides the obvious, however, the theme was woven skillfully through the entire evening as SFU worked its magic at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow, to the largest crowd ever in attendance at a Pre-World’s concert. In musical choices, arrangements and the choice of guest and backing performers, the past, present, and future were each given their due.
Bob Worrall, the evening’s “compère,” waxed poetic in his usual manner. Though he added some new words like “alacrity” and “musical feast” to upcoming versions of Bob Worrall Bingo, he did not linger. He introduced each piece with just enough context to flesh out the brief titles of the setlist in the printed program.
Stage lighting and changes were subtle, yet impactful, letting the size of the band and the quality of the music speak for themselves. SFU simply walked on stage and began with an understated version of “The Skye Boat Song,” unveiling what was to come with subtle added layers, as the late longtime SFU piper Andrew Bonar’s daughter, Kate, danced elegantly through the air in a simple black dress before all leaping right into a three-jig set that began with “Butter Fingers.”
I cannot possibly recreate the experience here, so here are just a few of my personal highlights:
- Former member Matt Welch returned to conduct the Ceol Mor, “Andrew MacNeill of Colonsay,” with some piping, two drums, and with most of the band singing canntaireachd.
- A rocking rendition of Dysart & Dundonald’s Worlds’-winning “My Land” medley, faithful to the original right down to the delayed E on the attack.
- The two hornpipes “Jimmy Bainbridge” and “Andrew and Colin Lee.” Certainly the most poignant performance of the evening, it began with a recording of Jack Lee playing the tune at age 15. Fifty years later, he walked on stage and began it alone, then was joined by his sons, Andrew, John and Colin. Jack had not known until the night before that Colin would be returning to play. They were joined by the Bevan family, and his nephew Alastair.
- The “Halo” piece (yes, based on the video game) and the murmurs of excitement it elicited from the row of tweens behind me when the tune was introduced.
- The debut of Calum Armstrong’s “Road to Rouen,” played for the first time here, and done beautifully and simply on pipes only.
- “Project Smok.” The young folk trio of Ali Levack, Ewan Baird and Pablo Lafuente were seated unobtrusively at the far back right of the stage. By their own admission, they were “cacking” themselves (look it up) at being there. These brilliant musicians were woven through most of the concert, playing with the band as though they’d done it a million times before, but then exploding with big sound in their featured pieces. If you didn’t know “Project Smok” before, you absolutely should get to know them now.
- The drum fanfare at the end of the first half had lead drummer Reid Maxwell stepping off stage while the rest of the drummers played “420 Byng Street.” While they played, photos of Reid throughout the years were displayed at each side of the auditorium, demonstrating both the storied history of the drum corps, while making it clear that there need be no concerns about its future.
For the capacity crowd in attendance, and certainly, for the performers themselves, the Generations concert was one for the ages.
The who’s-who of piping and drumming were in attendance, and any one of them could provide a more fulsome critique, but the simplest and best review came from the teenager behind me, who, as the lights rose after the encore, simply exclaimed, “That was awesome!”
He’s right. It was awesome. And though, at present, many of us lament the dwindling numbers of new and young pipers and drummers, the SFU Generations concert beautifully reminded us of the foundations set by the players of the past, and, more importantly, provided reassurance that there still is a future yet to be discovered for the piping and drumming traditions we hold so dear.
Laura Mullin is a highly accomplished piper from Guelph, Ontario, whose career has included being a member of the Grade 1 Toronto & District and currently with the Grade 2 St. Andrew’s College Association. She is a frequent contributor to pipes|drums, and is a legal professional helping victims of catastrophic injuries.