November 13, 2010

Tracks that inspired

A little later, c.1979, probably listening to Rush. Not 'Farewell to Kings' concert shirt.It’s safe to say that all pipers and drummers are inspired to play because of the playing of others. When we first hear a band or soloist perform, there’s something about the sound of the instrument that makes us want to do that. If we’re lucky, we’re exposed to quality playing from the very beginning, to set a benchmark for the standard that’s possible if, after quality instruction, we practice really hard.

About the only podcast I listen to regularly is National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered.” If you like popular (mainly rock) music, I highly recommend it. They did a show recently called “Tunes That Got You Through Your Teens. It was a little maudlin at times but, as ever, it reminded me of the many hours I spent as an adolescent listening to . . . bagpipe music.

It got me thinking about the piping and pipe band recordings that inspired me to practice and, since that and baseball were about the only things I remember doing back then, I guess this music helped me “get through” my teens. Fortunately my Dad liked pipe music before I ever touched a practice chanter (a made-in-Pakistan, bought-in-Edinburgh sheesham wood model he gloppily glued back together at the neck after my brother – I’m sure it was my brother – anonymously sat on it), so as I learned I had some great examples of world-class playing to which I could aspire.

If I had to pick two tracks, though, that inspired me as a kid to practice it would be these (you can click on the links to hear a snippet):

“Lament for the Children”The Art of the Bagpipe – Pipe-Major John Burgess. Goodness knows where my father found this record from the 1950s featuring one of the all-time great figures in piping history. It’s from “Folk-Lyric Records” of Baton Rouge, Louisiana – about as far removed as you can get from Burgess’s stomping ground (although I’m confident he would have concocted a great time if he ever had a walkabout in Baton Rouge). I would listen to the full track repeatedly, and practically memorized the little story about Padruig Og MacCrimmon losing seven of his eight sons to plague in one year. Looking now at the list of tracks on the LP I see that I learned every one of the tune on the record and competed with many of them. No coincidence there.

Inspirational.“Jigs”The Pipes of Scotland – Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band – This was one of those compilation albums that Fiesta, another obscure American record company, co-opted from various LPs. The record featured the Edinburgh and Glasgow Police, the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders and Invergordon Distillery. I think the Edinburgh Police track must be from 1967’s Capital Parade, and it comprises “Banjo Breakdown,” “Butter Fingers” and “Caber Feidh.” It was Donald MacLeod’s “Butter Fingers” that got me. I couldn’t understand how they managed the fourth part with its staccato effect of going down the scale (the high-A’s lost in the drones), but I loved it and wanted to learn how to do that.

The lost effect of the album cover was important, too, with these albums: young Burgess in Cameron’s regalia; the mass of bands marching down Princes Street. For the longest time I wondered One small hitch for mankind.why the Edinburgh Police Pipe-Major, Iain McLeod, was hitching up his bag when such an important photo was taken, but that I also figured out later when introduced to the ignominy of the massed band.

The “All Songs Considered” show taps listeners for the tunes that got them through their teens. I could identify with most of them that were in sync with my teenage years, but they also included tracks from the 1990s that feel to me like they were just released. It’s all relative. While I still think of something like, say, Masterblasters, to be new, there are of course many who were in their adolescent years when the Victoria Police released the CD.

Every piper or drummer has recordings that saved them. Those are a few of mine. If you want to share yours, fire away.


  1. City of Victoria “Play the Sweet Music”. I think I wrote every tune on that album down. Dancer’s Delight with Ian McLeod got the same treatment.

  2. There was one album of piping music which lit the fire within me in my teenage years – it was produced by Bandleader as a joint production the Pipes and Drums of the 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles and the Military Band of the 14th/20th Hussars.

    The album featured a very quick and raw “Lucy Cassidy” which then led into “Barren Rocks of Aden” and finished with a rousing rendition of “The Black Bear” in which the entire drum corps roared and shouted in immaculate timing at the end of the fourth bar. Simply awe-inspiring — made the hairs stand up on the nape of my neck.

    Looking back and listening again nearly 30 years later, the playing wouldn’t have won any competitions, but it kindled a flame within me that led to me picking up the pipes…

  3. Any track off of “Live in Ireland” by the 78th Frasers.
    This album (pick any track from it) “saved” me.
    To this day,Bruce Gandy’s solo makes my jaw drop.

  4. The 1998 Worlds medley of the Victoria Police Pipe Band. Everytime I listen to this, my will to practice is strengthend so that I might be part of a similar performance one day.

  5. I’ll second the “Live in Ireland” by the 78th Frasers. I listened to that one all through my teens. I was working with my dad for the summer when I was about 15, and I remember driving back and forth to work, the two of us blasting that album and trying to play along (him on the steering wheel, me on my knees). I’m not sure how we stayed on the road. To this day, the cheers at the end of the Clumsy Lover give me chills, and when they launch back into it for an encore, I feel like jumping up and down for joy.

  6. Another vote for the 78th Frasers’ “Live in Ireland.” I had just started taking lessons when that tape was new. The first track (Lord Lovat’s Lament) was the first thing I ever taught myself by ear, because I just had to know it. I listened to all the solos (especially Bruce Gandy’s) about a thousand times. And I agree with Kirsten about the Clumsy Lover. What a wonderful album.

  7. Champions Supreme by Shotts. The track with Lord Alexander Kennedy and finishing with the hornpipe G S Allan. I listened to that track all my piping career. Brilliant. Also off Capitol Parade by the Edinburgh police, The Conundrum, MSR finishing with The Little Cascade.

  8. Two albums that were released at around the same time were what did it for me.
    The first album from Na Caberfeidh (a.k.a. Rare Air) called “Stick It in your Ear”;
    And the very first album from the 78th Fraser Highlanders, several years before the
    Live In Ireland recording (1982 I think), where a lot of folks were first introduced to a little hornpipe called The Clumsy Lover. Pure magic!!

  9. “Champion of Champions” and “Six in a Row” – Strathclyde Police PB. Both were a clinic on playing to the upbeat with clip, and helped all the way by the drumming. Absolutely brilliant.

    Any MSR recording of the same band from early 80’s to early 90’s – the “Links of Forth”, “Hugh Kennedy”, and “Elspeth Campbell” sets being the standouts.

    John Wilson – “World’s Greatest Piper’s” – beyond superb.

    PM Angus Macdonald – “World’s Greatest Piper’s, Vol. 1” – sublime, and on a bagpipe that still stands out today.

    “Live in Ireland” – 78ths. Where might our music be if that album was never made…?

  10. I would have to say first and formost the Invergordon Distillary LP recording way back in the 60’s. Quite the music on the recording for a band and quite a load of talent as well. Also to the best of my knowledge a first of a band playing a whole piobaireachd on it, the Old Woman’s Lullaby. Which I have to say was my first expsoure to Piobaireachd as my teacher didn’t play it.
    Also have to agree with one other already mentioned, the PM Angus MacDonald worlds greatest piper LP, a real how to clnic of what it should really sound like.

  11. In the early 1970s it was the old LP of John Maclellan and John Burgess playing lament for the Viscount of Dundee, Piobaireachd of Donald Dubh and Old men of the Shells complete with canntaireachd and a Gaelic song version (for the Shells and Donald Dubh) from the great Barra tradition bearer, Calum Johnson . First time I ever heard Piobaireachd and it’s relationship to Gaelic song so closely matched. Burgess was also and influence with his stirng of hornpipesfor Topic records ending with the Ballachulish Walkabout
    For the Pipe band stuff, pretty hard to beat the Invergordon Distillery LP. I should mention a few local pipe bands who didn’t have the same strong band sound or the drum corps but still made great music, one of which was the MacDougall Pipe Band from Glace Bay/Dominion, Nova Scotia. It has been years since I listened to them but as young piper I remember th elilt in their 6/8 and 2/4 marches
    Boy talk about a trip down memory lane…its been fun

  12. Ah the memories come flooding back Classic tracks as Jim Brash said like Lord Alex and a cracker of a tune G S Allan great syncopation. Little Cascade a classic tune from the pen of the very talented G S McLennan wonderful tunes and wonderful times.

    As a youngster I sat for hours with my sticks and pad listening and trying play along to all the old Muirheads records Glesga Polis, Shotts ,Red Hackle, Edinburgh Polis, Invergordon then years later listening very attentively to Live In Ireland and being totally inspired by the wonderful sound of the 78ths Up to the Line Medley well the whole album if truth be told.

  13. For me, has to be the Bilston Glen Pipe band recording from the 1970’s. The novel setting of the Hens March was inspiring. Archie Pinkman PM realy knew how to set up a sound.

  14. William Boyle’s recording from New Zealand….church organ and pipes….it was a first, way back then.

    John D. Burgess….his “King of the Highland Bagpipers”…..I think I wore the vinyl right off that album.

    John Wilson (Toronto/Edinburgh)…..his 1960’s album recording when he visiting British Columbia for the annual Indoor Meet.

    The John MacLellan/John Burgess/Donald MacLeod series of piobaireachd albums….John MacLellan’s drone strike in…..what a statement….totally ingrained in my memory.

    P.M. Angus MacDonald’s winning performance at the Glenfiddich with “MacDougall’s Gathering”j

  15. Hmm…. let’s see now…
    City Of Guelph Pipe Bands’ rendition of “The Lantern Song?”..lovely 3or 4 parted harmonies and counter melodies…circa 1980.
    78th Frasers’ “Magic Medley” circa 1982. Again, beautiful harmonic arrangements.
    Scot Rail, Vale Of Atholl’s first album.
    Every “Tannahill Weavers” album.. fantastic counter melodies and arrangements.
    On a side note, something that still saves me, I’m surprised that people still remember Toronto & District’s “Reflections” album…they still come up to me today and mention it…….

  16. John D. Burgess “King of the Highland Bagpipers”
    Paddy’s Leather Breeches with the triplet birls…awesome
    the digital CD saved my vinyl version
    Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band “Pipes in Concert”
    Any track..but the 3 6/8’s Mrs. Lily Christie, Banks of the Farrar & General Montgomery is my favorite track
    skilled musicians & leadership at the top of their game
    Will someone please digitalize this album?
    Shotts & Dykehead “World Champions Pipes and Drums
    MSR Pipe Major Thomas MacAllister, Cameronian Rant, Pretty Marion
    big sound with the flatter chanters of the early 60’s
    My two favorite pipe band albums have the same lead drummer…..imagine that!
    Prety easy from the posts to guess what decade people started piping

  17. It’s amazing how many people have mentioned the great John Burgess’ “King of Highland Pipers”, the orange one, before Topic merged some of his stuff into compilation albums later on.

    Like many others when I grew up I listened to it constantly. The whole thing was absolutely brilliant but particularly as I remember a track with “Parker’s Welcome to Perthshire” and “Achany Glen”. Those were really, really stylish tracks. And then a jig track, with “The Baldooser”, “The Kitchenmaid”, and JDB’s fantasitic “The Old Woman’s Dance”.

    One thing about him, we’ll never hear piping quite like it again. He said to me once that the title of the album was Topic’s idea, and that he was embarrased by it. But then a little smile – “only a bit”.

  18. I first started listening to $4.00 tapes from K Mart that had some real “choice” selections on them…lol! But it did have PD of the Innes Tartan playing the jig Ten-Penny Bit and Lewis Turrell’s Lament for Donald Dughall MacKay on there…my first piobaireached heard.
    Once I started learning, my first fave CD’s were the 78th’s Megantic Outlaw concert (still regarded by me as a true favorite) and Cpl Gordon Walker’s Pipers of Distinction CD around 1993. His slow air/jig set that had Rakes of Kildare, Cabar Feidh and Cameronian Rant was not so much strived for as it was just admired.
    The cassette tape Reel to Reel w/ Scott MacAulay and I think Grey/Gandy and John Walsh was a good one too as well as the Strathclyde’s Champion of Champions and to top it all off is the Jack Lee solo on Alive in America in 1996…if you don’t remember it, go back and have a listen…spellbinding stuff!

  19. I’m happy to be reminded by CRM and RW about “King of Highland Pipers.” I still have a copy of that, and, like Bob, played the proverbial grooves off of it. I asked John Burgess about the title “king of Highland pipers” in the intereview with him that I did in the 1990s. I don’t have the text in front of me, but I believe he explained it a bit sheepishly as intending to mean pipers who live in the Highlands, and not necessarily all those who play the Highland pipes. But I think I recognized the same smiling twinkle.
    Also like the recollections of Bilston’s “Hen’s March” and City of Victoria’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” renditions. These were the first time maybe that I realized one was actually allowed to push the perceived boundaries of the music, even though now these cuts would seem like only tiny nudges.

  20. Bill Peter’s post brought to mind a little cassette featuring Bruce Gandy, Ed Neigh, Murray Henderson and Scott Macauley entitled Piping because we enjoy it. I literally played it until it got so worn my tape player ate it. After all this time I can’t recall a single tune but it was my personal favourite for years.

  21. Lots of great responses and memories here. For me, the pipe band LPs that set me on fire were “March of the Pipers” and “Champions of the World,” both from P-M Iain McLeod and the Edinburgh City Police. Hearing the “Royal Scottish Piper’s Society” as a band march was great, as was the “Fair Maid of Barra, John MacDonald’s Exercise…” set. The LPs had quite a few 2-parted strathspeys and reels, and I loved the variety and the life to it all. Those recordings influenced my later decision to try to play in Iain McLeod’s Renfrew/Babcock-Renfrew Pipe Bands. Was a bit of a dream to be playing the same 6/8 march sets as I’d heard on the LPs! I also played to stretching the cassette tape [now CD] of Donald MacLeod and Duncan Johnstone at the Dorchester Hotel. It was DM’s final public recital, and I was in Grainger & Campbell that day for a lesson, and heard Donald warming up for the recital, and was there in the front row to hear it live that night. Amazing stuff from two incredible players.

  22. Andrew……23 responses, not bad. I think this blog struck a chord with a lot of us. I know it started me waxing a bit nostalgic. I actually cranked up the ol’ gramaphone and took a listen. The tracks were till as good as I remembered. Also listened to favorite tracks mentioned by others, all equally excellent.

  23. One album that had inspired me was the City of Victoria Album. The Farewell to Nigg set and The Waltzes were and still are some of the best I have ever heard.The T&d Reflections album is also one of my favs.

  24. City of Victoria was the first really sharp band I heard. Their version of Paddy O’Rafferty still has movements that I find impossible to play (fourth last beat). I took me some years to realize what the weasel was all about.
    Their performance at the Worlds in 1981 was at least tone wise above the rest. Digging into the vinyl I found my very first LP, “The Capital Parade” with Edinburgh Police. I liked the way they marched in. Ian McLeod later told me it was because of a minor issue at the start.
    I have digitized most of my vinyl collection from 50’ties through to early 80’ties. As long as there is no copyright issues I don’t mind sharing. If some one has the server I have the ones and zeros.

  25. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards album from 1972–Cool picture of the Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo to look at while listening to piping for the first time when I was about 12. Haven’t heard it in years, don’t know if it was really any good, but it planted the idea in my head that it would be really cool to do that if I ever had the chance, which eventually came about 10 years later.

  26. Your first chanter reminded me of my brothers. This cheap wood thing, I snapped it in half by whipping it with a blanket. I was in a bit of trouble after that.

  27. I was always a big fan of Polkemmet’s “From Celtic Roots”. Of all the pipe-related recordings that have never really left my rotation for any significant length of time, this is the longest serving. I could add “Live in Ireland” and another from Rare Air’, “Hard to Beat,” as other fixtures in the rotation.

  28. This is too easy, and it’s amazing how many people seem to have the same favourites, and you can obviously tell when these people got into playing. For me, I started playing in 1992, 7th grade. the Foxhunter medley from the 78ths I think on the “25 years of world champions” tape, was my first listen to what I though was a “cool” medley. Then came Bruce Gandy’s solo in 87′ Still listen to it, still wonder about his fascination with playing so many high G’ grace notes. The others that had impact on me where, “Grace notes”, “T&D Reflections”, and Victoria Police’s “Uphold the Right”. Of course there are many more, but these were the ones that made me want to quit piano and trumpet (which I loved), and switch to Oboe, so I would be gauranteed to be the freshman piper in high school, due to the fact you weren’t allowed to march with an oboe.

  29. Been listening to Schotts and Dykehead “Another Quiet Sunday” (for the drumming mainly) and Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band “12,000 miles” (for the piping and arrangements) – I haven’t played in a pipe band for 20 years. But these albums inspire me now.



Forgotten Password?