A packed audience in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall saw dancing in the aisles on Wednesday night, 14th August, at the Ascension concert from Inveraray & District Pipe Band.
They also enjoyed a programme of invention, variety and exquisite musicality.
This was orchestral, with a fabulous fiddler, a string quartet, guitars, keyboards and percussion joining the pipers and drummers of a band that has set the world of piping alight with its extraordinarily swift progress to the top ranks of pipe bands in the words – and with its sheer virtuosity.
The music repeatedly swelled to fill the Concert Hall, dying back almost to a hush and punctuated with solo and specialist performances, highland dancing, a barber shop quartet – and a drum fanfare that made you wonder if some renegade subsidy-chaser had begun unpublicised fracking in the heart of Glasgow.
The music cajoled, enchanted, commanded – lifting and setting down its audience like flotsam on waves of sound.
When the audience abandoned themselves to the experience, they found they had work to do themselves, called upon to deliver rhythmic clapped accompaniments and elements.
Archie MacAllister’s fiddling, always riveting, soared to another place altogether, sliding through a series of pipe tunes.
The musical arranging was a work of art – a monumental achievement with a programme of this complexity and so huge a cast.
There was a superb piobearachd, Catherine’s Lament, whose textured and controlled delivery of a complex score was musicianship of the highest order.
Part of the programme had been chosen by popular demand. The piping world’s magazine, pipes l drums had polled its audience with the Inveraay band’s medley, Helen Black of Inveran, emerging as the winner.
pipes l drums’ Andrew Berthoff has reviewing the concert and his expert assessment of the calibre of the programme and of the playing puts words and names to what a lay person could only celebrate.
He describes Inveraray & District’s pipe major, the renowned Stuart Liddell as ‘the greatest Highland piper on the planet’ and was excited by the impact of musical experimentation in the programme, at one point using drones alone, at another only the chanters.
Berthoff’s review is a ‘must read’ to get the expert insights into exactly what the musicians were doing and how they were doing it. The review also carries of a professional fundamentally moved by the innovation and the delivery he experienced – and relieved to find no cheap-and-easy tricksiness in the programme. That would never, of course, be Stuart Liddell’s style. He likes to set his band serious challenges and he expects them to overcome.
The range of world class musicianship this band has within its own ranks, with Stuart Liddell and fellow world champion, drummer Steven McWhirter has seen its young members grow at the rate of hothouse plants – but far more robust.
It is the sheer strength in numbers of the band and its discipline in precision of delivery – a Liddell prerequisite – that made possible the controlled massing and waning of sound that is one of the big ‘take away’ memories of Wednesday night – as well as its finale.
The concert ended with the band playing through the auditorium, pied pipers indeed, leading the audience to the foyer in Lochanside.
This Saturday and Sunday, 17th and 18th August, the band will be playing out of their skins in the Grade 1 contest at the World Pipe Band Championships on Glasgow Green – and in the Juvenile section too, with their ‘wee’ band.