All Power to them – ScottishPower concert review

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Scottish Power Pipe Band on stage last night at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
ScottishPower Pipe Band on stage last night at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

ScottishPower Pipe Band – SP+R – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, August 14.

ScottishPower Pipe Band took to the stage at exactly 7.35pm last night and for the subsequent three hours – with a 20 minute interval – showed us exactly why this band is considered by many to be future winners of the Worlds.

The tune selections were judicious, the tone and integration of the pipe corps superb – which never flagged over the two hours – and the drums scores sympathetic yet dynamic. The capacity audience in the Main Auditorium, including friends, family, pipe band peers, legends and the rest of us, were treated to music from every genre.

Jake Jørgensen, the Power’s Leading Drummer since 2014, is surely one of the pipe band world’s unsung heroes? Without fail, his corps is spot on with the pipe corps. Some drum corps are not always with the pipe corps – even in Grade 1, listen carefully – but Jake’s corps are without fail with the pipers. His corps doesn’t just drive the band on, it partners it very well with scores that lift the dynamism of the music in a real sense. The’ Drum Fanfare that closed the first half was mesmerising.

In Chris Armstrong, the Power has a Pipe Major with authority. He knows exactly how to get a sound, how to construct a musical and entertaining medley, and to get the best from his team. A glance there, a raised eyebrow there … Chris and Jake are a formidable team.

And then there’s Pipe Sergeant Donald MacKay, himself an ex-Power Pipe Major. Rock steady. Able – his brother is surely called Cain? Donald is as dependable as a sunrise, a sage figure in a young and talented pipe corps. If Jake is the Leading Tip every Pipe Major would wish to have, Donald MacKay the Pipe Sergeant every Pipe Major would wish for.

Last night, the Power fielded 29 pipers, 10 drummers (sometimes 11), six tenors and one bass. Two drone tuners kept on top of the drones. Like most top flight Grade 1 bands, there are no weak links. My apologies for the dreadful pun, but judging by the looks on their faces, the personnel were switched on from the start. Their expressions were calm and professional, a picture of concentration. They will have been nervous for the first few sets. The drone tuners performed their task admirably; the temperature was cooler on stage than in the dressing room.

"Whaur hae ye' been, sae braw lad …"
“Whaur hae ye’ been, sae braw lad …”

On the subject of sound, tonight the Power’s sound did not waver. I sat at the back of the hall, dead centre, upstairs and could not find any major issues over the duration of this concert. One minor quibble, for me, was that the snares at times obscured the sound of the pipes a tad and we couldn’t hear the tenor drummers whenever the folk band – Rura – played. Indeed, one a couple occasions the balance of guitar and double bass compared to the pipe band was to the detriment of the latter.

A few people sitting near me grumbled about the generous time given over to Rura at the start of the second half but we must remember that these shows take a lot out of the individual. We are geared to play – and peak – for a five-six minute competition set not a three hour concert set. Most of the audience have never played on that stage at one of these concerts – and never will.

Television newsreader, John MacKay was the fear an tighe. This was a surprise to some but, as John explained, his sons play the pipes. He handled his take ably enough and ‘interviewed’ some of the musicians before some sets.

The bill itself was well constructed. The band didn’t play a single MSR although it did let us hear its Medley for the Worlds. Seeing as this concert is a forum to let the top bands loose creatively, the Power certainly entertained and impressed us. The competition stuff can wait until tomorrow and Saturday – and I wish the band the very best of luck at the Worlds.

There were quite a few highlights for me, beginning with the opener, Billy Jackson’s Molendinar, a tune made famous years ago by Ian Duncan’s Vale of Atholl (it’s on the ‘Live n’ Well’ CD). The Archie Campbell medley, the one that features Craig Muirhead’s arrangement of Lament for Mary MacLeod in the middle, was another highlight. I’ve written elsewhere about this set and this arrangement. One never tires of hearing it.

Another highlight was Pipe Major Donald MacLeod’s pibroch, Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Salute which began with six pipers and the folk musicians (including Finlay MacDonald and John Mulhearn). Despite a technical chanter glitch at the start this proved to be a beautiful arrangement that included the whole band joining in including sympathetic snares at the crunluath. (I believe this arrangement was also Craig Muirhead’s.)

Bagad Cap Caval's bombardes added so much to the show.
Bagad Cap Caval’s bombardes added so much to the show.

Yet another highlight was the Breton set that was played in the first half, Kezag Cascade. This was arranged by Mael Sicard-Cras and it’s right that he be mentioned in despatches. On this, the overall sound produced by the band, the folk musicians and the 14 bombardes was really quite superb.

With the Delaware set, the band played without accompaniment. The tone was superb despite the addition of an extra snare.

This is a band that’s been ‘chappin’ at the door’ for a while. It rightly achieved two firsts at majors in recent years and it’s time will come and, on tonight’s showing, fairly soon.

Tonight’s concert was promoter, the Glasgow Skye’s 25th such concert and was another success for the organisation. The Power last played at this concert in 2011.

The band’s encore saw former piper member of the pipe corps, Jonathan Cheyne, stride on the stage resplendent in tartan trews. The band followed him on. With a fine voice Jonathan sang Killiecrankie before the band struck up. It was a great way to end the show and Chris Armstrong had the manners to return to the stage to thank everyone involved in putting the show together and to us all for coming along.

Last night’s show wasn’t recorded. For those that couldn’t make it for whatever reason, you missed a good show. A seriously good show.

Stuart Letford (Editor, the Piping Times), for bagpipe.news