The subject of this short article is a common one amongst pipers: pipe band drumming. Many pipers – and some drummers – feel that pipe bands have now become far too percussion oriented and driven, to the point that the fundamentals of the Great Highland Bagpipe – it is pentatonic, is pure in harmonics and does not fit into temperate music, both sound wise or music theory wise – are in danger of being sacrificed. As can be seen here, such concern is not recent. The writer of this article had attended the World Pipe Band Championships held in 1957 and his piece was published originally in the Piping Times of January 1958. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he used a pseudonym.
By Old Timer
It was my first day on holiday, it was raining, and I saw visions of the usual Glasgow Fair. Leaving granny to look after the grandchildren, there was nothing else for me to do but pay a visit to the local. My Iuck was in. The barman — whom I had not met for many years — served along with me as a piper under the late Pipe Major Robert Hall [possibly of the 93rd Highlanders – Editor]. After a warm hearty handshake, and a glass of something that must have come out of some secret still, the whole piping world came under discussion
We agreed that solo pipers and pipers in bands had improved a hundred fold since our day, thanks to the talented instructors of the College of Piping.
I, having attended the World’s Pipe Band Championships, held at Paisley, was none too pleased with the results on the piping side and I would blame the drumming for that.
My friend said: “What is this so called modern drumming; would you say it was helpful to tunes and pipers? Bands don’t get the ‘lift’ such as we got from old Tim Garrity in our time. He played the way that every band piper is asking for now.” I agreed wholeheartedly with him. Some of the drummers at Paisley appeared to be trying to play the pipers’ gracenotes and by so doing made a jumble of the tunes, strangling the music. It beats me to understand the modern drummers. They seem to think that, the more complicated they make their drumming, the better the tune becomes. Nothing is further from the truth!
Listen to any of Jimmy Shand’s recordings: Does his drummer play this lifeless scramble stuff? No! Neither does Bobby MacLeod’s drummer, and what is more the Royal Scottish Country Dancers would draw the claymore if they did. I wish the modern drummers had heard some of the drummers of our time, Here are the names of a few who could, and did, take the pipers where they wanted. Pat MacCartney (K.O.S.B.), John Paterson (Clan MacRae), Dan Turrant (MacLean Pipe Band), Sandy Scott (8th Argylls), Alex. Lavery (7th H.L.).
My friend and I counted a dozen old timers who gave our pipers rhythmic phrasing that, as Auld Rabbie said: “Put mettle in their heels.”
Let’s get back to what pipe music calls for – lift and life – and this advice: listen in to the radio, and you will never hear a drummer in any musical combination playing a complicated muddle such as we hear in the pipe bands of today.
The crunluath breabach cannot be played on a drum. Why try it?