By Stuart Letford
The Conundrum: International Piping Night, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, New Auditorium, Glasgow (January 25, 2019)
The new auditorium of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, imaginatively called the, er, New Auditorium, was the venue for this multi-national line-up of pipers brought together by composer, flute player, piper, instructor, performer and all-round good egg, Finlay MacDonald. He wasted no time in introducing the first piper, Enora Morice from Brittany, who I believe now competes with Shotts. Enora, on highland pipes and accompanied by her father, Philippe on bombard, sauntered on playing two Breton marches. Her instrument sounded very good indeed and it was apparent immediately that the acoustics in this hall were quite superb.
The routine for tonight saw a constantly evolving line-up where an act performed a set or two, introduced the next one, joined in on a set then departed, leaving the new act … and so on; a simple yet effective idea. Enora introduced uilleann piper, Calum Stewart for a set before the Bretons left the stage. I had never heard of Calum before tonight but was impressed. He was accompanied by a guitarist and keyboard player for a couple of electrifying sets which included a musically intriguing tune, the name of which I didn’t catch, dedicated to the Cairngorms.
Our host for the evening, Mrs MacDonald’s boy, then joined Calum. Finlay was on familiar territory with his Border pipes, and this set was an exciting blend of driving reels, two from Cape Breton and one of Finlay’s more unusual compositions, Abdul’s. It was a performance that would’ve given a goose goosebumps and which made one’s hair stand on end. The near-capacity audience loved what was one of many highlights of the show. Finlay was then joined by Chris Stout on fiddle. Then it was off to the bar for a welcoming – and calming – dram.
The second half opened with Matt MacIsaac with fellow Cape Bretoner, Mac Morin on piano. The duo have been playing together for quite a number of years now and this was evident in their incredibly tight playing. They opened their set with Stornoway Bay, a not-too-often heard tune of Pipe Major Donald MacLeod’s. It was interesting to observe how often MacLeod’s compositions were played at this show, proving that even though there is still a large amount of composing going these days, musicians keep returning to the tunes of that musical genius from Lewis. MacIsaac and Morin also gave us classics such as The Conundrum, a driving Shepherd’s Crook, The Sheepwife and Lochiel’s Awa’ To France. The energy and musicality in the duo’s playing would have made a corpse’s foot twitch and Matt’s instrument sounded very pleasing to the ear, necessitating only a brief touch to the drones during this set. Ross Ainslie and Brighde Chaimbeul were then introduced. Both played smallpipes and whistle during the first set, a set which included Mac Morin rising from his piano and step-dancing before returning to his seat to great applause.
Ross and Brighde’s own set began with a haunting slow air with Brighde playing harmony. The feature of their set was fast yet tight playing and included an interesting Bulgarian tune which Brighde discovered on a recent trip there.
They were then joined by Galician, Anxo Lorenzo, a renowned gaita player. The sound of their respective instruments together was surprisingly warm and pleasant. My only criticism of their set was the inclusion of Neil Dickie’s chestnut, The Clumsy Lover … to my ear the last part just doesn’t sound well played on smallpipes. Anxo’s solo spot served to emphasise the sweet sound of his gaita. All too soon, it seemed, he was joined by Finlay, Ross and the house band (Ross Martin, Steven Blake and Steve Byrnes). The playing was top notch and included another Donald MacLeod classic, The Seagull. The wonderful, driving musical effect here suggested a flock of seagulls attacking your fish supper! Superb!
Unfortunately, the finale seemed to approach us with the speed of a five-legged gazelle. All the artists appeared on stage and finished the evening with a beautiful Breton song which featured the singing of Enora.
A musically rivetting evening.
• This review first appeared in the March 2019 edition of the Piping Times.