Tonight’s Eagle Pipers was a rather special affair due to the fact that we were treated to a sneak preview of the aural delights that await those of us who will be attending The Glenfiddich Piping Championship on 26 October. Current Champion Iain Speirs and rising star Cameron Drummond were both in very fine fettle with 10 days of preparation remaining. Hon. President pointed out that one-fifth of Glenfiddich competitors will be EPS members – indeed Committee Members. A proud representation indeed.
A good crowd had assembled at Haymarket, somewhat dazzled by the lack of fencing which has been removed with the completion of the ever-controversial tram lines. Tom Peterkin had a new haircut for the occasion, and the Hon. P/M drew the curtains – sure signs that a fine night of music was awaiting us.
With his Naked Niall drones sounding warm and rich and resplendent in his new Strathallan attire, Cameron got the evening underway with some small 4/4 marches, George Morrison CSO, Flett From Flotta and Lord Lovat’s Lament. Cameron’s pipes are fast becoming iconic – he started playing the pipes before the mounts were completed, and hasn’t yet stopped playing them long enough to have them added. He continued with a jig set of The Loch Ness Monster and Dr. Flora MacAulay of Carradale. Cameron then stopped to give us the tune names, and I have come think of this interaction with the audience as a trademark of Royal Conservatoire-trained pipers. At the end of each semester, the Degree students are required to present a recital that includes an element of history or context for the tunes they are playing. I have often noticed that players who have completed the course have incorporated this aspect of presentation into their standard practice, and I feel it is a welcome addition.
Cameron then launched into a double MSR – the requirement at The Glenfiddich. He opened with the seldom-heard marches Glengarry Gathering and Mrs Duncan MacFadyen, continued with The Caledonian Society of London and The Shepherd’s Crook, and finished with Miss Proud and John McKechnie. This was impeccable playing, and a privilege to have a front-row seat with such a player.
Lament for the Earl of Antrim was Cameron’s piobaireachd, and while it may not be a difficult tune to memorise, the length of the lines and number of variations makes it a reasonably long tune, testing the concentration, bagpipe and player in a long-distance style of event. As with any piobaireachd, the truest test is in the musical interpretation, and the nuances Cameron brought to the tune were lovely.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZOk1mub-kM
Time for pies, and there was a bit of a scrum for them tonight. While enjoying my pie in the company of EPS Comms Manager Douglas Gardiner and EPS Romeo Nils Michael, the latter posed the question: What did The Thief of Lochaber steal?
Iain was keen to get the second half kicked off, and with his own trademark sound and pipes that rarely require tuning, he got warmed up before settling into a mammoth, triple MSR. If elite athletes train for long-distance events by going further than the race for which they are preparing, then this must be the training regimen for which Iain is opting. Donald MacLellan of Rothesay, The Knighstwood Celildh, The Duchess of Edinburgh, Susan MacLeod, Dora MacLeod, Arniston Castle, The Smith of Chilliechassie, Loch Carron and John McKechnie were the tunes, delivered with style and polish. Iain’s piobaireachd was Lament for Colin Roy MacKenzie, another seldom-heard tune which begs the question: why do we not hear such a musical, interesting and challenging composition performed more often? A rare treat.
That was the end of the evening’s playing, however, the night was far from over. The Hon P/M was dropping us home at Dean Park Crescent when the Hon Pres. kindly offered an invitation to taste some recently purchased cherry vodka. The front seat passenger, Iain Drummond (Cameron’s father) claimed that he had “never tasted cherry vodka before”, and of course our Hon. Pres. felt obliged to rectify this matter.
In we went and consumed said cherry vodka and a fair amount of Limoncello. It was then we were treated to the finest performance of the night. The Hon Pres. gave us the little heard ‘The Lament for the Acer’ It had a very distinctive rhythm, strong pulse and was smashing. The evening concluded sometime around 3am and that was that.
On a personal note, this was my last Tuesday night at Eagle Pipers as I am returning to live in my native New Zealand after nearly a decade in Scotland. Such a difficult and heart-wrenching decision was far from easy to make, and as I am currently embarking on my “Victory Lap” of Scotland, I am thinking a lot about my time here and my involvement with piping for all of those years. I am reminded that we are in danger of taking for granted that which is easy to access. We can quickly become complacent. Of course it is impossible to do everything all the time, but I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that because it is there, it will always be there, or WE will always be there to make use of it, and we fail to support and enjoy the treasures that are on our doorsteps. I know there are many people around the world who would give their eye teeth to be able to be in the audience on a night like tonight or at Blair Castle next weekend, and yet for many of us who live within a relatively short drive, life gets in the way, and we simply don’t manage.
I feel very fortunate to have had so many opportunities to be part of a generation of pipers and piping in Scotland, but particularly to have witnessed the reincarnation of the mighty Eagle Pipers, which embodies two of the greatest treasures that piping gives us: music and friendship.
I will miss both very much indeed.