Tuesday 11th June was Vale of Atholl night at EP. The band was in place, suited, booted and good to go at 8pm. The contingent starting off proceedings comprised seven pipers led by P/M Adrian Cramb and including what appeared to be some of the younger representatives, two snare drummers, a tenor, a bass, and the band mascot and host for the evening, former P/M Ian Duncan. It was brought to the attention of all that Craig Sutherland, who had organised for the band to attend EP, had failed to show. Shame.
The band started out with some nice 3/4 marches with harmonies, some of which Ian told us were written by Alistair Henderson (aka the Altar of Craic). Next up was a dynamic and musical March, Strathspey and Reel: Hugh Kennedy, the Atholl Cummers and John Morrison, then the first half of a medley selection. It was great to have Ian announcing the tunes and giving a bit of information on them. The medley tunes included the Pipers Inn (thought to possibly be a hostelry in New Zealand) by RS MacDonald, some strathspeys including a Michael Grey composition, the Gordon Duncan reel Break Yer Bass Drone, and a new RS MacDonald tune called Mr Chilli – Ian was unsure of the story behind that one, but reckoned it may involve a toilet. This selection finished with an impressive
and difficult-to-achieve cut off on high A. The band performed with mercifully little tuning, which was appreciated by the audience – Adrian clearly recognised that the spirit of EP is that it’s not about perfection, it’s about a pleasant and enjoyable performance, which is what we got.
The first half was concluded with the slow air Reverie, a tune called Adrian Cramb, and the jig Donella Beaton with a (quite significant) twist. The pipes were laid down for a rest, and it was announced that there would be a pre-pie-piobaireachd played by George Stewart.
While George was readying himself, Ian Duncan very self-effacingly offered to ‘hack through a couple of 6/8s’. However this was unnecessary, as George soon appeared – introduced by Ian as a local boy frae Perth, and accompanied by a few of the boys apparently from the Perth massiv to cheer him on. After a bit of warm up and the fastest tuning notes heard at EP since Bobby Ross, George launched into some light music, starting with a wonderfully bright and lively Inveran, and John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage. A hornpipe and jig followed, then the classic strathspey Susan MacLeod, and reel Mrs MacPherson of Inveran. As one of the Perth boys was overheard saying, ‘No bad’. Onto the ceol mor – the Big Spree. This was a very enjoyable and musically presented tune, finishing with a crunluath movement fast and crisp enough to rival George’s late great teacher Donald MacPherson.The pie break ensued, allowing some chat amongst the band and the regular EP folk, some post-match review of Saturday’s John A MacLellan MBE Memorial recital and dinner (with the winner Iain Speirs in attendance), and congratulations bestowed upon the recently engaged Tom Peterkin.
The band returned to tune the drones with some lovely musical 6/8 marches, following on with the 2/4 marches P/M Sandy Spence by Gordon Duncan, and the multi-named Phil Cunningham tune referred to simply as The Mod. They continued with another medley-first-half, including the Jolly Beggarman followed by some jigs of which I didn’t catch the names. The band’s performance was rounded out with a great selection starting with a Gaelic air (our resident German Gaelic speaker unable to successfully pronounce the name), plus two strathspeys and two reels with a wee sneaky hint of waltz in there. The lengthy applause demonstrated the appreciation of the assembled crowd, for a very enjoyable band performance – in particular noting that all the band members would have had a decent distance to cover to get to Edinburgh, coming from as far as Aberdeen.
The evening wasn’t over though – next up was a real treat – the promised 6/8 marches from former P/M Duncan (including the tune John Barclay, composed by the other Ian Duncan). Ian had said earlier it was a young man’s game, but decisively proved that wrong with his beautiful melodic presentation, excellent bagpipe and technically flawless form. He carried on with a lovely slow air, then a classic 4/4 march with a name I can’t spell,and which I can’t hear without thinking of Alasdair Gillies singing some racy lyrics (involving somebody called Flo and a nighty if I remember correctly) so it always makes me smile.
The next soloist of the evening was Eddie Gaul, starting with a pretty slow air, then into the Braes of Castle Grant, the Shepherd’s Crook, and Sandy Cameron. He carried on with some more slow airs – with the bagpipe singing, complete with a perfectly tingly Roddy MacLeod-esque high A – and the hornpipe Crossing the Minch.
The evening was rounded off by young Erin MacKay, reportedly a neighbour of Ian Duncan’s, and playing a set of Gordon Duncan’s pipes. She launched, without ado, into the ground of the Lament for the Viscount of Dundee then treated us to some musical and tricky hornpipes with not a finger wrong.
The aforementioned Craig Sutherland had been meant to finish off with some ‘scintillating piping’ but as I’ve reported he wasn’t in attendance – and besides, we had heard plenty of scintillating stuff already. So the band returned for some photographs and some chat, and that was the evening’s evening. Sincere thanks to the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band for making it a special one.