The pipes are having a rocking Renaissance in the trad music scene
Blazing bagpipes, loud and proud with dazzling lights, fiery fiddles and a full rock backline, The Scott Wood Band opened this year’s Scots Trad Music Awards with an electric performance that rocked the Caird Hall stage in Dundee.
Now in its thirteenth year, the Scots Trad Music Awards on the first Saturday in December were another roaring success, honouring the very best of our Scottish musicians for their contribution to preserving our traditional music and culture. Having attended before as a performer, winner, audience member and emcee, it was a pleasure to return now as a sponsor and to present The Glenturret Whisky Pipe Band of the Year award to North Lanarkshire Schools Pipe Band.
The rousing performances of The Scott Wood Band and the new all-star piping group Tryst demonstrated how integrated piping now is within our traditional music scene in Scotland. Twenty years ago, there were a few pipers playing with folk groups such as The Battlefield Band and The Tannahill Weavers but on the whole pipers kept to their piping scene of pipe bands and piobaireachd competitions, coveting Gold Medals as recognition for musical prowess.
Generally, bagpipes were still seen as a novelty instrument to be used in parades and only to be played when the player was suitably dressed in full Highland attire with extra points being given for the best sporran! Although very much in tune with themselves, the pipes weren’t in tune with other instruments in the standardised western tuning/concert pitch, so playing along with pianos and brass could be painful to listen to for those with an attuned ear. Even the fiddlers and box players who enjoyed pipe music and borrowed tunes heavily from the piping repertoire, weren’t always particularly welcoming to pipers wanting to join in at music sessions.
It’s all changed now – bagpipes are welcome. Other musicians have the utmost respect for bagpipes and bagpipers, and the most progressive music groups in Celtic music have various types of bagpipes at the front of their sound. I’m a massive fan of The Treacherous Orchestra, Rura, Skerryvore, Manran and of course The Scott Wood Band, and would urge you to see them should they be appearing somewhere near you.
The Treacherous Orchestra are the ultimate trad/ folk supergroup featuring top pipers Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton with some of the best musicians Scotland has to offer – a fusion between high-energy folk music and techno dance that whips young crowds into frenzy. Rura are extremely clever musicians with intelligent arrangements where Steven Blake’s pipes sit seamlessly as an accompaniment to great songs. Skerryvore, boasting pipes, an accordion and fiddle, are now mainstream, selling
out venues worldwide and are this year’s winners of Live Act of the Year at the Trad Awards. Manran are the new Gaelic boyband and Scott Wood is taking the bagpipes to a different level altogether with a stage show that’s destined for Madison Square Garden. The piping world has never been so vibrant and the pipes have never been so cool.
‘How did this happen?’ I hear you say. Well I believe The National Piping Centre in Glasgow is very much at the heart of this progression in piping. In particular, their partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has given young pipers the opportunity to flourish as skilled musicians immersed in all genres and styles of music and part of a melting pot of great music in Glasgow.
This new-found understanding of music has spread through pipers like wildfire and now many pipers across the world are capable of playing in tune with other instruments and all bagpipe man- ufacturers are making chanters and reeds specifically to do so. I have a dream that one day we’ll hear bagpipes performing all varieties of music on our radios as frequently as we hear guitars.
Celebrating 20 years of promoting piping this year, The National Piping Centre is also responsible for the formation of The National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland and the excellent Piping Live! festival based around the World Pipe Band Championships held in Glasgow every August. How very fitting that the winner of Event of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards was indeed Piping Live!
To the National Piping Centre, Slainté Mhath and Lang May Yer Lum Reek!
Stuart Cassells BA Scottish Music – Piping, BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2005, founder and original Musical Director of The Red Hot Chilli Pipers.
The piping world has never been so vibrant and the pipes have never been so cool No longer just for outdoors, pipes are tuned in and rocking with the best of the trad groups Words Stuart Cassells
Top left & centre right: New all-star piping group Tryst. Top right & bottom left: The Scott Wood Band opening the Scots Trad Music Awards. Far right: Stuart presenting the Glenturret Whisky Pipe Band of the Year award which went to North Lanarkshire Schools Pipe Band.