A National Treasure II

1 Oct 2008 in Music

Perth Concert Hall, 27 September 2008

Brian Finnegan

THE VALE VETERANS began tuning up in the foyer, the last stragglers hurried to their seats in the 1200 seater auditorium and the second annual tribute to Gordon Duncan (and fundraiser for his Memorial Trust) kicked off in fine style. Masterful young musician Ross Ainslie reprised his role as Musical Director to present a tuneful miscellany in the tradition of his maverick Perthshire piper tutor, disregarding national and musical boundaries alike. Five sets of new music commissioned with the support of the Scottish Arts Council were interspersed by interludes from guest acts from Ireland, Brittany, Galicia and Canada.

The new commissions, one each from Ross Ainslie, Jarlath Henderson, John Somerville and Mairead Green, plus one ensemble piece, demonstrated the energy and vitality of today’s music scene, enriched as it has been by mavericks like Gordon Duncan, Martyn Bennett and Shooglenifty (whose erstwhile bassist, Conrad Ivitsky, was part of a formidably energetic backline which also included Hamish Napier, Mike Bryan and Salsa Celtica’s Dougie Hudson).

Ranging from soulful elegaic tunes to liltingly lovely melodies and exhilarating reels, all impressed despite little or no rehearsal, but my personal favourite was Somerville’s ‘Otherland’, a glorious slow air beautifully arranged for the ensemble. Uillean pipes and accordion – a marriage made in heaven. Who knew?

Part of the work of the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust is to encourage young musicians, locally and internationally. Hannah Fisher was a very young and very local musician. Elegant in black lace, she handled some small initial difficulty with the microphone with a maturity and poise way beyond her sixteen years and her sweet, soulful fiddle playing was accompanied by Gordon’s nephew Dave McFarlane, on guitar, and supported by some delicate and restrained textures from Dougie Hudson.

Dundee’s Kyle Howie, also sixteen, gave a bravura display of piping, as did Northern Ireland’s Andrew Carlisle, winner of the Gordon Duncan Memorial Competition at this year’s Celtic Connections. Mindful of the number of excellent pipers in attendance, Andrew spent some time tuning his drones, but the wait was worth it. Dazzling cascades of sharp, syncopated grace notes with that quality described as ‘swing’, all delivered at breakneck speed to ripples of applause throughout and a crescendo of cheers at the end.

Highlights of the evening included a rare appearance on her home turf by that spellbinding, truly majestic queen amang singers Sheila Stewart, who took centre stage to sing ‘Queen Amang the Heather’ followed by ‘Bogie’s Bonnie Belle’, the latter dedicated affectionately to Jock Duncan, Gordon’s father, who returned the compliment later in the evening.

Brian Finnegan, seasoned performer that he is, had the unenviable task of following Andrew Carlisle and wisely took some time to talk to the audience and let them get their breath during a lovely slow waltz dedicated to his grandmother, ‘The Last of the Starrs’, before getting back to some euphoric reels which he described as “another futile attempt to write a second ‘Pressed for Time’.”

Gordon was almost a fixture at Lorient and a bit of a legend among Breton musicians so it was a shame that though Tangi Josset had his bombour, he had to perform without brother Yannick Martin, whose irreplaceable biniou was lost in transit somewhere between Brittany and Edinburgh, though Sylvain Hamon stepped in on pipes to help fill the gap.

Cathy Ann MacPhee delighted with her warm, richly textured voice, and managed to get a sizeable chunk of the Perthshire audience to sing the chorus to ‘Cànan nan Gàidheal’ while Galicia’s Anxo Lorenzo showed how the mediaeval cadences of the gaita adapt to rock ‘n’ roll style playing, and took the breath away.

Equally breathtaking was the last, combined new commission with cascading interlocking pipes (Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson) above the rock solid rhythm section. The enlightened management of Perth Concert Hall kept the bar open till 1am as artistes and audience mingled amid occasional sponteneous outbreaks of music. Here’s to next year!

© Jennie Macfie, 2008