Sunday, 30 September 2012
ELDER MUSIC: Bagpipes
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
I’ve contemplated over the time that I’ve been doing these columns that if I ever got tired of writing them how I’d finish it all.
I decided that the way to go would be to produce a column that would so alienate everyone that no one would want to read them again. This is that column.
Let me hasten to add that it’s not my last one; I’ll be back next week (unless Ronni pulls the plug, and who would blame her after this one?)
I contemplated what would be the contents of such a column. I thought of the works of Captain Beefheart or maybe some of the more esoteric outings of Frank Zappa. Ornette Coleman perhaps, or Sun Ra. Or even some 12 tone classical music.
Then I hit on something more universal – bagpipes. I know there are people who like the instrument. My sister Pam, for example, so I know that I’ll have at least one reader.
I’ve pulled my punches, so this isn’t wall-to-wall bagpipes. It’ll be tunes in which the instrument appears.
I’ll start with probably the most famous example. If the thought of bagpipes hasn’t already made you go elsewhere, this one is sure to send you to sleep. It may be the most tedious song ever recorded by a major musician: PAUL McCARTNEY performing Mull of Kintyre.
Bringing us back to some kind of musical normality or, at least, something a lot more enjoyable, here is GLEN CAMPBELL.
It’s certainly more sprightly than Paul’s offering. Glen was not only a great guitarist and a pretty good singer, he could also play the bagpipes (although not very often). That’s him playing them on this track where he overdubbed the instrument. Bonaparte’s Retreat.
Jazz and bagpipes are two words that seldom occur in the same sentence. I’m going to rectify that. Here is the greatest jazz bagpiper the world has ever seen. Of course, to the best of my knowledge he’s the only one.
He’s renowned (if that’s the appropriate word) not just for his playing but for always appearing in a kilt, not necessarily made from a tartan material either – some of them looked rather like skirts to me.
I give you RUFUS HARLEY. Thanks a lot, I can hear you say, can we give him back?
This track sounds quite a lot like Coltrane on the alto sax to me. I know that comment will get the jazz folks offside (if there are any left reading), but that’s the way I hear it.
Here is the old pop song, Sunny, in a way you’ve never heard it before.
Now we have the rather optimistically named group, THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND.
They were part of a movement in the late sixties and early seventies that produced “progressive rock” (they had dropped the “and roll” by this stage because that denoted entertaining music). Whenever you see something like that phrase, you can substitute “boring” in its place.
This is a tune called Anthem and just the title would be warning enough. I thought of giving a prize to anyone who made all the way through this track but decided against it. That also should be a warning to you.
AC/DC are probably Australia’s biggest selling performers, although The Wiggles might give them a run for the money.
They produced a great video of the track featured today way back before videos were common. They had the band (and pipers) on the back of a flatbed truck and drove along Swanston Street in Melbourne - then the city’s main thoroughfare - to the consternation and delight of passersby.
To this day, this clip is a regular on TV and it’s one of the best ever produced.
The song is officially called, It’s Long Way to the Top. However, it’s generally known by pretty much all Australians as, “It’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll.”
Classical music and bagpipes don’t normally go together although there’s actually an opera called “Schwanda the Bagpiper” by the Czech composer Jaromír Weinberger (who later emigrated to America to escape the Nazis). This opera is completely silly even by opera standards.
Otherwise, there was a bit of music from medieval times that occasionally featured a forerunner of the bagpipes but these are pretty boring (even considering the low threshold of boredom we’ve set for today’s column).
I have found a piece by Mr HANDEL that he didn’t originally write for the instrument but various modifiers of music have come up with a bagpipe version of the Largo from his opera “Xerxes.” It’s performed by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards amongst others.
WIZZARD was a good-time rock group out of England from the early seventies.
It was the brainchild of Roy Wood who was a member of The Move, a serious but underrated group from around that time. Most of the members of this group, and others, later became Electric Light Orchestra.
Roy was frequently at odds with another member of that group, Jeff Lynne. Jeff somewhat later was one of the Traveling Wilburys whose other members were some lesser known musicians – Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison. Nobody you’d have heard of; I’m surprised they managed to get a record deal.
Anyway, Roy left ELO and created Wizzard where he sang, wrote the songs, played guitar and often appeared on stage with a couple of ventriloquist dummies. This wasn’t your average rock band. This is Wizzard with Are You Ready to Rock?
JOHN FARNHAM is probably the most popular singer in Australia and has been for a few decades. He’s not my cup of tea but who can gainsay success?
He started his performing career as Johnny Farnham with a song called Sadie the Cleaning Lady which was a huge hit here in the sixties.
He’s moved on from that and is now engaged in an endless round of retirement concerts. He’ll soon pass Nellie Melba in this regard.
In spite of my rather negative views, from all reports he’s a really nice, generous guy. A true gentleman. Here he sings almost certainly his biggest hit, You're The Voice.
I’ll finish with some “real” bagpipe music, possibly the most famous tune for this instrument in recent times, Amazing Grace. Here are the GORDON HIGHLANDERS.
Anyone still here? Well, I hope to see you next week, in spite of the above.