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Sunday, 30 September 2012

ELDER MUSIC: Bagpipes

PeterTibbles75x75This 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.


category_bug_eldermusic 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.

Paul McCartney

♫ Paul McCartney - Mull of Kintyre

Bringing us back to some kind of musical normality or, at least, something a lot more enjoyable, here is GLEN CAMPBELL.

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.

♫ Glen Campbell - 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?

Rufus Harley

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.

♫ Rufus Harley - Sunny

Now we have the rather optimistically named group, THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND.

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.

♫ Alex Harvey Band - Anthem

AC/DC are probably Australia’s biggest selling performers, although The Wiggles might give them a run for the money.

ACDC

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.”

♫ AC_DC - Its A Long Way To The Top If Ya Wanna Rock And 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.

♫ The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards - Handel, Largo (Xerxes)

WIZZARD was a good-time rock group out of England from the early seventies.

Wizzard

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?

♫ Wizzard - 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?

John Farnham

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.

♫ John Farnham - 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.

Gordon Highlanders

♫ Gordon Highlanders - Amazing Grace

Anyone still here? Well, I hope to see you next week, in spite of the above.


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

My brother took bagpipe lessons...

"...I believe this set of lessons only made it as far as the chanter stage. Actually I'm not sure they lasted for a year. Or maybe it's that my parents didn't last for a year. It's the only instrument that was dropped by the mutual consent of parent and child...."

I wrote about it.

I made it all the way through to see if people other than true bag pipers really did use these instruments as a part of their genre. Amazing

Glen Campbell played the bagpipes? Didn't know that. In my humble opinion bagpipes are a greatly underappreciated instrument . . . but I admit, you do have to be in the mood.

This post brought back memories of something I haven't thought of for quite a while. I was working near a Boeing plant and often used to run through a large open part of the grounds on my lunch hour. I'd occasionally see one of the Boeing workers practising the bagpipes well away from people who could hear him. I always liked seeing him there and waved in appreciation.

Thanks for writing this.

Thank you, Peter, for starting with 'The Love of My Life,' Paul McCartney, and Mull of Kintyre. (Tedious! Au contraire!) It's the perfect treat and I've not listened to the rest yet, but I will. I do like the bagpipes very much!

Paul *only* plays this at concerts in the UK and Commonwealth countries, and it's so very exciting waiting for it, and knowing it's coming at some point; then hearing the first few strains and seeing the pipers in full garb start to descend from higher steps around the arena, whilst the band carries flags across the stage. As an American, the first time for me was in Toronto; how exciting that was! Then a few more times in the UK, since then, most recently last December in London. Always very stirring!

Guess you weren't a fan (lol) but, though I'm 62, I'm still the 13 year old girl at heart, growing up on Long Island, who fell in love with the Beatles, and most especially, Paul McCartney. Though my musical interests vary so widely now, I always come home to Paul and his wonderful mates.

xo from Gail, the lucky Anglophile who lives in England (5+ years), to you in Oz.

(P.S. I love your column and always listen, and sometimes post. I do thank you and hope you'll continue for years to come. It's really wonderful!)

Love bagpipes and was a big ACDC fan, thanks for the chance to get up and shake it one more time! Now "if you want a sausage roll" is stuck in my mind, ha, ha.

I actually like the pipes in their place. However this rendition of Largo reminds me of a wealthy doctor, a generous supporter of a church I once attended. He played hymns on a carpenter's hand saw, painted by his modestly talented wife with scenes from the Bible. His performances always brought tears from the congregation, whether of joy, pain or relief when he finally finished one cannot determine. Largo was one of his favorites; in Xerxes it is a pagan's hymn sung to a sycamore tree, the good doctor's saw reduced it to a quaking aspen.

If you want to hear a Piper play a beautiful solo go to "You Tube, IL Divo, Amazing Grace" and wait for it. It's filmed in the Colosseum and is worth the time it takes to go there. It's really beautiful.

Thank you for the bagpipes. I too am a big fan. Go to the Scottish Highland Games every year primarily to listen to the pipes and watch the dancers.

It must be my Scottish ancestors' genes. My Dad taught me to clog dance when I was just in kid growing up in the West Virginia mountains -- and I grew up listening to the old fiddlers who played their fiddles using one string as a drone string in the music. Must have been the long-ago bagpipe tunes that they learned from the Scots ancestors.

See, there were more than one.

The first time I heard bagpipes live was on a clear day at the Timberline lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon. It may have been the altitude but I swooned at the sound echoing off the mountains and rushing down the slopes. I've not been moved by the music since. I think I might have experienced it in its most perfect environment. While I was stressed listening to some of this exercise, I got a good laugh at your stories! I'm glad you're not giving up the column. I really enjoy it!

Super column from start to finish (even if I did make use of the OFF button in some cases!)

I love the bagpipes. . . you know,not many people do. I actually seek them out when I hear them play in the distance. Unfortunately, I couldn't listen far enough into most performers to hear the bagpipes. 'Enjoy your column, Peter.

Peter, disgraceful stuff.
They would not let you into Scotland.
(Unless you paid them!)

As long as they let me into Paris, San Francisco and New Orleans I’m okay.

Ronni: The Arrugas comics and film apparently was released in English under the title "Rides" according to a blogpost I was able to locate: http://www.graphicmedicine.org/comic-reviews/arrugas-rides/

I like bagpipes by not by these people. I'll settle for the more traditional Scottish pipers and, in fact, have traveled a few miles in past years to listen to them and watch them perform.

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