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Monarch CDMON872, 873, 874

First there was one CD a year, then two, and now the most prestigious event of the pipe band calendar is marked by a three-volume recording.  So what, you may say - just more noise from an outmoded musical genre.  Not so! Pipe bands have always been innovators, and some of the best modern Celtic music is first picked up by bandsmen.  Who first introduced Breton and Galician music to the piping mainstream?  Who were the early adopters of pieces by R S MacDonald, Robert Mathieson, and the late great Gordon Duncan?  Where do today's bright young pipers come from - Rory Campbell, Chris Armstrong, Stuart Cassells, Louise Marshall Millington and the rest? The pipe bands, of course.
It has been said that the same bands always come top in the "Worlds", and this is true to some extent.  There's a particular sound, a particular style, which tends to win competitions.  Some bands have mastered these, and regularly get top results: Shotts & Dykehead, Simon Fraser University, Field Marshall Montgomery and others.  It used to be that only Scottish bands won, but the rigidity of style has gradually relaxed and 2007 saw it more relaxed than ever.  For the first time, the bands on the official recording represent Scotland, Ireland (North and South), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
The benefit of a 3-volume recording is the opportunity to hear some bands which didn't make it to the final rankings, often not because of poor quality but because they favour a different approach or different material.  The Qualifying Heat volume includes fascinating performances by bands from Ballycoan, Windsor Police, the LA Scots, and a very clear sound from the Manawatu band.  If nothing else it's a perfect opportunity to learn the classic big reel John Morrison of Assynt House, which ends five of the thirteen Heat tracks.
While the Heat CD only contains the traditional march, strathspey and reel (MSR) selection from each band, the other two volumes offer the MSR and the free-form medley set for all fourteen finalists.
 The Field Marshal Montgomery band 2007 champions, include compositions by Fred Morrison, Iain MacDonald and Gordon Duncan in their medley.  Second-placed Simon Fraser University go for traditional Irish tunes: The Humours of Tulla, The Four Courts, and a bewitching arrangement of For Ireland I'll Not Tell Her Name. Shotts & Dykehead predictably use almost all Robert Mathieson compositions, but other bands mix and match traditional Scottish with modern piping works.  There's even a version of Johnny's Jig by John McCusker in the Boghall band's medley. 
Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 78 of The Living Tradition magazine.