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Private Label JH01  

A young piper from near Glasgow, James Harper rocketed through the pipe band world to play with top-rated Glasgow Police pipers, and was then snapped up by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers to tour the world, combining piping with other music and all sorts of shenanigans. He's also a graduate of the RCS degree in traditional music, so he knows his way around several musical genres and has been on the Scottish music scene for some time, even though many folk fans may not have noticed him yet. For this debut album, very much his own material and ideas, he has gathered a top band from the buzzing Glasgow-based folk scene - fiddler David Lombardi, guitarist Jean Damei, drummer Craig Baxter and bass-player Charlie Stewart. Guests include such luminaries as Ciarán Ryan, Mohsen Amini and keyboards whizz Rory Matheson. There's one song, written and delivered by Dallahan's Jack Badcock with a little help from his friends, but the rest is instrumental, mainly pipes-led with a bit of whistle and bags of energy.

Culzean is a surprisingly traditional-looking album - stags and thistles, lochs and bens adorn the attractive cover and the disc - and there are some traditional-sounding piping tracks here: the title track could easily come from a pipe band album, although the melody is one of James' own, a beautiful retreat march with a twist. Reels and strathspeys, jigs and reels, polkas and marches catch the ear and bite into it, sticking in the head like a well-thrown axe. The names are striking too - who was the Eiggmare, what was the Montelago Madness, who saw The Jake Bag?! Alongside these Harper pieces are tunes by messianic fiddler Chris Stout, equally prodigious piper Finlay MacDonald whose tribute to Seb Lagrange and Gael Rutowski is a delight, and finally a Lombardi composition intriguingly labelled "Interlude" - is there a second half in the offing from James Harper and friends? I very much hope so!

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 138 of The Living Tradition magazine