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Avontoun Records RMM1  

In some ways this album is a step back in time, to the days when pipers were simply pipers, and rock was something you bought at the seaside. It reminds me of Vale of Atholl albums from the eighties, a souped-up pipe band sound before the advent of Slainte Mhath or Chilli Pipers. In other ways, The Roke is a fresh take on highland pipes, a clean slate on which Ross Miller has laid out a sharing platter of traditional tunes and several of his own, with arrangements inspired by a number of different styles but all in keeping with contemporary pipe band tastes.

Miller already has an illustrious piping career behind him, and in his early twenties he's achieved most things a piper aspires to. As Linlithgow's Town Piper and a member of the current world champion pipe band Inveraray & District, Ross has accumulated a wealth of experience which is evident on this album as well as his outstanding technical and musical ability. Ten of his own tunes are slotted between some big names here: Dr Angus MacDonald, Terry Tully, Hamish Napier and Angus R Grant among others, plus a number of anonymous compositions. Reels, marches and strathspeys, Gaelic waltzes and even a Breton ton doubl flow with apparent ease, accompanied by drums, piano, fiddle, guitar and double bass without ever marring the modal music of Miller's pipes.

The Leaving Arisaig set is a good example: it starts with a retreat march in fine modern style, reminiscent of Shotts & Dykehead's By the Water's Edge or of Shooglenifty's Farewell To Nigg, before moving into a traditional mouth-music reel with guitar echoing the pipe drones, and then Angus R's modern reel Aye Right in E with more of a rock band feel, with a final flamboyant return to Arisaig as an up-tempo finish. Other highlights for me include the Quartet where Ross takes all four piping parts, the Threes Set with Chloe's Passion introduced by some fine fiddling from Charlie Stewart and a great Napier tune to cap it off, and the final pair of jigs which get a modern ceilidh band arrangement. However you like your piping, The Roke has something to offer. It looks good too!

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 133 of The Living Tradition magazine