Tam O’Shanter Suite

February 23, 2009 on 9:12 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Stories, Video | 8 Comments

To this day the “Tam O’Shanter Suite” has been one of my most interesting and challenging projects.  The recording here, from “Shambolica!” and tarted up visually for youtube, was the first track I tackled when going about making the Shambolica! project happen.  The whole “Tam O’Shanter” experience (meaning my efforts to create this track) tapped in to over 30 musicians and two different studios.  In the end there were nine of us – and the track all recorded in one studio. 

I’ll save the lessons learned for another day maybe. Suffice it to say I made a lot of very expensive production mistakes.  We never learn from doing things right so, all-in-all, I have no complaints.

The fantastic string arrangement comes from Owen Pallet.  Owen was very involved in Shambolica!  I was lucky to engage him before he hit it big writing string arrangements for Arcade Fire among others. Bryan Greenwood brought his pop sensibility to the production – though you won’t hear evidence of that in the “Tam O’Shanter Suite”.

The piece was originally written for The Peel Regional Police Pipe Band, during the time I lead the band.  PRP did perform the piece – but never in competition.

I think I’d compete with this today – though it sounds a wee bit staid now when compared to some of the stuff people have the nerve to put out!

Imagine: a pipe band moves up to the line, with a flat-bed truck of orchestral musicans in tow, playing together as a real ensemble.  Sweet! (er, suite!)




  1. I have always loved this piece. I thought it was a home run back when I first heard it, and I think it only gets better over time.

    Comment by iainmacd — February 24, 2009 #

  2. Thanks for your generous comment, Iain! It’s the most difficult track I have ever been involved with. M.

    Comment by mike — February 24, 2009 #

  3. Difficult it may have been to record, but well worth it.

    Listening to this again has made me think of the Toronto Police Pipe Band controversy of last summer, and of what it is to be a custodian of this musical tradition.

    In my own experience in the competitive pipe band world, I found that very few people had more than a vague sense of the tradition they were a part of. Despite the particularity of the form, there are surprisingly few curators of this music. In spite of this, virtually everyone has views about what forms of musical expression are in keeping with the tradition they know so little about.

    It seems to me that in order to be a custodian of a tradition, one has to be a curator first. It’s not enough to show up at band practices and games, and to play the same tunes over and over. Owning a set of pipes and being able to move one’s fingers doesn’t count for much. To be a curator, one has to know where the tunes come from, and why they’re being played the way they are.

    Curators are essential to the preservation of a tradition, but custodians do more than just curate, more than just preserve the tradition as an artifact of history. Custodians keep the tradition alive by advancing it in a way that is relevant and interesting, while remaining faithful to the tradition itself.

    There are too few custodians of this music Michael, but there is no question that you are one them.

    Comment by jamsie an t-sealgair — February 25, 2009 #

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful note, Jamsie. In folk music especially you hear a lot about “tradition bearers”; I had never thought much about that notion in the context of piping or pipe bands. When I think of a “curator” I have a picture in my mind of a baldy-headed clipboard-holding man in a dishevelled out-of-style suit wandering about the Egyptology section, or some place, at some museum …never thought of myself that way. But, a nice note, and I do appreciate your good words. You were raised well. M.

    Comment by mike — February 26, 2009 #

  5. But…but I don’t understand. You’re always telling everyone how you want to be called a curator and a custodian, and how you know where the music is going because you’re a curator first, and that makes you a custodian…And you called me and asked me to write something about that on your blog–and…I was pretty sure you told me to use the word “curator” when describing how you are a custodian…Was this the wrong thread? Was I supposed to write that you are a tradition bearer as well? Do you think I should put that in another thread? I probably should. Okay. I’m on it!


    Comment by jamsie an t-sealgair — February 27, 2009 #

  6. Jamsie – you are a GOOF!

    Comment by mike — February 27, 2009 #

  7. One of my all time favourites. Very ironic two days before reading this…I literally just found the ‘cassette’ tape you made of this and handed out at practice way back when 🙂

    Comment by ccrosbie — February 27, 2009 #

  8. Crooks – you were meant to find that cassette (a cassette!!) Thanks for your good words! M.

    Comment by mike — February 27, 2009 #

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