Backstory and Reflections: Live in Ireland 87 Project

March 3, 2017 on 5:14 pm by Michael Grey | In News, Photographs, Pipe Bands, Stories | No Comments

Writing a blog has to be the ultimate in vanity exercises, or “vanity projects”, as is usually said when referring to almost anything a person undertakes that requires a healthy ego. We flatter ourselves imagining – or blindly assuming – that people are gagging to get a dose of our words and unsolicited opinion. I invite you (surely countless readers) to consider otherwise. But I do believe this to be true. A blogger rides the pud-puller that is the web log – the blog (come to think of it, Facebook musings are much the same).

It seems to me, too, that the blog can be that and something more. It can be this and that: in my words here, I try to also use this self-made forum as a record of stuff that happens to and around me. I guess you’d call that a diary. Yeah, that’s it; a diary. I’m not as a faithful a diarist as I’d like but when I look back on the last ten years of my dunaber blog I’m reminded of people, events and opinions changed and retained. So, in looking back, I’m happy I kept a little record of one part of my life.

With this in mind I want to provide a little context and reflect briefly on the “Live in Ireland 87” project, so in future years I’ll recollect and today you’ll know a little of the background of the thing.

My old friend J Reid Maxwell and I we’re judging, September 2013, at Canmore Games in Alberta, Canada. In between bands – or maybe after, can’t recall – Reid spoke of an Eagles concert he’d recently seen on Netflix and in that, the thought was triggered: wouldn’t it be great to play that 1987 “Live in Ireland” recording again: reprised and live – a sort of tribute band thing, a celebration of the music. I thought it a great idea and started reflecting on how it might happen.

The 1987 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band was not a large group by today’s standards. Not only that, a lot of the players from the day were either not actively playing or had moved on. In fact, almost all of the 87 mid-section had passed away (three of four people).

What had to be navigated were two main things: a respectful recognition that any performance could not be presented as the 78th Fraser Highlanders. The band is, of course, still one of the top bands in the world. This effort was not about the band but the music of that time. And membership: from the beginning this was not a reunion. We needed a top flight group who could deliver a performance with minimal rehearsal.

We addressed the first by using an admittedly somewhat clumsy “Live in Ireland 87” title. The second, we looked to active members of the 1987 band [those on the bubble/not active and interested were invited to send along a sample of their current playing to Bill Livingstone for assessment – the tune requested was the band’s setting of “Charlie’s Welcome”]. We augmented the 87 crowd with sharp shooters: players we knew could do the business and were “good guys” – written in a non-gender specific way, by the way. It was by chance that a lot of the folks ending up being grade one Pipe Majors and Leading Drummers. Formal band leadership was not prerequisite, as you can see from the rosters of both Glasgow and Belfast editions.

To be clear, the management of the project landed in my lap, but a lot of people helped a great deal – to make an understatement. Decisions were mostly made by the core group – especially in the Glasgow case (Bill Livingstone, Reid Maxwell, Malkie Bow, Bruce Gandy and me) – but not always. Sometimes I went for it. You know the old line: easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

In the end it was the selection of members that caused the most consternation, upset and evidently some bitterness.

The human part aside, the project had no capital to move forward. In the fall of 2014 I approached Donald Shaw, Artistic Director of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival and pitched the idea of a show. He loved the idea and wanted to have it for the 2015 festival. With only a few months to prepare it was a no-go. It was agreed that the January 2016 would be best.

With some capital assured in the modest CC fee, a funded venue and built-in promotion we were good to go.

Invitations were sent to prospective members and, as Peter Aumonier might say, to the person, each was all over the idea like chrome to a trailer hitch.

So by our standards, “Live in Ireland 87 in Scotland” was a massive success. And that was that, until the Northern Ireland branch of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association approached me in July 2016 with the idea of staging the thing in Belfast. I was hesitant – as were, I know, some members of the Glasgow cast. My concerns were related to overkill of the idea, a watering down of what was monumentally special and unique about the Glasgow show and, to be honest, getting in the face of the current 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band.

Photo: David Crowder

As regards the last point, both Bill Livingstone and I talked at different times to Pipe Major Doug MacRae of the 78th. He was cool with the idea (not to the idea). In fact, he proved to be a stand-up and stand-out cast member of the Belfast show.

So after a little hemming and hawing we worked with the RSPBANI to make last Saturday’s Belfast show happen.

The Belfast experience, like Glasgow’s the year before, drew on the guiding template of the 87 show but like any orchestra performing a score of a great piece of music, no “re-enactment” – a word derisively bandied about by those unsupportive of this effort. In Belfast, as in Glasgow, musicians, instruments and musical interpretations were all different – for the better, thankfully. Mention must be made of the addition to the cast of Susan Elizabeth Brown, one of Canada’s leading sopranos. We’ll never forget her ear-catching warm-up exercises – and her magnificent vocal performances.

Yes, many of us used up precious work leave and vacation days to journey to Northern Ireland; it was a money-loser for every single member. There was no fee. Four days shared accommodation was provided as was a travel stipend. Every cast member did it for the love of the music and the idea of creating something special by coming together as a group.

And what a show. What a blow-out fantastic multi-dimensional experience of melody, harmony and rhythm. And hospitality! The RSPBANI folks, including – it needs to be said – project manager, Ian “Shaggy” Burrows and his soaring energy and that shiny penny, stage manager and PR Queen, Meaghan Lyons – all acted as role model professionals – and hosts.

I hope in this initiative others may be swayed to create their own projects that delight and inspire. I am.

Thank you Northern Ireland and thank you to all our supporters.

Now time now to put this baby to sleep.

M.

PS. Visit Photographer David Crowder for professional services or his Facebook page for galleries galore.

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