Home > TheRest > The Gordon Highlanders – The Bagpipes and Drums of Scotland

The Gordon Highlanders – The Bagpipes and Drums of Scotland

Laserlight Digital, 1990

At the risk of getting a flashing “HIPSTER POST!” emblazoned on the front page of the blog, accompanied by the wrong answer buzzer sound from “Family Feud” on repeat, I chose to pick up this compilation of bagpipe music from Scotland.  Why?  Well, I like bagpipes every once in awhile.  Not as a multi-hour listen but whenever they pop up in movies, events, or randomly during a road race (hello Portland, Maine) I appreciate them quite a bit.  I don’t even know how they work, really, though I see a lot of squeezing, blowing, and terse concentration by whoever is letting loose with that high pitched sound.  It’s impressive to watch the mysterious instrument in action, and with it the flashy attire of the musician (speaking of which, there appears to be some kind of blade attached to the guy’s ankle on the cover.  Don’t mess with the bagpipe dude).  So … I guess I thought I just wanted to hear fourteen bagpipe tracks to see if I could stand it.  I suppose the album’s also good to have on hand in case one likes to drive down a road full of people and blast this baby out of one’s car speakers.  Just for the heck of it, of course.

Every song on this collection performed by the Gordon Highlanders is labeled as “traditional”, so these songs are apparently well known to some group of people somewhere in the world.  Of course, “Amazing Grace” is as traditionally well known as it gets, and just to jump start this bagpipe party the Highlanders put it first in line.  That’s right, the song they play at funerals and emotionally moving parts in movies immediately sobers up any sort of upbeat mood the listener is in.  Sheesh, it’s like a brick to the face.  Sounds excellent, of course, but I would think something more peppy would have been better served as the first track.

That’s the only negative thing I could think of for this album, for everything else sounds just like it should.  There are a lot of marching to battle tracks, like “Battle On the Tyne”, “Regimental March”, and “When the Battle Is Over”.  One can picture the well adorned Scottish (or British, or Irish, or Welsh) troops with their military regalia stomping through the streets during a parade.  I wonder if these types of bagpipe tunes are used for the military in any other sense these days?  Perhaps they’re only brought out on the modern day battlefield when it’s early in the morning, mist covers the fields, and warriors gaze into the distance with the anticipation of fighting.  Okay, okay, I stole that image from “Braveheart”.

Not all songs on this album ring of battle, for “Miss Kirkwood” must be some sort of poignant love song that the Scottish compose so well.  Of course, there are no words, so one just has to imagine what kind of emotions the stoic bagpiper is going through when he’s playing it.  At least with its upbeat sound it might actually be a joyful tune, so perhaps no one died in the storyline.  “Scotland the Brave”, which is understandably a patriotic Scottish song, made me smile due to it being used as a rollicking punk intro on the Dropkick Murphys’ debut album “Do or Die”.  The Highlanders’ version has got enough to it to be a dance, but if you want something you can punch someone to check out the Murphys’ spin on it.

Admittedly, around “The Conund Rum” the songs were all starting to sound the same.  It could be due to my untrained bagpipe ear, but most songs on this record seem to blend together due to the consistent presence of bagpipes and drums.  I suppose that was predictable, wasn’t it?  With “Pipe Set 2”, however, a bit of a jig occurs with what sounds like an accordion and a flute.  I was picturing lasses with long hair and men with kilts doing some sort of Scottish dance at a local pub late in the night.  Given much of the droning and marching stuff early in the album, “Pipe Set 2” is the clear track winner.  If there is ONE bagpipes song you listen to this year …

It’s easy enough to find bagpipe music on the Internet, but hey, I’ll help you out with some “Battle on the Tyne”:

Now that I have listened to all fourteen tracks, I feel at ease about my bagpipes exposure.  When else, or at what other opportunity, would I have a chance to absorb this much of this unique instrument?  It’s not like there are bagpipe artists all over the pop charts … though perhaps that’s for good reason.  For a little bit of money this disc ended up worth the spin if only to say I had made the effort to understand the allure of the bagpipe.  Will this now get repeat spins through my speakers?  Well…

This is certainly one of those albums that you just have around for whatever occasion may arise.  I have a lot of music I just sort of hang onto just in case, like classical music, jazz music, some blues … and now bagpipes.  Perhaps when the Scottish Korean guy comes to visit in order to explain his long distance familial ties to my wife will I actually break this record out for the reunion.  Otherwise, it’s just a nice cultural set of tunes to have in case I end up visiting Scotland one day.  I suppose that depending on who you are you may run out and pick up this record at your earliest chance or go all the way and buy a set of bagpipes.  Hey, I heard there’s a niche market out there for ya!

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