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As I looked down the hill all I could see were heads, thousands of them. A swath through the middle was waddling gently from side to side while the edges were resolutely solid. There were faces everywhere people hanging out of windows, standing on plinths, children, wrapped up so that only tiny eyes were visible, sitting on parents' shoulders. I could feel a lump the size of Scotland forming in my throat, then whoosh - right up my kilt - an icy blast! I swear the pitch of the pipe rose an octave and my eyes sprouted water faster than a rain cloud over Skye. The reason for my discomfort? A TV company was trying to add some unnecessary pathos (pipers coming through the mist and all that jazz) to the already impressive sight of twelve hundred pipers and drummers, being watched by one hundred thousand spectators, as they marched down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and spurted the dry ice just as I passed.

It is a distinctly special feeling sashaying down the street with the pipes up and thousands of people cheering you on. These occasions are not about the music produced (synchronising thousands of pipers and pipes is impossible) but are entirely about spectacle and emotion. The sight of thousands of people of all shapes sizes and ages dressed in more tartans than an Edinburgh tourist shop window and playing the tunes of glory will raise the hair on the back of the neck and bring a tear to the eye of anyone with an ounce of Scottish blood in them. Surprisingly other nationalities seem to get a kick out of it to. Anyone wishing to savour the experience should enrol for the BT Scotland Millennium Piping festival. The climax of this festival is a march along Princes Street in Edinburgh on the 5th of August this year. The organisers are hoping for ten thousand participants and already have nearly four thousand registered. Following the march there is to be a pipe band competition in the Princes Gardens (with the Castle as the backdrop) which will not only be relayed on screens to those around but also to the Millennium Dome and to various cities around the world including Sydney and New York. Piping goes global!

The last march down Princes Street drew a crowd of around three hundred thousand so Edinburgh is going to be busy on the 5th of August. All funds raised by the event are going to the Marie Curie Cancer Care fund so not only will you be enjoying yourself but you will be helping others less fortunate as well. Details of how to register for the event are at the end of the Pipeline.

If walking the length of Princes Street leaves you panting like a fourteen year old girl at a Boyzone concert then you might want to consider spending a week relaxing in the calm and reflective surroundings of the Hebrides. Spend your days idly exploring the wonders of Mull, the Ardnamurachen peninsula and the delights of the Uists. Evenings whiled away listening to some of the worlds best pipers as they create a unique and special ceilidh. Ooops, I forgot to mention that you have to cycle to each of these places over the seven days. Still interested then the 'Great Hebridean Bicycle Adventure 2000' organised to raise funds for the Piping Centre, is definitely for you. Join Roddy MacLeod for a cycle through some of Scotland's most stunning scenery between the 13th and 20th of August this year. It promises to be a very special trip which I suspect will be remembered for a long time by those that take part. Exercise, gorgeous scenery and good ceilidh sounds perfect to me. Again details at the end of the Pipeline.

One of the more bizarre sights I saw over the Celtic Connections Festival was that of Norman MacLean, Gaeldom's answer to Robin Williams, dressed like a latter day Harry Lauder and playing the pipes with a group of Braveheart refugees called the Wallace Clan. Where were this maverick band displaying there unusual, and surprisingly infectious, brand of percussive piping mayhem? Only on the main stage of the Royal Concert Hall as a warm up to Phil Cunningham's 40th birthday party and a performance of his Highlands and Islands Suite. Given that the suite required the services of the Orchestra of the Scottish Opera and the Phoenix Choir it might explain why one or two of the audience sat in disbelief as the Clan romped through their set. The rest of the audience loved it. Phil aided and abetted by some of his friends (including of course Aly) then displayed a smidgin of his immense talent before we settled down for the main event. This was the only the second time that the Highlands and Islands suite has been performed (first was at CC in 97) and given that it needs around one hundred and sixty musicians it doesn't take Cray computer to work out why. The suite is an intriguing marriage between the traditional and classical genres and Phil has skillfully managed to unite the two without over compromising either. It is a delightful and moving piece, which you should catch should it ever be, played anywhere near you. The chances are, of course, that it won't be. The need for such a large number of musicians makes its performance a very costly exercise. The CC performance was only possible because of the generous sponsorship provided by Tennent Caledonian Breweries. Interestingly Tennent's got very little by way of mention on the evening, which seemed slightly odd given that without their cash the whole thing is unlikely to have happened. Sponsorship and traditional music maybe anathema but increasingly musicians and particularly institutions trying to promote traditional music are finding it impossible to do so without the generosity of corporate sponsors. What the musician or institution gets from the sponsorship is clear (mainly moolah) what the sponsor gets is less clear. In a world where practically every one is fighting for the limited corporate pot it seems churlish of the folk world not to at least acknowledge the existence of the sponsorship in a more direct fashion. This isn't a criticism of CC in particular (they at least have the sponsors name on the tickets and in the brochure) but the folk world in general.

On the CD front Lismor have released four cracking albums compiled from their extensive back catalogue of piping recordings. Under the generic title The Great Highland Bagpipe the CDs are split into themes of which the titles tell their own story. 'March, strathspeys and reels solo and band performances', 'solos, duos, trios, quartets and more - piping variations', 'In modern times - piping progressions' And 'Piobaireachd: Ceol Mor: The big music'. All are excellent if familiar given you are likely to have most of the recordings they came from. I particularly like the 'Solos, duos…..' CD as duos, trios and quartets are often overlooked in piping circles yet are capable of producing powerful vibrant music (and the CD features a trio from the Victoria Police playing a gloriously unplugged version of "The Hellbound Train" - 'nuff said). With a CD to suit every taste is just a case of 'pay your money take your choice' and sit back and enjoy.

Finally congratulations to Roddy MacLeod (Piping Director of the Piping Centre) for his overall win at the Uist and Barra, the first major competition of the season. A win in the piobaireachd playing "In praise of Morag" and third in the MSR (won by Gordon Walker) gave Roddy the overall prize with Gordon second.

By Chris Mackenzie

Millennium Piping Festival, 45 Fredrick Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1EP
Tel +44 (0) 131 220 1715 Fax +44 (0) 131 220 3550 Email Website

The Great Hebridean Bicycle Adventure 2000, The Piping Centre, 30-34 McPhater Street
Cowcaddens, Glasgow, G4 0HW Tel +44 (0) 141 357 6650 Website

'The Great Highland Bagpipe. March Strathspey and Reel - Solo and Band Performances. Lismor LCOM5276
The Great Highland Bagpipe. Solos,Duos,Trios,Quartets and More - Piping Variations. LCOM 5277
The Great Highland Bagpipe. In Modern Times - Piping Progressions. LCOM 5278
The Great Highland Bagpipe. Piobaireachd: Ceol Mor: The Big Music LCOM 5275