When the bagpipes start up

Ever noticed that when the bagpipes start up, at a big military tattoo or a highland gathering, the bass note, the drones, tends to sound a bit wobbly, slightly out of tune?

Like this:

Same with sustained notes in the melody, especially high notes:

The Planet Vinyl shuttle has landed today in Bonnie Scotland. To be precise, we are at Redford Barracks, Edinburgh, on 18 May 1971. Performing are the snappily-named The Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. This will become a famous recording, selling more than seven million copies. It is the signature tune of the Scots Guards (as they are known to family and close friends), their arrangement of the hymn Amazing Grace.

Scotland_Forever!

“Don’t tell them the pipes are out of tune!” (Scotland Forever! 1881. Image: Leeds Art Gallery)

I decided, then, to find out. Is it just me, or does a massed pipe band actually sound a little out of tune. My musical friends inform me that, yes, by their nature bagpipes are never quite in tune with each other. Just how it is. Go with it.

And, were you a trembling adversary, a soldier standing in the line while the Scots Dragoons thundered towards you, sabres flashing, the slightly out-of-tune drones of the pipe band would be the least your worries.

  • Artist: The Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
  • A Side: Amazing Grace
  • B Side: Cornet Carillon
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl
  • Label: RCA Victor
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: 102078
  • Year: 1972

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

Reckless driving

Boy bands are the mayflies of pop music. More even than most in an ephemeral industry, time’s swift chariot presses close behind. Today, the object of the passionate love of a million teenage girls; tomorrow, the subject of universal derision.

Sometimes, a lad of strong character gets through it all, reinvents himself. Paul Anka, George Michael, (in my part of the world) John Farnham: but they are scarred survivors of an army which loses most along the march.

BayCityRollers1976RobBogaerts

Exhibit A: The Bay City Rollers. They started in Scotland the late 1960s as a Beatles cover band. In the hands of an unscrupulous manager, Tam Paton, they were raised to stardom, absolute lord-of-all-I-survey stardom. Then came the pop music career arc known as “Icarus”.

After peaking in 1975, with UK and US number one hits … well, the Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music takes up the story:

Disaster was heaped upon disaster. [Singer, Les] McKeown was charged with reckless driving after hitting and killing a 75-year-old widow, [guitarist] Eric Faulkner and [bassist] Alan Longmuir attempted suicide. Paton was jailed for committing indecent acts with underage teenagers.

Another member starred in a porn movie, another died from AIDS. You get the picture.

As is usual on Planet Vinyl, we will ignore the hits. “Money, Honey” was top ten in much of the world in 1975. Hard to see why, in retrospect – the Rollers here try to rock out, which ain’t their strength. The B-side is a lightweight love song, one of those “choose a woman’s name, add passion, stir” pop numbers. But they play and sing well, and the arrangement is skillful. They sound a bit like the Beatles cover band they started out as and which, in truth, they might have been happier and healthier staying. Money, honey, isn’t everything.

  • Artist: Bay City Rollers
  • A Side: Money Honey
  • B Side: Maryanne
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl
  • Label: Bell
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: BELL-10986
  • Year: 1975

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

I have to catch everybody

It is easily 25 years since I read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, but I still remember the pivotal scene vividly. Holden Caulfield is speaking to his sister Phoebe, who is pretty much the only person he trusts.1013 label

“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? … I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

It is an odd vision. Holden is a city boy, who probably doesn’t know much about rye fields, and as Pheobe points out, he has misheard the lyrics. There is no “catching” of bodies. But there is something in Holden’s strange image – and reading the passage alone can’t quite convey it, the whole book has been leading up to this – something which burns with the beauty and the sadness of the world.

The song “Coming Thro’ the Rye” is ancient. It is often attributed to the Scots poet Robert Burns, but he was merely the first person to write down (in 1782) a song that was already well known and already old. It is, as ancient songs often are, puzzling. It is about a girl, Jenny, who meets a boy coming across a wet rye field, and there is a sexual encounter but how loving and consensual it is – well, it’s hard to tell. A lot of questions are asked, and not answered.

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?

Need a body cry? That means cry out for help. Maybe not, but maybe yes.1013 cover

It is beautiful, but dark and ambiguous. Much like Catcher in the Rye.

This version is just the tune, performed as a waltz by Jimmy Shand, a prolific Scots dance band leader whose accordion fired up a million dance parties in the 1950s. As a dance, it is a bit happier than that ballad is, or Holden Caulfield was, but a lovely tune still.

  • Artist: Jimmy Shand And His Band
  • LP Title: Comin’ Thro’ The Rye
  • Side 1, Track 1: “Comin’ Thro’ The Rye”
  • Format: 10” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Parlophone PMDO 1047
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1950