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Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band RATING: ****
Live at Motherwell (MOBIUS Records) Reviewer: Brendan Carson

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Perhaps one of the best things ever to come out of the North of Ireland. The Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band have been World Champions and hold a veritable plethora of other awards. They have provided a consistent qualtiy and energy in their playing for well over a decade having played at Grade 1 since 1986.

There are 17 tracks on the CD so I won't tell you about every one but clearly this is very good value for money for aficionados of the pipe band.

Pipe Major Richard Parkes is a truly outstanding piper. On his one and only visit to the club he was well received by the piping fraternity in Downpatrick. He has instilled a military precision to the music that adds lift and drive to the band. You could certainly imagine the enemy cowering in fear if they were to hear the skirl of these pipes coming at them The drumming under the careful control of Drum Sgt Gordon Parkes is [please forgive the pun] as tight as the proverbial drum.

Hornpipes are well featured here and opening with the B52 from the pen of Eric Rigler get them off to a flying start. I thought that the Raigmore and The Gathering were outstanding. 

Maxwell's Bonnet [Iain McCrimmon] and No Bottle [Philip Greer] bounce along with really tight piping from the band. Not a drone is out of tune and not a note lost with delectable harmonies throughout- simply perfect! Snare and bass drums make you want to get up and march round the house.

They do a big set of six jigs from both sides of the Irish Sea. I always find it a bit strange listening to the Scottish Pipes playing Irish tunes because they don't have the necessary range for many and the piper has to compromise the tune to get around this deficiency. You can tell when the set moves between the Scots and Irish tunes - the Lark in the Morning seems a bit strained while the pipes come across beautifully as they change to the Isle of Jura. Funnily enough the Boys of Ballymote works fine.

Richard Parkes does a great solo set. He has carefully selected his Irish tunes to ensure that there is no fighting between music and instrument and when the odd difficulty arises he side steps the problem neatly. He starts of with a couple of jigs - The Friars Britches and Johnny the Tree Wrecker before launching into the reels. The last of the set Upside Down at Eden Court raises some interesting possibilities [who was upside down and how did they get there]. Throughout this set Richard shows that he has a complete mastery of the instrument. His triplets are sharp, succinct and spot on.

The Steam Train to Mallaig by Mary Ann MacKinnon is a truly delightful piece. Once again Parkes shows that he understands how the pipes can harmonise to great effect. This tune has a great haunting quality and it reminds me of a Boxing Day morning at Mickey Keown's house when I was wakened out of a drunken stupor by the skirl of the pipes. I wandered out into a mist rolling down Slieve Donard and Marco Fabri's head and the drones sticking up above the mist in a surreal scene of an Italian piper walking down an Irish hillside playing the Scottish pipes.

Giggles is a drum fanfare running through a plethora of time changes. Led by Gordon Parkes this will delight all the percussionists among you.

Ian Jess shows that Richard is not the only solo master in the band. He plays one of his own compositions here Kirstie's Kilt followed by a traditional number played with consummate skill.

This is an excellent CD of this genre. In my opinion a must for anyone even vaguely interested in Scots piping.