Scots rock and reel the night away – Perth, Australia

Perth, Australia July 2004

Och aye, lads and lasses. With its blend of nostalgia, under-the-kilt ribaldry and rollicking, knees-up tunes, this instrumental and vocal extravaganza is every ex-patriate Scot’s dream event.

And even those who don’t have Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Aberdeen roots would have been impressed – by the combined talents of the three Scottish tenors and the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra conducted by Andrew McGarva (of popular band Coila fame).

In the mood to party, a full house of predominantly senior citizens, (dozens wearing traditional Scottish garb), cheered and whistled like teenagers at a rock concert.

They needed little encouragement to sing, hum, clap and stamp along as the band kicked into a collection of favourite Highland Schottishes arranged by Musical Director John mason.

While even non-Scots like me recognised and could participate in numbers like the Skye Boat Song or the Keel Row, many in the crowd seemed familiar with every note – from the Stool of Repentance and Braes O’ Mar to the Mason’s Apron. Strings comprised the dominant sound, with colour adder via drums, flute, keyboards, accordion and guitar.

Then on strode the tenors, three merry fellows indeed, resplendent in kilts and sporrans. Sensitively accompanied by the SFO, Jamie MacDougall led a version of Highland Cathedral notable for its rousing modulations and the atmospheric skirl of the pipes. In turn Ivan Sharpe and Alan Beck took up the melodic thread, every word crisply articulated as they harmonised in perfect accord…

Rapport between performers and audience was heart-warming – the ambassadors for Scottish music and culture were welcomed as if they were old friends. In fact, some fans actually were old friends, receiving personal hellos and dedications as the evening progressed. Memorable aspects among many in the first half included MacDougall’s passionate delivery, steely timbre and controlled vibrato in the solo, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, and the vast dynamic range and sustained high notes all three achieved in A Man’s a Man.

The story goes that the worst thing you can do to a Scotsman is to nail his feet to the floor, then play him the Bluebell Polka. This accelerating dance, which swept up the pop charts in its prime, compelled our collective toes to tap and our torsos to wiggle in defiance of the restricted seating.

McGarva’s recent CD is entitled “Full On”, and it’s certainly appropriate, describing the energy he exudes as he hops about on the podium. As gentle ballads segued effortlessly into up-tempo numbers like Swinging Reels, he urged his musicians on to ever greater heights.

At more than two and a half hours long this was a generous concert; a cameo appearance by a chicken (in the hen’s march to the midden) preceded three more medleys, Auld Lang Syne, and – just when we thought we were home free – Donald, Where’s yer Troosers?

Seemingly tireless, the musicians even played us out of the Concert Hall, reeling from our immersion in the ultimate Scottish experience.
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