festival, the ninth, looks as if it is set to be bigger and better than anything that has gone before, and the festival is now firmly established on the world calendar of musical places-to-be in August. And although this year's festival includes bagpipes of all shapes and sizes and sounds from all around the world, it's still the concentration on the Great Highland Bagpipe that gives Piping Live! an edge over all of the other events in the calendar.
This year a series of events at the festival is being devoted to one of the greatest exponents of the art. The late Donald MacLeod is one of the most influential figures in the piping world, but his reach is such that his legacy is felt by a whole host of other traditional musicians, as Lauren MacColl explains. "As a fiddle player, my first exposure to pipe music was the old Highland style, with melodies from Gaelic songs and such like. If a tune is to be memorable for me, you have to be able to, and want to, sing it. Donald's tunes are just that. They also sit extremely well on the fiddle." MacColl reckons that lots of musicians play his tunes without knowing where they came from. "I have been playing Donald MacLeod's tunes since I was a youngster without being aware of it. Tunes like Crossing the Minch and Flett from Flotta are classics in the folk repertoire and they are very often assumed to be traditional."
John Wilson, himself a renowned player in his day and now a respected judge as well as great raconteur of piping stories, was a pupil of MacLeod's. "Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE made an outstanding contribution to 20th-century piping as a performer, prizewinner, expert teacher and composer. I was a pupil of his for more than 20 years and experienced that wonderful fusion of flair, natural musical creativity and modesty that was the character of Donald MacLeod."
One of the strengths of MacLeod's compositions, reckons Wilson, whether the classical piobaireachd music or the lighter tunes, is in their melody lines. "Their appeal often lies in the simplicity of the melody which proves that, in composing, it is often what you leave out as opposed to what you put into the melody line which gives the tune its character and appeal. Who else could look at a field of buttercups in the morning sun and be so inspired as to create that lovely melodic piobaireachd The Field of Gold? His retreat marches are evocative while his competitive two-four marches stand comfortably alongside the classical march compositions of Pipe Major Willie Lawrie and the great John MacColl."
MacLeod's tunes feature regularly in every competitive piper's list and there can hardly have been one composed which has impacted more on the traditional Scottish music scene than Susan MacLeod, a masterpiece in strathspey composition and named for his daughter, who will attend the events at the Piping Live! festival. "My sister Fiona and I are delighted that Piping Live! is celebrating dad's life and that they have involved us in the event. Pipers often ask us what it is like to be the daughter of Donald MacLeod and to have great piping tunes named after us, but to us he was just Dad."
Festival director Roddy MacLeod, one of the most successful competition pipers in recent times and one of the brains behind Piping Live!, reckons that Donald MacLeod's popularity is still on the increase, even although it's 30 years since he died. "Donald was the complete piper because of his outstanding record as a solo competitor and his distinctive style. He was a great teacher – a number of his students went on to be gold medallists. It could be said that his most significant legacy is his compositions which have been taken and performed by pipers and traditional musicians alike, and are even more popular today than when they were first penned. Rarely do I ever have a practice session which does not include at least one Donald MacLeod tune, and most pipers would say the same."
Piping Live! takes place from today to August 12 at various venues across Glasgow. There will be over 150 free and ticketed events.