by Calum MacCrimmon
WHEN you are a piper with the name of MacCrimmon, you already come with an impressive pedigree.
For Canadian born Calum MacCrimmon, that pedigree runs deeper than just the name. His grandfather Malcolm Roderick became the first hereditary piper to the chiefs of Clan MacLeod in over a century after coming to Scotland from Canada with the Calgary Highlanders in World War II and Calum’s father Iain Norman now holds the same post.
For Calum, the 2013 Blas Festival Commission Boraraig, inspired by the Borreraig area of Skye which is the MacCrimmon’s traditional home and where the MacCrimmon Memorial Cairn has now been sited, is not so much clan history as a very personal family history.
It is a family history which involves some complicated trans-Atlantic to-ing and fro-ing.
One MacCrimmon ancestor Dòmhnull Ruadh (Red Donald) wound up in Woodville, Ontario, after the American Revolution before being brought back to Scotland to resume his piping duties and it is Woodville that is the birthplace of Calum.
It is a family history that obviously provides plenty of inspiration for the bright original tunes played by Calum and his six strong band, going from the MacCrimmon clan’s heyday right up to date with the retirement of Calum’s mum from "the ugliest building in Dundee", by way of the Canadian-Pacific railway, the Queen having tea in Dunvegan Castle and a budgie with a Harris accent.
And if that was not inspiring enough, there is always the Highland weather to fall back on.
"If rain in the Highlands was a tune, what kind of tune would it be?" Calum asked.
The answer was that it had to be a Schottische.
Helping bring those tunes to life was a first class ensemble with Darren MacLean providing Gaelic vocals, his fellow Skyeman Angus Nicolson joining Calum on pipes and whistles, Eilidh Shaw on fiddle, Mischa MacPherson on clarsach and vocals, James Lindsay on double bass and Ewan MacPherson on guitar, mandolin and, rather unexpectedly, jaw’s harp.
Yet, despite the MacCrimmon name being so synonymous with the pipes, many of those tunes saw MacCrimmon set the pipes aside in favour of the whistle.
This did not escape the attention of the audience at Phipps Hall on Tuesday, sadly depleted by the competing attraction of a Scotland football match.
Calum returned from the break and revealed that there had been a complaint.
"For a show about piping, I don’t seem to have played the pipes very much," he said, before making up for it with a pibroch written by his father.
If that was a rare example of ceol mor, MacCrimmon explained it away by suggesting that if someone had a good idea for a pibroch once or twice in a lifetime you were probably doing well.
Even so, there is enough invention in MacCrimmon’s other tunes, updating the West Highland tradition for modern ears, to suggest that the MacCrimmon legacy is good for at least a generation or two yet.