Pipers' Ceilidh
at the Gaelic College,
St. Ann's, NS
(12 October 2003)

The Great Hall of the Clans, site of the nightly Festival Club during Celtic Colours week, was transformed and packed to bursting for the Pipers' Ceilidh, a sold-out Sunday afternoon matinee on the festival's opening weekend.

The annual spotlight on pipes and pipers began with local hero Paul MacNeil, who performed with his wife, talented keyboardist Tracey Dares, to give the audience a strong working knowledge of the Cape Breton tradition. The exhibition of Highland piping excellence was enhanced with a brief appearance by Roddie C. MacNeil, Paul's father, who accompanied his son with a Gaelic song.

Carlos Nunez next made his final Celtic Colours appearance just moments before catching a ride to Halifax Airport -- his commitments overseas, he lamented, were sending him home to Europe. He left a lasting impression, however, charming the audience all over again with his flambuoyant performance. He and his band -- Pancho Alvarez on bouzouki and mandolin, brother Xurxo Nunez on percussion and keyboards, and Begona Riobo on fiddle -- built their music to a blistering speed.

While Cape Breton audiences don't usually clap along unless invited -- and heck, who could have maintained the pace Nunez set? -- the music was punctuated by shouts of appreciation from the room. "We are so so so pleased to be here," Nunez said, to cheers. "This is, for us, our new home, our new family." The Galician piper set aside his gaiti, switching to whistle for a romantic air, then kicking up the tempo with a fandango, running through an array of wind instruments and inspiring rhythmic foot-tapping throughout the hall. Then, with Nunez's encouragement, the crowd breached its usual reserve and started to clap. Then, he filled the hall with unfamiliar rhythms with a Cuban-Celtic set.

The music couldn't possibly get any faster -- and then it did. A well-earned standing ovation sent Nunez and his band off to the airport in high spirits.

Cillian Vallely, a member of the Irish supergroup Lunasa, was next on the stage, demonstrating the uilleann brand of piping. With casual ease, Vallely demonstrated his mastery of the bellows-powered pipe and part of the reason why Lunasa is one of Ireland's hottest acts now touring.

The climax of an excellent afternoon of music was Pipeline, a whimsical Irish duo that had the audience howling before they produced a single note. "We haven't done anything yet, but we're having a great time," piper Dermot Hyde said as the pair set up the stage.

No one was laughing when the pair started playing, with Tom Hake on bouzouki and Dermot on low whistle, then pipes. The duo ran through a lively series of music, including "Thirteen Years," an old song about a runaway featuring Dermot on lead vocals and whistle, Tom on bouzouki and vocal support. Next up was a slow Galician tune with Tom on harp, Dermot on pipes and whistle, which led into an Irish slip jig to pep things up again.

The duo kept a lively banter going throughout the show. "We argue all the time like an old, married couple," Dermot joked. He also ribbed a man in the front row with the audacity to yawn during their performance.

Pipeline presented a varied show, with a whistle duet preluding the finale featuring guitar, pipes and low whistle, a bit of vocal diddling by Dermot and an energetic stepdancing display by Ontario dancer Niamh Myers.

As audience members headed back into the sunny Sunday afternoon, they had a full week of music to look forward to at Celtic Colours. For pipe fans, however, the best part of the week was already over.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 22 November 2003