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The pipes are calling

Jim Malcolm on bagpipes and getting to church


Jim Malcolm, the singer and guitarist with the Scottish band Old Blind Dogs, is going to church before he plays at one of our local watering holes. In his online tour diary, Malcolm describes himself as being too 'Presbyterianized' to feel comfortable in the red-light districts of German cities where he plays, but it isn't exactly piety that is drawing him into a big stain-glass-windowed building. It's music.

Malcolm is going to perform tunes originally composed for bagpipes with the local Féadon Or Pipe Band, which plays the traditional pipe music of Scotland, and the Third Church Chancel Choir. I got hold of Malcolm in Scotland via email through his wife (and manager), Susie. She typed up his answers to my questions (because, she claims, he uses two fingers to type and the other eight to make mistakes).

City: So, how did the Féadon Or Pipe Band get hold of you?

Malcolm: Kevin Angus of Féadon Or Pipe Band came to see Old Blind Dogs when we were playing at Milestones in Rochester, and heard the band playing my song "Battle of Waterloo," which I wrote to the old pipe tune of the same name.

Then he found I had also written a lyric for the famous pipe tune "Lochanside," and that another pipe tune features at the end of my song "Jimmy's Gone To Flanders." This gave him the idea of a collaborative concert with the pipe band, and he has put in all the work to make it happen.

City:Have you done this sort of pipe band collaboration before?

Malcolm: No, this will be the first time and is therefore very special for me. The pipes are the most emotive of instruments, and I think the concert will be very moving for anyone with Scottish connections. One of Scotland's biggest and best-known pipe bands has also expressed an interest, so I do hope something similar might happen again.

City:What will this performance be like?

Malcolm: The concert will feature separate performances by me, the pipe band, and the Third Presbyterian Church's Chancel Choir, and also collaborations between us all. That is going to make the program quite varied and, I'm sure, highly entertaining. The choir will sing harmonies on some of my songs as well as having their own spot, and the pipe band will play with me as well as playing the songs independently, as a study of how differently pipe tunes have been interpreted. I'm going to find it fascinating, and I hope the audience will too. It will certainly be a world first.

City:What it is about pipe tunes that lends them to development into guitar-based folk songs?

Malcolm: The pipe tunes for which I've written lyrics are simply wonderful melodies. "Battle of Waterloo" was written as a march, but I once heard it slowed down, played as a lament. Played that way it simply cried out for words.

Those words came to me after I watched a documentary about the battle. It was appalling to see how the soldiers were dressed in their red coats and sent out to march against Napoleon's men row upon row, like slow-moving scarlet targets.

It made me think about the men from Scotland who had gone to fight in the Napoleonic wars, and I chose to tell the story of a man from Kirriemuir, a small town near where my family lives, who, like Napoleon, was broken on the field of Waterloo.

City: Where did you learn to play traditional music?

Malcolm: I learned classical guitar, but wanted to play traditional music after hearing Jim Reid, among others, playing music that had so much more to say to me about my own experience and homeland. Sessions in local bars, where sandwiches were passed round half-way through an evening of informal communal playing, were a great place to learn, and Scotland's folk club network gave me a good grounding in performance.

City:How long were you a solo artist before hooking up with Old Blind Dogs?

Malcolm: I had been working solo for about 10 years when Jonny Hardie and Buzzby McMillan asked me to join Old Blind Dogs. Ian Benzie, my predecessor, had decided to leave the band and I was delighted to be asked to take his place. Scotland's music scene is tiny, and I knew the band very well. I'd always enjoyed what they had done with traditional Scots music.

Jim Malcolmwill appear with the Féadon Or Pipe Band and the Third Church Chancel Choir on Sunday, October 24 at Third Presbyterian Church, 4 Meigs Street (at East Avenue), 3 p.m. 234-0727. Malcolm also plays Tuesday, October 26, at Milestones, 170 East Avenue, at 8 p.m. Tix: $12-$15. 325-6490