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Friday, August 23, 2019

Clannish Behavior

From the Vault Dept.: It was a delight to review all manner of entertainment event, and the opportunity to see Margaret MacLeod was not to be missed. Here’s my review of a 1988 edition of “The Gathering of the Clans.”


BLACKNESS. The eerie drone of bagpipes, then the plangent melody of the chanters. When the lights came up, it wasn't Brigadoon we saw but a row of four pipers in traditional Scottish garb sounding a noble tune.

"The Gathering of the Clans"
“The Gathering of the Clans” took place at Proctor’s Theatre on Friday night, but it was much more than traditional plaid and pipes. A scrim behind the players lifted to reveal an up-to-date rhythm section that gave an extra kick to the polkas and reels that followed.

There were kilts and decorative sporrans, but there were long pants as well. It was a show that moved most professionally but had the relaxed air of a good folk-club act. And it brought together some superb performers who would do well in any song-and-dance setting.

Margaret MacLeod, a versatile and moving singer (who organized the show) welcomed the audience in Gaelic and then in English, and treated us to a wedding song (“Come Along”) that was as good an excuse as any to present an ensemble of fine dancers, six women and two men who stayed aloft by almost invisible bounces on their permanently-pointed toes.

Scottish songs became, for a time, the sole source of that country’s cultural heritage, as 18th-century politics banned much that was theretofore traditional. Known as “mouth music,” the songs could be as simple as a love ballad or as complicated as an account of a memorable battle. MacLeod is a mouth-music specialist who demonstrated some of that range in a hauntingly sweet voice.

The rhythm section – a band called “Albany” – was fronted by Billy Anderson on accordion. Anderson is music director of the show, as well as an accomplished comedian and impressionist. He Impersonates a Texan better than most Americans could (including several Texans I know) and presented an extended tribute to Sir Harry Lauder, completely in character, that was one of the high points of the show.

Bill Clement was the tenor, following a tradition I hesitate to use the word “Irish” to describe – but he has that natural-sounding kind of voice that makes such singing sound simple, which it isn’t, and very affecting, which it is. And there was a little bit of the Italian street singer in his styling of such numbers as “Down in the Glen.”

A tribute to the national bard, Robert Burns, was given by the Laird of the Gathering, John Cowan, who alternated recitation with song as Alan Kitchen, the excellent pianist, kept pace.
Fiddle player Thomas Hamilton took a solo turn, demonstrating mastery of the instrument marred only by a little nervousness that his playing suggests no reason to feel.

Neil Campbell was the guitarist, and a terrific drummer named James Gorgon performed brilliantly both in the ensemble and during his own virtuoso solo.

We had a ceilidh to end the first half, although the whole show was a ceilidh of sorts, minus only a pass-around of some potable beverages. But you could almost taste the Drambuie as we saluted Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart who took refuge in Scotland when the castle was getting too hot for him.

Battle and broadsword was never too far behind many of the numbers, but the bagpipes are a fierce-sounding instrument meant to chill the heart of an opponent. By way of contrast, there was a charming song and dance depicting the warp and the weft and the waulking of the tweed. And, near enough the start of the New Year to make it doubly appropriate, we joined in the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” to end a most enjoyable show.

-- Schenectady Daily Gazette, 11 January 1988

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