The blossoming Scottish piping scene is more active than ever and the debut album by Ross Miller is a perfect sample of its distinctive way of blending tradition with modernity. For The Roke Miller gathered a number of original compositions and all-time favourites and recorded them with a young line up including, among others, Charlie Stewart and Rory Matheson.
The album features tunes and tracks dedicated to the author’s relatives, including the second tune in the sparkling opening set Reels dedicated to his sister, Grannie Betty’s and Mum and Dad’s: the last two of these are heartfelt compositions arranged with the essential contribution by Rory Matheson’s soulful piano playing. Quartet is a stunning track in which Miller performs all four voices for an incredible display of his sophisticated piping skills, acquired during his years as a member of the Peoples Ford, Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band and as Pipe Major of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland.
Aye Right! is based on the set that Miller performed as a finalist at the 2019 BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award, and this big band setting is equally gorgeous; anyone who has never listened to this set before will be astonished by its brilliant and unexpected conclusion.
The Roke, or to be more precise The Roke, The Row and The Wee Pickled Tow, is the tune that Miller, as town piper of the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow, plays together with a drummer on the Tuesday after the second Thursday of June every year leading the traditional 6am procession march through the streets of the West Lothian city. He captures the atmosphere of that event in The Roke (intro) before the ensemble gives the tune a modern twist in The Roke, finishing the track and the album with a self-penned tribute to the Suisse city of Basel.
The cross-pollination with other musical genres, especially rock and jazz, is perceptible throughout the album: the notes of Stewart’s fiddle and Miller’s pipes go floating around each other to obtain fancy harmonies on multi-layered and never overwhelming band arrangements; The Threes Set and Accidental Belterism are the best example of this dynamic and robust musicianship.
This is a work that truly reflects the journey that this young but already deeply accomplished piper has been making in his early career. It shows a comfortable mastery of all the ceol beag elements: jigs, reels, marches and other forms of music are delivered with the skilful touch of a veteran of the instrument.
Moreover, Miller’s piping incorporates all the features he has absorbed during his travels: beside tunes inspired by countries such as Ireland, Switzerland, Canada or Australia, the set that best showcases foreign influences on his music is Walka, a vibrant track including both his own compositions and traditional tunes performed in a Cape Breton style.
The Roke demonstrates both the surprising experience and all the energy of Miller’s young age. One can only guess where his musical journey will take him next.Michele Mele
Released on CD and digitally on 9 March 2020 by Avontoun Records, recorded and mixed by Gus Stirrat at Solas Sounds.
3. Grannie Betty’s
4. The Threes Set
5. Strathspeys and Reel
7. Taobh Loch è Eite
8. Aye Right!
9. Accidental Belterism
10. Mum and Dad’s
11. The Roke (intro)
12. The Roke