For anyone who has spent some time in Halifax, it’s not unusual to find a Saturday afternoon pub crawl gang trolling the streets and pubs of the downtown. It’s quite an experience as a bagpiper leads a jovial group of partiers in and out of pubs, experiencing a taste of Maritime good cheer.
This past Tuesday evening I participated in a downtown Vancouver pub crawl to celebrate Alexander Keith’s birthday.
Now, I have nothing against Alexander Keith. He was indeed a great brew master. In my Halifax student days I would often take a short cut home through Camp Hill Cemetery. Many times I would say hello to a group of beer drinking folks sitting around Alexander Keith’s large gravestone, or find AK empties on the monument commemorating the fine brewer. We didn’t need to celebrate his birthday on October 5. We celebrated most days of the year.
However, in Vancouver, they (owner Labatt’s Brewery) make a big marketing deal about it. We all met at the Atlantic Trap and Gil where there were Keith’s shirts, lassies in short skirts, green foam antlers to wear, bagpipers and a three-bar pub crawl organized. So how did this compare to the real-deal in Halifax? Hmmm. I have to say the crowd of mostly non-Maritimer’s weren’t quite sure what to do, how to act and how to have fun together. What I can say is that the piper in my group was excellent. This was the most brutal pub crawl a piper would ever have to endure. (I know, because I’ve piped many a Halifax crawl.) Many of the pubs were more than 10 blocks apart and our piper played almost constantly as he marched a group of rowdy partiers down city streets, across busy intersections and into mostly empty Tuesday night pubs. I certainly hope he was well paid. Labatt’s hired a trio of pipers and our group had Don MacMillan and his beautiful McCallum pipes. I was fortunate to get to know Don during this lengthy ordeal.
Don is a former member of the Triumph Street Pipe Band during its heyday in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was a Grade 1 piper, competing against the likes of Jack Lee (who, by the way, just won his second Clasp at the Northern Meeting), Rob Menzies, Graham Davidson, Hal Senyk and a number of the leaders of the BC piping scene. Don did not make it to Scotland in 1979 due to financial constraints, but his friends in the band did. That was the year Triumph Street took the Sash and the band placed fifth in the world. He did play on the album.
I was thrilled to get to know Don. Triumph Street has a long 35 year history in this province and it was during Don’s time with the band that it made its name. Don says at the time, everyone in the band were friends. It was an exciting time for a group of young pipers and drummers who knew they had the sound, the ability and the drive to make it to the top. Triumph Street and the City of Victoria Pipe Band were a driving force in the piping and drumming scene in B.C. and musicians in these bands are still having an impact on the scene today.
It was a thrill to meet Don and to chat about his days with the famous Triumph Street. Hopefully next time it won’t be during a pub crawl through the downtown streets.
My next post will tell you about Don’s latest experiment combining bagpipes with East Asian music. It’s worth a listen.