Last night, I went to see Paddy Keenan at the Ark here in Ann Arbor, MI
(USA). It was a great time, though not exactly what I expected. Thought
I'd share a couple of anecdotes about it.
I found out about the show from a posting here on the list. It turns out
that he and Sean Tyrrel were opening for Sharon Shannon's new band. I
got there early, got a front row seat directly in front of the pipes
mics, about 3 feet away. Waiting for the show and full of excitement, I
decided to go hit the bathroom before things got underway. I never made
it to the bathroom.
In the hallway, next to the women's bathroom, was Paddy Keenan himself,
frantically working on his pipes. Seems they had run out of space
backstage so he was left to fend for himself. His chanter reed had taken
a serious dive, after playing in high & dry Denver, then sopping wet
Georgia. He had a couple dozen reeds dumped out, and he was going
through them looking for something that could work. At that point, it
was about 20 minutes to showtime.
It was fascinating watching him quickly adjust reeds, try them out,
curse at them and reject them. He apologized for not being more
sociable, but I was happy just to be allowed to observe.
He said that he'd never had such a desperate reed situation before a
show. He couldn't get any of them to act right. At one point, he told
Sean, "Y'll have to go it alone tonight". In the nick of time, he coaxed
one into playing well enough to get most of the notes, but the upper
octave E wasn't there and a couple of others had to be pushed into tune,
so they had to scratch the setlist and do tunes that allowed him to work
Onstage, he was clearly not happy with the situation, but carried on and
did a good (though much too brief) show. There was some obvious
struggling with the reed on the air he did, but the two sets of jigs
were wonderful; he also played his low whistles on a couple of Sean's
songs. He said afterward that he was planning on playing some reels, but
couldn't manage it with the reed. If I didn't know the whole story, I
would have been disappointed with the scarcity of pipes playing to be
heard, but I wouldn't have been disappointed with the playing I did
hear. What a master!
Toward the end of the set, he explained a bit to the audience about his
predicament. It's a little hard to get across to non-pipers; who would
believe such a story? At the very end of the set, he pulled his chanter
apart, took the reed out and, with a flourish, snapped the head off of
it and tossed it to me. I felt like a Madonna fan who'd just caught one
of her undergarments! What a thrill! All that's left of it is the last
3/4 inch of the reed, including the bridle. Even with its head cut off,
the reed gets a decent crow!