We’re really looking forward to Glasgow Americana this year which boasts an impeccable line-up playing venues across the city.
Check the full gig listings here
Check the full gig listings here
There are about forty of them, ranging in age from early teens to early sixties, tricked out in a manner that makes the uniforms of even their gaudiest rivals appear drab. Over white robes they wear a bright sash, a plaid in Royal Stewart tartan, and a faux tiger-skin apron, combining in one outfit the distinctive styles of Mason Boyne, Mary Doll Nesbitt and the Bay City Rollers. All of this, mind, topped with a turban and pink plume, or kalgi, bearing the symbol for ‘One God’. They look amazing: Glasgow fabulous; Kuala Lumpur dead brilliant.
That’s the city from which they have come, travelling 7,000 miles from the banks of the Klang to the banks of the Clyde. For many, this is their first time in the country from which the music they play originates. A homecoming of sorts.
‘This is an almost thirty-year dream coming true,’ says Sukdev Singh, the band’s founder, a tall, aquiline man with a silver beard and sovereign air. ‘When we set up the band, we would dream of one day just coming to Scotland. We had no idea there was such a thing as a world championship.’
His younger brother Harvinder, the fifty-two-year-old pipe major, takes up the story. ‘We were living in a world with no pipe bands. We didn’t even know what strathspeys or reels sounded like.’
Sri Dasmesh – named after the tenth guru of the Sikhs – was formed in 1986 by Sukdev, a commercial pilot. He had remembered, in childhood, hearing the skirl and drone coming from the police parade ground, back in the days (he considers them the good old days) of British rule. The sound and feeling stayed with him, and he decided, on graduation from university in the UK, to reintroduce bagpipe music to Malaysia. An instrument store was closing down, so he bought drums cheap, later adding Pakistani bagpipes which, Harvinder laughs, proved impossible to tune. Harvinder, in 1990, was dispatched to Glasgow for a week of lessons at the piping college, returning to Kuala Lumpur with the band’s first proper notation books, and a handful of CDs by some of the great bands. Here was treasure. The present generation of Sri Dasmesh – many of them the sons and daughters of original members – have grown up with this music from the cradle, and thus consider, say, the Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band to be hugely glamorous figures.
To visit Scotland and actually meet the likes of Jim Kilpatrick, Shotts & Dykehead’s drum major, has been overwhelming for the Malaysians. But they, too, have had their taste of fame. Everywhere they go on Glasgow Green, they are mobbed by members of the public wanting selfies. ‘Ah wis drawn tae them,’ says Jean Campbell, a sixty-one-year-old from Cumbernauld, enjoying a contemplative fag in the smoking area. ‘Thae turbans ur a magnet fur me.’
The last maharajah of the Sikh empire, Duleep Singh, sometimes known as the Black Prince of Perthshire, was deposed by the British in 1849 and exiled to Scotland, where he was petted and fêted by high society; Queen Victoria is said to have particularly admired his eyes and teeth. Yet even the Black Prince did not reach the benchmark of Scottish celebrity achieved by the Sri Dasmesh band – being interviewed for the lunchtime news by Jackie Bird.
During their fortnight in Scotland, the band have travelled around the country, competing at Highland games, and connecting with people of their faith past and present. Scotland is home to around 9,000 Sikhs. Sri Dasmesh have performed at gurdwaras – temples – in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and travelled to Kenmore, Perthshire, to pay their respects at the grave of Maharajah Duleep Singh’s infant son. They laid flowers and played ‘Highland Cathedral’; a moving and complex moment, a Sikh band from Malaysia playing Scottish music in a Christian kirkyard in tribute to the heir of a lost Indian kingdom.
There is something about the majesty of the music Sri Dasmesh plays that transcends the dark history from which it has emerged. ‘We should be a bit embarrassed by our colonial past, but if any good has come out of it, there it is,’ says Joe Noble, a Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association adjudicator and former world champion drummer, nodding towards the Sikhs. ‘The music was good and the music’s stayed. That’s our culture, and it’s brilliant that they are prepared to play it.’
Not just prepared, eager. Sri Dasmesh do not regard bagpipes as the instrument of the oppressor, but rather as an emblem of a shared history. ‘This is our mechanism for creating a bridge between our society, religion and community with the Scots,’ says Sukdev. More, they simply love the sound. Priya Kaur Kesh, an eighteen-year-old tenor drummer, was raised on Indian classical music, the daughter of a tabla player, and recalls the impact of hearing bagpipes for the first time six years ago: ‘I was shocked. Stunned. I had goosebumps. I thought, “I need to learn that asap.”’
On Saturday, after early prayers at the gurdwara on Berkeley Street, Sri Dasmesh travelled by coach to Glasgow Green for their heat. They were accompanied by their tutor Barry Gray, a no-nonsense middle-aged Australian who spotted the band in an Anzac Day parade three years ago and promptly ‘adopted’ them. Gray is a veteran musician well known for performing with whichever big rock and pop acts find themselves in Sydney and in need of a piper. He is no stranger to ‘Mull of Kintyre’. The good thing about working with a Sikh band, he says, is that they don’t get drunk. The bad thing is that their timekeeping is dreadful; he fines latecomers twenty pence a minute, and during one rehearsal in Kelvingrove Park raised twenty quid for the kitty.
Following their performance, the band wait anxiously for the results of the judging, damping down nerves with trays of chips ’n’ cheese, a Scottish delicacy for which they have developed a taste. The announcement, when it comes, is a triumph – they have qualified for the finals. They leap in the air, hug, tears rolling down cheeks; they get on their phones to home, breaking the news in excited Malay, Punjabi, English and Chinese. Later, their second performance will not go as well, but that doesn’t matter. Qualification was their goal and represents victory, as indeed does this whole journey.
I ask Tirath Singh, the eighteen-year-old pipe sergeant, how it feels, but he can hardly speak for crying. ‘This is my dream,’ he says, as the silver dagger at his waist glitters in the Scottish sun.
Also available by Peter Ross: Daunderlust
THE GLASGOW APOLLO
by Roddy Frame
Generally speaking we are a band who prefer to do our own thing than be part of somebody else’s event. On the other hand, this is a bigger thing than we could do by ourselves, so it’s a chance to play to people who wouldn’t necessarily come and see us if we were doing our own thing.
It’s an interesting mix. We quite often get stuck in a really indie bill but it’s not a super indie thing and that comes from it being quite a big festival. We’ve never done T In The Park. When T In the Park was at Strathclyde Park, I never had enough cash to actually go and by the time it was viable I was too old to camp in a ditch.
We’ve got a good relationship with [TRNSMT organisers] Df, they’ve promoted our shows in Scotland since way back. They said to us that Radiohead had personally requested that we be on the bill with them – whether that is actually true, or whether they just said that to twist our arms I don’t know…we trust if they ask us to do something that it’ll be good.
It was really nice to know you had fans in high places. It was quite a flattering thing. I saw them really early on in King Tut’s when Creep came out and I didn’t like it at all but they’re not the sort of band that works that well in a little venue. They just seemed overblown for King Tut’s, it was a bit stadium rock and sure enough it turns out they are a stadium band.
Right back early days I think Radiohead did ask us to support them but at that time I think we knew that we weren’t a proficient enough live band to do ourselves justice opening for a big touring band. These days at least we know we’ve got a crew we can rely on!
These city-based festivals can be really good. We’ve done the Hyde Park one down in London a few years ago and it seemed like a good event so something that brings big bands to play in Glasgow could be a really good thing.
You don’t need to camp and that’s maybe what appeals, it’s accessible for people without having to destroy your mind to cope with camping in a mudfest. For a local festival to be properly local is appealing. I like Glasgow Green, it’s such a great space.
And it’s handy for me too – I stay in Dennistoun so I can get home pretty sharpish afterwards!
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