I don’t know exactly what the market for “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes was, but I’d hazard a guess there’s not much crossover between it and its surrounding hits. To state the obvious, it sounds more than a little out of place – a sudden incursion of solemnity, but also in its way the most extreme sound to reach Number One in 1972.
I have rather a soft spot for the keening, buzzing, stringent sound that bagpipes make. If you’re a southern English pop fan, you don’t get to hear them a lot outside televised ceremonials, but I’ve never understood their position as comedy instrumental whipping boy. I also don’t know what use the artier end of drone-making has made of them: surely some, as what “Amazing Grace” reminds me of are the minimalist CDs I own by the likes of Tony Conrad and Charlemagne Palestine*. The Dragoon Guards’ drones never become the focus of the record – there’s a tune to play, and a well-known and comforting one at that – but even so the thick overtones and piercing sweetness of the sound can’t quite be overcome by contextual frumpiness. I’m sure that if you were there, the pipes would have become intolerable, but I think they’re an attractive palate cleanser at the very least.
*My recreational drone use has become a minor casualty of getting married: Isabel can’t stand extreme monotony or repetition, whereas I find both of them touch and soothe something quite deep in me. I can get roughly the same effect through an engrossing computer game or a hot bath, though, and without causing her extreme mental torment. Not a sacrifice I particularly regret, but I’ve kept most of the CDs for some happy day when I have a study of my own and can keep out the kids with a bit of Angus Maclise. For the record, I think what this track most reminds me of is Jim O’Rourke’s harmonium drone album Happy Days, though I seem to recall Keiji Haino did some bagpipe material too – so perhaps I’m thinking of that.