Album of The Week – ‘The Pipe Factory’ by John Mulhearn Sat 20th June 2020
Tune in at 12 pm when The Phat Controller aka Iain Copeland will be in conversation with John Mulhearn about his new album ‘The Pipe Factory this weeks Album of The Week at Celtic Music Radio
The Pipe Factory is an expression of the impulse to create new and boundary shifting music that sheds the cultural baggage of a tradition that, in many eyes, is either wrapped up in a pseudo-military straight-jacket – with every aspect of Scottish kitsch on full display – or as self-parodying light entertainment. This impulse has been the hallmark of John’s previous releases, notably with 2018’s Pipes, and continues to inform his creative decisions. The ten tracks of the stream/download only album that comprise The Pipe Factory, John’s third full-length album, explore the dual themes of sound and place, using innovative approaches to recording, composition, and
production. Recorded over two days in mid-2019, it forensically explores the sonic possibilities of the highland bagpipe, constructing a unique sound world from
creatively produced samples of the instrument, all captured within the unconventional location of The Pipe Factory, a Victorian era clay pipe factory within the famous Barras Market in Glasgow’s East End.
Aside from ambient field recordings recorded in the streets and pubs of the Calton area of the city – home to the Barras – every sound comes from one set of pipes. Synth sounds are actually the drones of the pipes, sampled, pitched down and manipulated, while retaining the fundamental texture of the original sound. Likewise, percussive sounds are all taps and flicks of reeds, valves and drones, again pitched and manipulated. No artificial reverb is used, reflecting the unique acoustics of the recording location. The paradox at the centre of the album is that the sound world that we hear could only have been created using electronic production techniques, yet the source of all of the sounds is purely organic. Produced entirely by John, this characteristically idiosyncratic approach to record making has resulted in a work that is rich in a sense of place, emotionally connecting the listener to the streets and area surrounding his home in the East End, and bridges the gap between organic and electronic sound in the process.
John Mulhearn lives in Glasgow and is a longterm member of the teaching faculty at the National Piping Centre, Scotland’s national centre of excellence for bagpipe
music. He is a joint founder of the Big Music Society alongside Breabach’s Calum MacCrimmon, as well as a central figure in Tryst, a piping collective featuring ten of Scottish piping’s most forward looking creative minds.
To further reinforce this connection, many of the entirely self-penned tunes that form the album, are named after historic places in the vicinity of The Pipe Factory – Gallowgate, London Road, Greenhead Street, Hielan Jessie. One set is named for Maggie McIver, the woman who founded the Barras Market in the wake of the First World War. Track 4, Tongland, acknowledges the area’s troubled, gang related history – the Tongs, or San Toi, or a number of other variants – were a brutal street gang that ruled over the Calton for decades, beginning in the mid-late 19th century. The name Tongland became synonymous with the area.
The Pipe Factory builds on the foundational concept of John’s previous album, celebrating the sound of the pipes and how they fill a space, and carry’s it forward, creating an album that is unlike anything else in Glasgow’s thriving trad/folk scene. Heavily inspired by composer/producers such as Nils Frahm as well as artists more
obviously connected with the oeuvre like Martyn Bennett, this body of work underlines John’s position as an outlier to world of folk, traditional, and roots music.
Tracks from The Pipe Factory