Shakespeare writes of the bagpipes in the Merchant of Venice: “And others, when the bagpipe sings i' the nose, cannot contain their urine.”
Like many of us the Bard did not hold the sound of the bagpipes in great affection, but then he had never heard Ta Mere. This old-style four-piece jazz-band-with-a-twist use an array of instruments including violin, guitar, bass, harmonica and drums. But it is their use of the bagpipes that set this band apart. In the arms of Ta Mere’s charismatic front man, Sean MacGloin, this much maligned instrument produces a sound that is upbeat and sonorous and not in the least bit urine-inducing.
The combination of jazz and bagpipes is a rare one. It was pioneered by the American musician Rufus Harley who, according to legend, got the idea whilst watching the pipe band of the Black Watch playing at President Kennedy's funeral. Although bagpipes have also been used intermittently by various musicians from Van Morrison to Peter Gabriel their popularity is limited due to their lack of subtly. Not only do bagpipes only have nine notes but the sound they emit is difficult to modulate and coming out at one volume: loud. But MacGloin skips around these problems using false fingering to find half-notes and varying the volume by swaying back and forth in front of his trademark vintage microphone. Their rendition of Summertime with MacGloin also singing in his throaty Satchmo voice injects this jazz standard with a blithe originality. The band also write their own material and their song Little Boy Blue starts with a scintillating bagpipe intro which flows into a catchy classic jazz number.
New Yorker MacGloin has been playing the pipes since the age of 4. “As a child the pipes were beaten into me and my brothers” he jokes. “Every weekend we’d be forced to play the pipes then forced to go to bible study then forced to listen to Elgar.” Growing up in an eccentric musical household in the Bronx to an Irish father and Cuban mother MacGloin's life has been anything but conventional. He came to England to study and after leaving Cambridge with a degree in law he decided to spend the next two years busking with his bagpipes. Stripped to his kilt and painted blue he became a familiar site in the tourist spots of London but eventually he got bored with busking and returned to New York to sit his state bar exams.
Sent back to London to open a branch of a US law firm MacGloin decided to set-up his own legal consultancy in order to give himself the flexibility to play his music. Over the years he has played with Alabama 3, Morrisey and even performed in Wembley stadium with Madness (thanks in part to fact that his cousin is Chas Smash). Ta Mere (meaning “Your Mama”) was set up in 2008 and comprises an accomplished group of musicians including Wun Chan Yen on the bass, John MacCathy on Drums and the talented jazz guitarist, Christos Chatzispyrou.
But it is MacGloin's charisma, energy and musicianship that dazzle. His personality is capable of filling a venue of any size. As well as intimate venues such as the elegant Last Days of Decadence, Ta Mere go down a storm at bigger events and are booked to play several festivals this summer. Rounding off their high energy set the band finish with a rendition of Hi Di Hi Di Ho. “Ho Di Ho Di Ho Di Ho” the appreciative crowd replied with one voice. Shakespeare would have pissed his doublet and hose.