Field Marshal Montgomery laid down a statement of intent by winning the first pipe band major championship of the summer, the British at Bathgate, writes Robert Wallace.
All the talk over the winter was that this could be the year that they were toppled from their dominant position as the number one pipe band in the world. Well, after this performance, some of the pundits will have to re-think their opinions. FMM were outstandingly good in a competition of outstandingly good playing. Congratulations go to P/M Richard Parkes and his team, and also to the other winners in the various grades. Check out the full summaries here and check Piping Press later for a Grade 1 crit and more photographs from a hugely enjoyable, if chilly, championship. The top picture shows FMM marching to even more glory at the competition in Bathgate.
My day began with a visit to the RSPBA command centre where I met young Norman Gillies, Pipe Major of the Wester Ross Schools band. Norrie told me he was now working in management at a hotel in the town and was enjoying teaching the kids and playing himself. It was a pleasure to see him so smart in his uniform and looking very like his father, the late Alasdair.
On to the park, I was strolling along minding my own business when I heard the time-honoured cry for assistance ‘haw mister, gonnae tune ma drones’. Looking round there was this young chap from Methil, in Fife. He told me his name was Barnes and he looked so at a loss that I couldn’t pass him by.
Over to Grade 2, the plan being to listen to the first half before moving up to Arena 1 and Grade 1. Robert Mathieson and his wife Anne were there and Robert was telling me he was currently going through the Ensemble course with RSPBA’s Adjudicator Training Group. He seemed happy to be doing so, but it struck me that there should be some sort of fast track for pipe majors so honoured as he, with five Worlds titles to his credit.
Before we could sort that out, we were joined by another judge, Joe Noble, and his wife Lynn. Joe was looking decidedly hors de combat with his right arm in a sling. My initial reaction was to offer the kind of sympathy you would to a little winged bird you might find in the garden. But noticing the designer, gringo-esque stubble (why are all these people copying your correspondent ?), I realised he was a big boy who could look after himself and was in no need of my soothing blandishments. Joe relayed the story of a tumble in the garden after planting some flowers, a misplaced trowel the culprit, a torn shoulder the result. Joe’s place on the roster at Bathgate was taken by the genial reserve from Eire, Ciaran Mordaunt. I am sure Joe will be back on the pencil in time for the rest of the season.
Grade 2 began with Buchan Petersen from the north-east. Though they got the contest off to a good start (they finished second), I thought there was some slack playing in places, especially at the harmonies, the bass drum too loud, and the high A slightly sharp. Torphichen and Bathgate had a better sound and showed good technique throughout. This was a good, melodic selection and I was surprised they didn’t make the prizes. Well done to their new P/M. The eventual winners, Northern Ireland’s Bleary & District, came on with a commanding tone, near Grade 1 standard, and it sustained well to the end. Every aspect of their performance told of hard work and practice – though I didn’t think they had the precise fingering of Torphichen.
Grampian Police will need to bolden up their sound if they are to make any impression this summer. Their tone was thin from the start and when you get into seconds so soon in the opener it tends to give the game away. They had good steady jigs, but the strathspeys were sluggish and uninspiring. Better sound; better band. Deeside Caledonia were encumbered by a hopeless, I’m afraid there’s no other word for it, opening tune. There must be something better than this being hummed by the orra men up Grampian way. From this difficult start they never recovered, labouring on manfully however. City of Edinburgh seemed to be suffering from the cold, their chanters never achieving the true sparkle we have heard from them before. This hampered projection of their neat fingering and put a damper on the excellent lift they achieved in the strathspeys and the spirited playing of the reels.
Another band that need to improve their opener is Johnstone. To play the Black Watch Polka, I emphasise polka, at this tempo is the very antithesis of the dance. They have good players in the band and I am sure they could handle a more professional number of beats to the minute. Early chanter, good drones – very solid bass – and a rather hammy version of Crossing of the Minch to conclude. Donald MacLeod fans would be birling at this, thought I. All that said, this band well-deserved their fourth prize and were a credit to young pipe major Keith Bowes in his first year in charge. Glasgow Skye had a pleasing sound to begin, but bad blowing seemed to creep in from about a third of the way through. Was this why the unison deteriorated as the set went on? Perhaps a check on some of the bags might be in order and a little more chanter work would help instill some steadiness and definition into the phrasing.
At this point it was time for Grade 1 and you can read my further ramblings from there later . The Grade 2 result was:
1 Bleary 2 Buchan Peterson 3 Lomond & Clyde 4 Johnstone 5 MacKenzie Cal. 6 Manor Cunningham; Drumming: Buchan P.