Braemar Gathering (Updated with Pictures, Comment and Ceol Beag)

A bitterly cold day on Royal Deeside. Twenty two pipers played in the ceol mor. The standard was good among the prizewinners but there were many fine tunes ruined by cold fingers and chanter reeds simply seizing up.

Piobaireachd for the Braemar Gold Medal (the winner receives no prizemoney only the medal which is valued at over £1,000):

1 Gordon McCready, Battle of the Pass of Crieff (pictured top)
2 Nick Hudson, Lord Lovat’s Lament
3 John Angus Smith, Isabel MacKay
4 Innes Smith, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay
5 Andrew Lee, Big Spree
6 Ed McIlwaine, Blue Ribbon
Judges: M McRae, R Wallace, D Watson; eight tunes asked for.

Jori Chisholm in action in the ceol beag...judges Jimmy Banks, Andrew Wright and Stuart Samson look on
Jori Chisholm in action in the ceol beag…judges Jimmy Banks, Andrew Wright and Stuart Samson look on

1 Jori Chisholm
2 Ashley McMichael
3 Craig Muirhead
4 Ursa Beckford
5 Greig Canning
6 Nick Hudson

1 Jori Chisholm
2 Eric Ouellette
3 Ashley McMichael
4 Graham Mulholland
5 Andrew Lee
6 G McCready
Judges: J Banks, S Samson, A Wright

Champion Piper trophy and Overseas Medal went to Jori Chisholm. The medal is described as ‘silver’ but its appearance is exactly the same as the Gold Medal for Piobaireachd.

Jori Chisholm, Seattle, with his champions medal and trophies. Jori is pictured in front of the Royal Pavilion at the games park

Of the piobaireachd event, adjudicator Robert Wallace writes: The cold wind made it very difficult for pipers playing for the medal, particularly those on early in the day when the temperature hovered around 6 – 8 degs. C. However the cold did not seem to affect the eventual winner Gordon McCready. He set his bold instrument perfectly and proceeded to give us a controlled and well set out tune, the ground doubling particularly impressive. A few tight crunluaths a mach towards the end did not detract, given the circumstances. With this win Gordon secured the Grampian League Games Championship for both Light Music and Piobaireachd, possibly the first time a denizen of the wilds of Renfrewshire has secured these titles.

Second prize went to Nick Hudson from the US. This was a very good Lord Lovat’s Lament marred only by a choke and a few misses in the T&C. Perhaps more music could have been brought out of the ground, but this will come as this young player matures and his confidence grows. Third went to Oban Gold Medallist John Angus Smith. His Isabel MacKay was attractively presented – with the notable exception of the third ground where a bout of sharp cutting put the bench on edge.

These two fine chaps are members of the Atholl Highlanders band, part of the contingent from the Atholls parading before HM The Queen to mark the 200th Anniversary of Braemar Gathering
These two fine chaps are members of the Atholl Highlanders band, part of the contingent from the Atholls parading before HM The Queen to mark the 200th Anniversary of Braemar Gathering

Fourth went to Innes Smith with a good Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay, though more could have been made of the phrasing in variation 1 and he cut the E between the two high As in the ground too severely. Andrew Lee from BC gained fourth prize with the Big Spree – good pipe and finger – just needing more expression, particularly Var 1. The last of the prizes went to Ed McIlwaine also from BC. He was inconsistent with his cadences in the Thumb and the Thumb doubling was too round for my taste. That said, parts of this tune were eminently listenable.

Of those who didn’t make the prizelist, Andy Wilson from Northern Ireland must receive special mention. His Nameless Dro o Dro was going along beautifully until the reed seized in the taorluath. The groundwork and Var 1 were a model of timing and phrasing – the pipe was good too. Jonathan Greenlees, a previous winner of the medal, had a wrong note and a grounded taorluath that shouldn’t have been. His echoes in the urlar did not.

Dr Innes Smith competing
Dr Innes Smith competing

Ben McClamrock’s Mary MacLeod started well but after the ground lacked pulse and momentum; Dan Lyden cut up to the high A in MacKay’s Banner Thumb doubling and was a bit laboured with his fingering later on (the cold); Ursa Beckford promised much with the Unjust Incarceration but forced on the third line of each variation of the tune like a man possessed and nipped the life out of the dithis. A more controlled approach and Ursa will do well with this tune; Jamie Forrester had a very good ground in the Nameless Cherede Darievea before the pipe collapsed on him; Derek Midgley lacked fluency in his Red Hector – good instrument; Eric Ouellette had a couple of wrong notes and a severe cut to high A at the end of the ground of Park Piob 2; Matt Fraser was going along nicely in MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart then stopped abruptly citing ‘drones too far out’. Well Matt, they didn’t sound too bad to the bench. At the games it’s best always to finish the tune, even if they drift a bit. Matt Pantaleoni had the right idea with the King’s Taxes and has developed a neat way of walking backwards into the wind – but it wasn’t enough to save him from the bitter blast, the finger and pipe both degenerating as the tune went on.

John Angus Smith on his way to third prize in the ceol mor
John Angus Smith on his way to third prize in the ceol mor

Braemar was the end of the season for many overseas visitors and I think it appropriate that we salute their support and endeavour over the summer. These pipers from Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, spend thousands of dollars to make the trip to Scotland each year. I hope they find it rewarding. Their support helped prop up many an ailing Highland games, so we salute them for that and hope they will return next year for another summer of cold, rain, midges and grumpy faced judges – and the chance of glory on the most important piping stages in the world.