He has ten World titles to his name and countless other major championships. This year he was heading for his fifth Worlds in a row when, at Glasgow Green last August, the band suffered a major reverse, the 2015 title going to Shotts and Dykehead. How does a band of the stature of FMM recover from such a setback? In a wide-ranging interview for Piping Press P/M Parkes speaks frankly of his band’s disappointment at the Worlds, his future as Pipe Major and what he needs to do to restore the band to its pre-eminent position.
PP: You had won the Worlds four years in a row. How did it feel when you lost it this year? Bitter disappointment?
RP: We knew it was going to happen at some point. We’d had a large number of championship wins in the last several years but no matter how ready you think you are for it, it is still very disappointing. It was very disappointing for the whole band even though we expected it to happen sooner or later.
PP: What was the effect on the band going back on the bus at night? Was it a shrug the shoulders, or was it a determination to come back?
RP: I think that’s exactly it; it had to be determination to come back from that setback. I went round everybody and shook their hands and said well done for a good season, which it was winning three majors and the Champion of Champions. But when you don’t win the big one it is always going to be disappointing, so as you say there was a determination to come back from that.
PP: Were the heads down?
RP: Well the heads were down for a while but what I did say was that with the concert next year [Worlds Week, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall] we were going to be back practising in October and that is what we are doing. Everyone was keen for that and we have started back. The mood’s good and everyone’s looking forward to improving in the areas that we need to improve on. What we’ve done, and what we do every year, is stand back and have a listen critically to all of our performances over the season and think on what we can do to make things better. Both myself and Keith [leading drummer Keith Orr] have done that and we’ve spoken about it and obviously we’ve taken into consideration what the judges have said too. If there are any recurring things that come along then we know we have to deal with them.
PP: Have you identified things you felt were wrong?
RP: Within the leadership of the band we feel there are things we can improve on. I am not going to come out and say what they are, but we believe we can improve in these areas and hopefully we will do so.
PP: Your drummers have been getting a hard time. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?
RP: We will take the advice from the crit sheets and if there are things that are coming through from different judges then we’ll have to try and deal with that. The way I look at it is this: this drum corps two years ago won the Worlds and won Champion of Champions in drumming with pretty much the same personnel. Maybe they have taken their eye off the ball for the last couple of years but there is still real talent in there, talent that can get them back to where they were. You’ve got to trust that. The band has been very successful under the same drum corps leadership for the last 12 or so years. Sometimes you have bad seasons, bad results, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go out there during the winter and work as hard as you can and try to rectify those things that are wrong.
PP: Keith’s been with the corps how long?
RP: Well Keith took over the corps in 2003 and you don’t become a bad drummer or drum corps overnight. They know they need to improve and we have things we need to improve on as well, and we are focussing on that.
PP: Can we talk about numbers? Have you had any major change there, pipers and/or drummers?
RP: There’s always turnover every year. I mean, I was looking at a picture of the band from 2011 when we won the Grand Slam. There are fifteen people in that photograph who aren’t with us now, so that’s the sort of turnover we’ve had in four or five years. To keep the band at the level it is at in that time is an achievement in itself. All the top bands have this sort of turnover. I think between 2012 and 2013 we have six people moving on but we certainly had a very good season in 2013. As long as the players who come in are at the quality level that we need, then I don’t see an issue with that. For this year we are pretty much one in and one out in the pipe corps so we’ll have the same numbers in 2016 as we had in 2015. The drum corps should have a few more in this year but I’m not sure how many Keith’s going to be playing. Our piping establishment is around 26 with 10 or 11 sides and six tenors and one bass.
PP: In terms of your approach to the new season, is it going to be more or less as before? You’ve done it; you’ve proved that it works for you, but do you see any need to change after then recent setbacks?
RP: No, I don’t see any need to change what we do, As you say, we’ve done it a number of times and we just need to be as critical as we can of the players in the band. We need to make sure that everyone is at the top-level going into the first major next year. This is what we always work for. We had a really good performance at Bathgate this year and that set us up for the rest of the season. It is really important to be on top of your game at the first major. It is only seven months away so it will be on us before we know it.
PP: The repertoire Richard, are we going to see and hear a few changes?
RP: I think you probably will. For the concert we’ve got a lot of material we’ve already prepared, and yes there will be changes in the repertoire for next year.
PP: A new medley then?
RP: We will have a different medley, yes, and we’ll definitely be changing one march in the MSRs and possibly a strathspey as well, but we’re still considering that.
PP: When you do introduce new tunes do you get Keith along and then say ‘is this going to work for you’?
RP: Yes, I’ll select the tunes and then consult with Alastair [P/Sgt. Alastair Dunn] and Keith. Everything is done very democratically. I will not impose tunes that others are not happy with.
To be continued.