Uist & Barra Professional Competition Comment & Photographs

A Look Back at the 2016 Uist & Barra Professional Solo Piping Contest

by Robert Wallace

U&B logoOne conversation I had recently was over the changing of the guard at the top of world solo piping. On Saturday at the Uist & Barra contest in Glasgow it was there for all to see. Every first prize went to a player from the younger generation. And quite right too.

I’ll start with the Ceol Mor. The winner was Callum Beaumont playing the Phantom Piper of the Corrieyairick. Just he had done when winning the Clasp at Inverness last year, Callum displayed maturity and control throughout, perfect technique and a lovely pipe. He finished to loud applause, a clear contender. Callum is pictured top with the Glasgow Highland Club Medal presented to the winner of the U&B Ceol Mor along with the Finlay MacKenzie Challenege Trophy.

Second went to William McCallum with the Rout of the Lowland Captain, a rout that at times resembled more of a leisurely  withdrawal with stops for tea and biscuits, but which arrived on safe ground courtesy almost flawless technique and a pipe that was, as ever, immaculate.

Third prizewinner was Stuart Liddell with Lament for Colin Roy McKenzie. Another beautiful instrument, but Stuart didn’t have quite the command he had when winning the Senior Piobaireachd at Oban with this tune a couple of years back. The Taorluath and Crunluath lacked focus and pulse on the theme notes, something he certainly had on the latter occasion.

Fourth was one of the best tunes of the day, the Battle of Waternish from Alasdair Henderson. Spirited throughout, Alasdair’s only flaw came at the timings of the cadences in the Taorluath singling where there was too much of a pause before the cadence E. Bold a mach finish.


Fifth prize was given to Roderick MacLeod who played the Old Men of the Shells on a pipe that was flat on low A, B and C and which had a rough sound to the drones. He must have known this and hurried on, tightening up the taorluaths as he went.

Of those not on the list, Gordon McCready must have been the most disappointed. His Lament for Lord Lovat was skilfully handled, the lyrical passages and phrases full of pathos. The crunluath doubling may have lacked controlled phrasing but this is a rapidly maturing piobaireachd player and the pipe and finger are well up with his expressive development.

Another fine tune came from Faye Henderson with the Stewart’s White Banner.  To her credit, Faye presented a bolder instrument than hitherto and this meant that there was no volume deficit with that of the competitor before her. It also projected her fine technique to better effect. Unfortunately the drones needed to come up a little and she played throughout with a flatness in the chanter – but no one could argue with her expression, tempo and phrasing.

On first (again) Finlay Johnston gave us the King’s Taxes on one of the day’s best bagpipes. He lacked a little conviction and needed to push on more in Variation 1 doubling. Technique well up to the high G throws. Gordon Walker seemed disturbed in Battle of Auldearn No2, had slips, broke down and went home.

Angus MacColl played I Gave a Kiss to the King’s Hand in brisk fashion but on a chanter that was as flat as a scone. Bill Geddes blew up for Earl of Seaforth, pipes perfect – put them out and never got them back. I don’t know what Cameron Drummond was thinking with his presentation of Battle of the Pass of Crieff, but I will make this predication: he will never get a prize playing it like this other than in front of someone who knows nothing of the piobaireachd art.

Glenn Brown‘s Rory MacLoude’s Lament suffered from shortened cadence Es throughout and a lack of thoughtful phrasing. Very good technique (thankfully he seems to have solved the problem lifting to D) and a good instrument. Douglas Murray‘s pipe, if a shade loud, was good at the start of Kinlochmoidart 2, but it drifted from half way through. The tune could have done with an injection of pace, especially in the doublings.

Finlay Johnston with the March, Strathspey and Reel trophy
Finlay Johnston with the March, Strathspey and Reel trophy

After a short break it was on with the MSR won in fine style – playing last this time – by Finlay Johnston. This was the first time I had heard Finlay really going for the big prize, with professional tempi throughout his Abercairney Highlanders, Islay Ball (well timed runs here) and Thompson’s Dirk.

Another keeping the tempo up was Callum Beaumont, again the first time I had heard him playing on the edge like this. And you know what? It was transforming for the listener. All the feet in the audience were tramping along as Callum drove on with Mrs John MacColl, Cat Lodge and John Morrison, Assynt House. Credit to the judges for awarding the top two prizes to pipers playing with such verve.

Slowing things down, but clean and clear, we had William McCallum and Stuart Liddell in third and fourth respectively, with the list coming alive again in the shape of Alasdair Henderson‘s Col. MacLean of Ardour, Piper’s Bonnet and The Sheepwife.

Mentioned in dispatches in the MSR must be Gordon McCready (bright tempi, tremendous pipe), Cameron Drummond (strange crackling from chanter but good playing) and Angus MacColl (that pipe again).

Ally Henderson with the Hornpipe & Jig trophy
Ally Henderson with the Hornpipe & Jig trophy

Following their MSRs, the pipers had to play a Hornpipe and Jig. This contest was won by Alasdair Henderson with an attractive Jack Adrift and Michael MacDonald’s Jig. Second went to Roderick MacLeod, the bagpipe at last recovering its noted quality, with third to Glenn Brown, fourth to Gordon McCready and fifth to Callum Beaumont, who with his first, second and fifth prizes was declared Champion Piper.

Adjudicators for all events were Ian Duncan, Stuart Shedden and Andrew Wright.

Before closing a word for U&B President Julia MacIsaac. Julia is retiring back to South Uist after many years as President of the Glasgow Association. She has presided over the resurgence of the Uist & Barra as a major force in piping. South Uist Games would do well to get her on board their organising committee!

John Angus and Julia
John Angus and Julia

A word too for Piping Convenor John Angus Smith: his second contest in charge ran as smoothly as well-blended cratur sliding down the thirsty thrapple.

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