Greenville SC Games and Jimmy McIntosh Contest

Greenville Highland Games Professional Piping, May 29, 2016

By Robert Wallace

The  most impressive aspect of the Jimmy McIntosh MBE piobaireachd competition (held as part of the Greenville SC Highland Games) was the level of musicianship of the participants. They demonstrated an understanding of time signatures and phrasing not always heard on the professional stage. Much of that can be credited to Jimmy himself.

Now 90 and living in Anderson, South Carolina, he moved south from Pittsburgh PA almost three years ago. Before being succeeded by Alasdair Gillies, Jimmy had been piping professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).  Many of his former students travelled to take part in the Greenville competition and I am  sure he would have been pleased with their playing.

They included the winner Nick Hudson who gave us that ceol mor tour-de-force, Lament for the Laird of Anapool. The high G was perfectly pitched as he set out on his long, difficult journey. He really brought the best out of this tune with some subtle touches of expression you do not often hear. I was a bit disconcerted by the rundown he added to Var 3 and this is something I think he needs to review. Using the E and D connecting notes in this variation as theme notes is not to my taste either but this is not something any adjudicator could hold against him. He finished in style with crisp taorluaths and crunluaths. Nick is pictured above with Andrew Carlisle winner of the MSR.

Second prize went to Dan Lyden who pushed on in the required fashion with the Red Speckled Bull, a slight lack of variety in the repeated phrases the only downside to his expression. The drones could have locked in more, but crucially they chimed well with the C each time it was played. Third was Andrew Carlisle, the current piping professor at CMU, with a disappointing Clan Chattan’s Gathering. He was slow from the start; never got going at all; finger and pipe exemplary.

Reedmaker Alistair Murray is originally from Northern Ireland but now lives in Pittsburgh. A good instrument, he too was hesitant in the early part of the Old Men of the Shells. He eventually got going in Variation 3 but lost a little control in the doubling; dre and edre a shade tight.

Of the others, Matt Pantaleoni had pipe problems and several half-chokes in My King Has Landed in Moidart, Dave Mason’s You’re Welcome Ewan Locheil was more of a dirge than a celebration, but like Andrew Carlisle he had a fine pipe and finger. The instrument of the day went to Bill Caudill. Rich and steady, his was the sort of bagpipe that would have graced ANY competition and I’m including Oban and Inverness here. Unfortunately Bill struggled with darado at the ends of the lines in the Rout of Glen Fruin and was also very snappy with cadence Es in the Thumb. Liz Cherry needs a better instrument to match the interpretive and technical quality she demonstrated in Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay. Katy Rashid shaped up the Park Piobaireachd No.2 very well, and Grace Abernethy had a good Lady MacDonald’s Lament though she was inconsistent with her connecting notes and the middle beats in the phrases. Weaker instruments and errors cost both pipers consideration.

Some of Jimmy McIntosh's the centre is his MBE; either side of that are two Braemar Gold Medals; above it is a copy if the RU Brown medal from the RU Brown Piob. Soc. of South Australia; below it left is the Balvenie Medal for services to piping; below right is the Dunvegan Medal; far left is the Clasp to this medal; bottom is the Glenfiddich Champions' sign dubh; far right is the Argyllshire Gathering Medal for Marches; above it is a small medal he received at school, for reciting Burns' poetry
Some of Jimmy McIntosh’s awards….in the centre is his MBE; either side of that are two Braemar Gold Medals; above it is a copy of the RU Brown medal from the RU Brown Piob. Soc. of South Australia; below it left is the Balvenie Medal for services to piping; below right is the Dunvegan Medal; far left is the Clasp to this medal; bottom is the Glenfiddich Champions’ sign dubh; far right is the Argyllshire Gathering Medal for Marches; above it is a small medal he received at school, for reciting Burns’ poetry

The MSR was judged by veteran Sandy Jones and won by Andrew Carlisle, the Hornpipe and Jig by Nick Hudson. Both pipers are coming to Scotland to compete later in the summer and will be looking to build on their not inconsiderable reputations.

Sandy was telling me he has run his North American Piping Academy in North Carolina for 45 years. He and John MacFadyen first talked about it back in 1970 and it has been going ever since with classes during most of June and July. Sandy said they would miss greatly the presence of the late Ed Neigh who taught there for 14 years.

Sitting in with Sandy as a trainee judge was piper Skip Cleavinger. The Eastern United States Pipe Band Association deem that putative judges must do 15 trial runs before they get their adjudicators’ ticket. They also have to sit an examination with some very tricky but important questions on ceol mor and ceol beag minutiae. Skip is well on the way to completing his training.

After the contest I held a workshop where we discussed piobaireachd competition in general and I was able to elaborate on what I’d written in the pipers’ crit sheets . The comments seemed to be well received and I was grateful to escape with my hide intact. Everyone, competitors, judges, organisers then headed back to Jimmy and Joyce’s splendid demesne for refreshment and chat on the verandah.

Relaxing after the contest
Relaxing after the contest

Jimmy McIntosh has dedicated himself to passing on the teaching he had from Bob Brown and Bob Nicol at Balmoral. The work he has done in the United States in doing just that will be a lasting legacy.

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Blair Atholl Games Results (updated & pix added)

A warm, dry, sunny day. The above picture shows Darach Urquhart winner of the A Grade Ceol Mor, Craig Sutherland the overall Champion Piper and Andrew Wright winner of the B Piobaireachd.

A Piob
1 D Urquart (Earl of Ross’s March)
2 P McCalister (I Gave a Kiss to the King’s Hand)
3 C Sutherland (My King Has Landed in Moidart)
4 W Geddes  (Lament for MacSwan of Roaig)
5 M Elder
6 J Greenlees;
Judges: T Speirs, S Shedden

Ben Duncan enjoyed a successful day placing second in the B piobaireachd and winning both MSR and H&J
Ben Duncan enjoyed a successful day placing second in the B piobaireachd and winning both MSR and H&J

B Piob
1 A Wright 2 B Duncan 3 C McDougall 4 C Watson 5 R Miller
Judges: A Forbes, E Anderson

P/M Ian Duncan and the Atholl Highlanders Pipes Band were a popular attraction for the crowd at the 2016 Blair Atholl Games
P/M Ian Duncan and the Atholl Highlanders Pipe Band were a popular attraction for the crowd at the 2016 Blair Atholl Games

C Piob
1 C Brown 2 C Ross 3 B Chaimbeul 4 D Nevans 5 B Mulhearn

1 B Duncan 2 C Watson 3 C Sutherland 4 G McCready 5 W Geddes 6 B Chaimbeul

Champion Piper Craig Sutherland in action at Blair  Atholl
Champion Piper Craig Sutherland in action at Blair Atholl

1 B Duncan 2 C McDougall 3 C Sutherland 4 C Watson 5 D Urquhart 6 G Drummond

Champion Piper: Craig Sutherland

Jnr. Piob
1 F Cameron 2 A MacPhee 3 R Brown 4 L Brown 5 A Fergusson 6 C Harris/ B Watson-Massie

Jnr. MSR
1 F Cameron 2 L Brown 3 C Harris 4 A McPhee 5 A Ferguson 6 R Brown

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Bathgate Games Results (updated)

Sunny and dry, windy in the afternoon; 11 in Piob., 15 in MSR; Piob judge: Tom Spiers; M, & S/R: Andrew Frater 

1 Gordon McCready (pictured), Battle of the Pass of Crieff
2 Gordon Bruce
3 William Geddes
4 Jonathan Simpson

1 Gordon McCready
2 Wiliam  Geddes
3 Callum Watson
4 Graham Drummond

1 Gordon Bruce
2 William Geddes
3 Graham Drummond
4 Gordon McCready

Overall Senior Champion: Gordon McCready

Piob: 1. Brodie Watson Massie, 2 Holly Friedlander 3 Lewis Russell
M: 1 Lewis Russell, 2 Brodie Massie 3 Rhuraidh Brown
S/R: 1 Holly Friedlander 2 Lewis Russell
Junior Overall: Lewis Russell
Best Local: Lewis Russell

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PP Editor’s Blog: Greenville Games/ British Critique/ Alex Kiddie/ New Trophy Solo Games

I am writing this on the balcony of Jimmy and Joyce McIntosh’s lovely home in Anderson, South Carolina. I’m here for the local Greenville Games which begin on Saturday and end on Sunday with the professional piping and a workshop in the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The journey from Scotland via Newark is about 20 hours door to door depending on lay over time in NJ. The temperature here is 84 degs. Jimmy’s home looks out over a lake connected to the Savannah River, the river which separates SC from Georgia. It’s not too long a drive south from here to Augusta, home of the Masters golf.

Jimmy tells me that South Carolina was settled mostly by Scots and Scots/Irish so it is appropriate that they have such a prestigious games and piping event in the state. Here is the order of play in the professional contests:


  1. Gabriel Nierman
  2. Matt Pantaleoni
  3. Bill Caudill
  4. Dan Lyden
  5. Grace Abernethy
  6. Katy Rashid
  7. Alastair Murray
  8. Liz Cherry
  9. Nick Hudson
  10. Andrew Carlisle
  11. Dave Mason

1. Grace Abernethy
2. Liz Cherry
3. Dan Lyden
4. Alastair Murray
5. Katy Rashid
6. Gabriel Nierman
7. Bill Caudill
8. Nick Hudson
9. Matt Pantaleoni
10. Dave Mason
11.Andrew Carlisle

Report to follow.

Here and above....Jimmy has a tune
Here and above….Jimmy has a tune

pitlochryDrummer Andy Donaldson has been in touch about last week’s photo featuring Bob Hardie and Alex Kiddie. Andy: ‘What a braw photo in the blog this mornin’; nice to see auld Alex Kiddie in full flow. Auld Andra [Andy’s father] took over fae Alex at BP and there’s a tune dad wrote, a 6/8 ca’d ‘PM Alex Kiddie’ and we competed with that as march on.

‘The wee lad might be ma brother [Gold Medallist Brian Donaldson] an no’ Harry cause it looks mair like him to ma eye – but they looked awfy similar when younger.’

Thanks to everyone who responded to the articles concerning Scottish Power’s medley of a couple of days ago. They were read by several thousand people all over the world. Special thanks to Chris Armstrong for letting us have his views. Piping Press tries to abide by the highest standards of journalism and that includes giving the right of reply.

It is healthy when people contest views expounded in these pages and elsewhere and have the integrity to put their name to what they write – just as Chris did. Much better that than beer tent grumblings or anonymous internet trolling.  Reader Andy Robson summed the exchange up for many when he tweeted ‘If anyone is looking for an example of how two people deal with differing opinions then there it is.’

Still with the British, here’s a picture of the nice new trophy presented by the 214 Boys Brigade ex-members association to the winners of the new Novice B grade: 214 trophy

The trophy was won by Lochgelly High School. I hear there is another trophy being presented by the Association for juvenile drumming at the UK Championships in Belfast.

Still over the water, those enterprising men and women of the RSPBA Northern Ireland Branch were at the Province’s Balmoral Show the other week handing out cards with information on all the branch’s contests for the summer. The show is very well attended by folk from outside the pipe band world so this is a good way of getting the message across. The picture shows Winston Pinkerton (RSPBANI President), Lowry Ferguson (RSPBANI Vice- President), and Derek Mack (RSPBANI Co Down Section Chairman) pictured at the RSPBANI stand at the show.

Lowry Ferguson (RSPBANI Vice- President), Winston Pinkerton (RSPBANI President) and Derek Mack (RSPBANI Co Down Section Chairman) pictured at the ‘Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association’ stand at the Balmoral Show.

The solo contest games season gets into full swing this weekend with Bathgate tomorrow (entries on the field I think) and at Blair Atholl on Sunday. Judges in the A Piobaireachd at Blair are Tom Speirs and Stuart Shedden, B Piob Alan Forbes and Euan Anderson and in the C, Ronald and Gordon Clark. The Light Music finds Jimmy Banks and Andrew Frater on Heat 1 and Barry Donaldson and Patrick Grant on Heat 2. The judges pick three from each heat to go forward to the final. The Piob A draw is: Jonathan Greenlees, William Geddes, Callum Beaumont, Peter McCalister, Finlay Clark, Craig Sutherland, Allan Russell, Greig Canning, Gordon McCready, Darach Urquhart and Michael Elder.

B Piob: Gordon Barclay, Cameron McDougall, Callum Wynd, Ben Duncan, Duncan Beattie, Bruce MacDonald, Andrew Hall, Jamie Elder, Edward Gaul, Charles MacDonald, Ross Miller, Ashley McMichael, Connor Sinclair, Andrew Wright, Kris Coyle, Calum Watson, John MacDonald, Ross Cowan, Mael Sicard-Cras, Graham Mulholland.

C Piob: Calum Brown, Calum Maclean, Andrew Bova, Brigade Chaimbeul, Ciaran Ross, Dan Nevans, Bruce Erskine, Chris Lee, Daniel McDermott, John Campbell, Ronald Telfer, Ben Mulhearn, Seoras Lewis.

Results as soon as we have them.

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More Observations on the British Pipe Band Championships

St James Playing Fields, Paisley, Saturday, May 21

By Alistair Aitken OBE, former
senior adjudicator for the RSPBA

This was a new venue for the first major championship of the year and my first impression was the amount of space which was available.  The Playing Fields were flat and firm despite the rain earlier in the day.  However, they were also rather open to the elements with a chilly wind blowing at times between warm sunny spells.  No doubt the varying temperature would not help the tuning.

The forecast rain thankfully stayed away for all but a 10-minute period during which the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band and bands playing at the same time in the other competing circles were rather unfairly swamped; and without doubt it affected their performances to an extent – not quite the ‘spirit’ expected!  Surely that cannot happen to these bands again.

My only other comments about the venue were that the available space would have allowed the competing ring perimeters to have been expanded a bit wider to avoid overlapping sounds.  For example, Ring 1 was affected by the microphone announcements from Ring 4 and vice versa.  The same applied to Rings 2 and 3.  The sound of aircraft taking off from the nearby Glasgow Airport also impacted on band performances at times.  I was also surprised to see some large tents and very large umbrellas around the arenas, which illustrated that some people had the foresight to anticipate bad weather and no doubt their occupants were kept dry and comfortable, but at the same time they blocked the view of other spectators and, during the deluge, directed even more of the water in their direction.  Thankfully that was only for a very short period.

My only other comment is that, having spent so many years as an adjudicator within the actual competition arenas, I had not fully appreciated the difficulty from a spectator perspective of trying to listen to specific bands in the different grades when there are four competition rings in operation at the same time.

I had hoped to hear all the bands in the Juvenile grade but did not manage to do so.  Those I did hear produced a very high standard which is great for the future of the pipe band movement, but the downside is that there are still only six bands at this level at major championships, apart from the Worlds.  Hopefully the increasing teaching of piping and pipe band drumming in schools will result in a significant number of bands progressing from Novice Juvenile, which presently has a strong number of entrants in both Novice Juvenile ‘A’ and Novice Juvenile ‘B’ categories.  These are grades where young people can serve their apprenticeship, learn many skills and gain experience and confidence, before progressing to higher level bands.

The Police Service of Northern ireland on their way to victory in Grade 2 albeit on ensemble preference
The Police Service of Northern Ireland on their way to victory in Grade 2 albeit on ensemble preference

I also managed to listen to some of the early performers in Grade 2.  I was impressed with the eventual winners, the Pipes and Drums of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (pictured top during their performance) but noted that their win was on ensemble preference from Buchan Peterson, whose performance I unfortunately did not hear as they appeared later in the programme.  I did hear Lomond and Clyde’s solid performance and was impressed by the drum corps (again reflected in the final results).

I did, however, manage to listen to the whole of the Grade 1 competition as I was able to find a suitable vantage point where I could hear the performances from an ensemble perspective, which decided me to stay put.  I am reluctant to reveal what my own ranking order would have been but I did think that the outstanding performance of the day was from Inveraray and District [pictured celebrating up top].  For me the performance displayed tonal balance (as a collective ‘pipe band’), spirited playing, clarity of execution, innovative medley composition using traditional tunes, and very effective musical interpretation – to which the drummers made a significant contribution in terms of technical ability, subtlety and use of varied dynamics.  The presentation of the slow air and of John Morrison of Assynt House were particularly effective.

The good crowd and umbrellas sometimes made it difficult to listen at Paisley. The band performing here are Boghall Juveniles
The good crowd and umbrellas sometimes made it difficult to listen at Paisley. The band performing here are Boghall Juveniles

That is not to say that there were no other strong contenders.  Field Marshal Montgomery played first and set a standard which was very difficult to beat in terms of immaculate piping, tonal balance and musical presentation.  Another very good musical performance for me was from Boghall and Bathgate, a band I was surprised not to see in the prize list.  I felt deeply sorry for the Spirit of Scotland and the players did very well in coping with the cloud burst which hit them.  It would be unfair to even try to provide any meaningful comment on the performance from where I was standing as what I was hearing was distorted by the sound of the heavy rain hitting the many umbrellas surrounding me.

Other piping performances which stood out for me were Scottish Power and Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia in terms of both their clarity of playing and distinctive sound.  In some of the bands I thought there were imbalances between the piping and drumming sounds, and in some cases, the clarity of the snare drums was not projecting clearly through the pipes.  I wonder how many band leaders think about that when setting up the instruments as, when the drums do not project through clearly, it is difficult to get a true picture at the head of the band of the musical influence of the drumming; and that is where the ensemble adjudicator is usually positioned.

In the results across all the grades there were some wide differences between adjudicators, which is not unusual although difficult for the general public to understand.  Numerous attempts have been made over the years to overcome this problem and I am not sure that the adjudicator consultation trials taking place this year will provide the solution.  It may produce more consistent placings, but many bands will feel that the problem is simply being hidden or the results are being influenced by those adjudicators with strong personalities (as was the complaint with the previous consultation system).

Many people may have forgotten that the introduction of two piping adjudicators to championship teams was originally to achieve a balance of views rather than the same result.  As I have suggested more than once before, my personal preference would be for a trial with all the adjudicators standing or sitting in the same place (preferably in a raised platform) so that they are all hearing the same sound projection.  It still might not provide the complete solution but must be at least worth a trial!

All in all I enjoyed my day, met many people I knew and discovered that as ever pipe band ‘politics’ are still very much to the fore!  We would probably complain if it was otherwise.

• Read more on Paisley here.

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Piping in Breeks/ Donald Video/ Australia Results

New video posted today of Donald McBride, Kansas and Donegal, but formerly Patna (South Ayrshire), Prestonpans and Glasgow. Donald plays some ceol beag and then the piobaireachd The Sound of the Waves Against the Castle of Duntroon.

Appropriately he is playing the tune on the foreshore north of Boston (the tide is audible in the background) during a quiet evening at the New England piping camp in 2013. It was a balmy evening and Donald, a very fine piper and runner-up for the Gold Medal on two occasions, gave a sterling performance on a first class instrument.

Check out the video in our PP archive here and if you’d like to take advantage of Donald’s teaching sign up now for the 2016 NEPADA camp. It runs from June 14 -19 and there are still places available for pipers and drummers. The camp is based at the picturesque Adelynrood Retreat at Byford, MA, a perfect setting for study and relaxation. Get more info here.

Results from Australia from last weekend when the Victorian Piper’s Association held the second event of their 2016 competition series as part of the Camperdown Burns Festival on Saturday 21st May.

A Grade Piobaireachd:
1st Jonothan Quay
2nd Katherine Belcher
3rd Fiona Manson

A Grade MSR
1st Fiona Manson
2nd Jonothan Quay
3rd Katherine Belcher

A Grade 6/8
1st Craig Sked
2nd Jonothan Quay
3rd Katherine Belcher

Judges for A grade were Roddy MacDonald and Ian Lyons

Good letter posted today concerning ‘Piping in Breeks’ from gamekeeper Logan Smith. Logan is pictured above strutting his stuff among the heather on the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate where he works. The PP office think he looks pretty smart and we are sure the grouse and the deer were just as charmed. Read Logan’s letter here.

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Pipe Major Responds to Comments on his Band’s Medley at the British Championships

scottish power pb logoThe statement below has been received from P/M Christopher Armstrong of Scottish Power Pipe Band. It follows yesterday’s critique by PP Editor Robert Wallace on the performances in Grade 1 at the British Championships held at Paisley last Saturday, May 21. 

P/M Armstrong, who is pictured above, writes: ‘It’s always interesting to read your thoughts on all the bands’ performances after a contest, and as the Pipe Major of ScottishPower Pipe Band I thought I’d share with you a few notes from my perspective. 

‘Your critique from the British Pipe Band Championships got me thinking about the various aspects of the performance you highlighted and the reason behind, or application of, the tools employed in the construct of our medley. I’m not big on the explaining music and justifying its reason because I generally enjoy it for what it is, but here’s my attempt.

‘A shaky start where the low Gs and B harmonies clashed throughout the opening tune.’ That’s interesting from the perspective that the harmonies in the opening tune, a good strong George McIntyre composition which uses the A mixolydian mode, are utilised to compliment this mode which is widely used in Western Music. Basically, this mode is an A major scale with a flattened 7th; i.e. if it was a major key you would have a G sharp but the pipe scale being what it is has a G natural. In order to harmonise correctly in this mode you need the B and low G as the G major/E minor chord are present where you use them. Kilmaho is a fantastic double tonic tune, changing between A and G in every phrase pretty much.
‘Slow air went on a shade too long.’ This is also interesting as one of the ‘formulaic’ medley construction tools, I say formulaic because there are only two (it seems) agreeable formats for medleys to take currently, is to employ the use of a slow air which fits within a particular time constraint of around 1:15/1:30 minutes long so as not to go on too long. A quick check of the duration of previous years’ medleys will confirm this. Again another subjective area, but this tune was used for its majestic qualities having been sourced from another Celtic nation’s repertoire – the Isle of Man. The addition of the 2nd and 3rd line harmonies in the 2nd part help to highlight the melodic line and add a slightly more complex rhythmical structure to underpin the strong melodic line, this rhythmical enhancement being echoed in what the drum corps add to the piece.

And there was absolutely no melody whatsoever in the first jig – the harmony did not help’. This is perhaps of the most interest to me personally. The Electric Pumpkin is the only jig we played, of six parts construction. Composed back somewhere in the region of 1996, this tune is somewhat old hat and I noticed quite a few people fingering along with the band during tune up which is always a great compliment to any composer. This tune (and I hate analysing my own compositions) has great rhythmical and technical qualities and some fantastic opportunity for Jake [Jørgenson, ScottishPower’s Leading Drummer] and the corps to really come to the fore, which they do very sympathetically and tastefully. The addition of the harmonies is not an effort to improve a weak tune as there is no point in playing a tune which requires harmonies to do so. The tune, in a D major key, benefits from the addition of the harmonies in the last two parts from the aspect of ensemble and adding a point of interest as it progresses to its strong conclusion. These harmonies help highlight the technical demands of the birls and challenging note groupings  within the tune.
‘In the end, I generally accept music for what it is whether I like it or not. Your comments got me thinking more along the theoretical aspects of our new medley’s construction and having done this I can now better appreciate why I enjoy playing it. 
‘I think there may be some educational value in the information above so please feel free to publish this on your Piping Press site if you find it of educational value or otherwise. 

Chris Armstrong.’

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British Pipe Band Championship Updated With Comment and Analysis Added

rspba-logoAn outstanding performance by Inveraray & District  Pipe Band earned them the deserved title of Grade 1 British Pipe Band Champions 2016, writes Editor Robert Wallace

In second came Field Marshal Montgomery,  placed first by both piping judges but whose sixth in drumming cost them dear. That said, I think that with this level of playing only the most churlish would have denied Inveraray their reward.

After their performance there were, not surprisingly, broad smiles on the faces of the Inveraray pipers and drummers led by P/M Stuart Liddell and L/D Steven McWhirter.

For me there were four bands in contention for the Grade 1 title: the two already mentioned plus St Laurence O’Toole and Shotts and Dykehead the current World Champions. Behind them I had Boghall and Bathgate and Glasgow Police. However the actual result in Grade 1 was :

1 Inveraray & District (pictured top during their performance)
2 Field Marshal
3 St Laurence O’Toole
4 Scottish Power
5 Spirit of Scotland
6 Shotts
Drumming: Inveraray

The competition was staged at the St James Playing Fields near Paisley and Glasgow Airport and occasionally the noise from jet engines could be heard mingled with that of some of the 147 bands that had entered for the first major of the season. The weather was dry for the most part but with a few heavy, blustery showers. Bands on near the end of the day had the best of it.

On judging duty from Canada, P/M Terry Lee
On judging duty from Canada, P/M Terry Lee

Eleven played in Grade 1 with Cullybackey from Northern Ireland surprising  call offs. On judging duty for the first time at a major championship in this country was P/M Terry Lee from Vancouver. He was joined by James Baxter (ensemble), Ian Wood (piping) and Paul Turner (drumming).

The Grade 4 arena was rather close to Grade 1 with a particularly loud bass-driven set of speakers meaning that announcements there bled into the lugs of those of us trying to listen as closely as we could to the latter.

I took up a position downwind of the competing circle (we can do better!) and was joined by a number of knowledgeable individuals from the piping and pipe band worlds like me, keen not to miss a gracenote. I remind readers that comments I make are with this proviso: the adjudicators in the centre are much better placed to hear the bands than we mere scribes on the outer fringes.

At the line...P/M Richard Parkes of FMM
At the line…P/M Richard Parkes of FMM

First on were Field Marshal and I found it very hard to fault their playing or their sound. Were they a tad lacking in confidence; could they have pushed the tempi a smidgen? Safety first is not something one associates with Richard Parkes’ band but after a chastening few runs maybe they were a little cautious, especially in the strathspeys. Beautiful fingering and perfect unison.

Fife Police started well but there was a suspicion of flatness in B and low G and the bottom hand work in the reels, birls and B strikes, did not come across with any unified acuity. The concluding jigs were definitely laboured. An interesting medley however, but needing more hard work.

Lowering skies greeted P/M Douglas Murray and Fife Constabulary
Lowering skies greeted P/M Douglas Murray and Fife Constabulary

Vale of Atholl had a thin sound compared to Fife and there was unsteadiness on D particularly so at the intro into the slow air. This band played very well with good rhythm and fingering (pipers well-schooled) but the sound needs an overhaul. Moreover, the reels in this particular medley are of questionable vintage.

The revived Spirit of Scotland had the misfortune of playing through the worst weather of the day. They stuck to their task manfully though, and for a first outing after several years lay-off more than justified their Grade 1 ranking. This band comprises some of the best players in the world, yet the pipe corps needs a dose of seriously hard graft if they are to get the required precision and clarity of finger into their combined technique. On this occasion a second place for the remarkable Jim Kilpatrick and his drum corps compensated.

I thoroughly enjoyed the medley from St Laurence O’Toole, though there were grumbles around me about the Es and Fs on their chanters. I must say I didn’t notice it. Their music fairly tramped along complimented by the comforting envelope of a warm drone tone and cultured coaxing from the drummers. There was a definite contrast in technique between them and SoS. SLoT’s slow air was one of the highlights of the day.

A good, if unsuccessful, run for P/M Ross Harvey and Boghall
A good, if unsuccessful, run for P/M Ross Harvey and Boghall

Two good runs followed. The first from Boghall & Bathgate under new P/M Ross Harvey. A solid drone tone may have hidden an F and high A which were shaky on occasions. Then the sun came out and the Boggies respond with fine playing if a little constrained in the jigs and reels.

The second came from Glasgow Police. Like the curate’s egg, the medley was good in parts. Cabar Feidh just didn’t cut it (over complex, suspect harmony) but then with Alick C MacGregor the Polis sounded like a different band. The strathspeys were weak melodically and laboured in delivery. Very good sound, nicely set chanters with good projection.

P/M Stuart Liddell receives the Grade 1 trophy from Paisley Provost Anne Hall. Picture courtesy Peter Hazzard

On came Inveraray. Initially the chanters seemed very high pitched  but after a razor-sharp intro, the ear adjusted and with the playing right on the edge, you knew this was a band in magnificent form. Afraid of no one, they seized the day in great style with a medley that just worked from start to finish, the break/ bridge to the Jig of Slurs as striking as the sun can be on those white-fronted buildings in the eponymous town. Next to their name in my notebook is a large asterisk and the words ‘First Prize’.

Bleary from Northern Ireland had the difficult task of following on and they gave a good account despite some shortcomings. I felt their drones drifted and their fingers suffered by comparison with Stuart Liddell’s superheroes. The jigs were stodgy – surprising in an Irish band – and need to be given more of a free rein. Overall an enjoyable band to listen to but a large gulf to cross before they are in a position to challenge the big beasts in the grade.

programmeScottish Power got better as their performance went on but never really recovered from a shaky start where the low Gs and B harmonies clashed throughout the opening tune. The slow air went on a shade too long and there was absolutely no melody whatsoever in the first jig – the harmony did not help. Much of their fingerwork was very impressive however (particularly on the bottom hand) and with a few adjustments to the medley this band can do much better.

An excellent performance from Shotts & Dykehead rounded off the day. The tone was clean and clear, the tempi where they needed to be – apart from the strathspeys which I would have preferred just a little nippier – and the breaks slick and very professionally handled. I don’t know enough about drumming to comment specifically, but the new corps did not seem in any way out of place, working closely with the pipers, adding to the rhythm and dynamics of Shotts’ fine ensemble. Very surprised to see they only managed sixth.

Overall a good start to the Grade 1 band season. It all augurs well for the rest of the summer and I believe the odds on the Worlds will have altered somewhat after the British at Paisley. On now to the UKs in Belfast where the real trends will begin to emerge.

Other results: Champions in the new Novice B category were Lochgelly High School from Fife. Novice A went to Dollar Academy, 4b to Clontibret from Eire, 4a to City of Inverness, Juvenile to Dollar Academy, 3b to Prestonpans RBL, 3a to Aughintober, 2 to Police Service Northern Ireland.

Get the full list of prizewinners and summaries from the RSPBA here. More from the British Championships to follow later.

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