PP Editor’s Blog: Highlands & Islands/ Skye Gathering/ Oz Livestream/ SPA KO

Spare a thought for piper Darach Urquhart who suffered the opposing emotions of elation and disappointment at the Highlands & Islands Festival on Saturday.

Firstly the piping steward read out his name as the winner of the March, Strathspey & Reel contest only for him to realise much later – and after he had been photographed with the winners’ trophy – that in fact there had been a mistake and the prize should have been announced as Allan Russell’s.

A thought too for Allan who must have played very well only to discover, initially, that he had not featured in the list. The steward concerned will not be feeling to pleased with himself either, and it would be very easy to line up a broadside against the person concerned.

But these things happen in piping. Solo competitions are run by unpaid individuals who give up their own free time for the good of the music they love. The steward did not have to be there on Saturday afternoon and now probably wishes he hadn’t been.

Well, as the Bard says, all’s well that end’s well and no great harm has been done. Darach, measured, sensible, had a very good prize in the piobaireachd to console himself with. Allan, measured and sensible too, and who also featured in the ceol mor list, got his reward, albeit belatedly, in the MSR. The steward will have learned from his error and made  a mental note to  double-check before making any announcements in the future.

This little kerfuffle should in no way undermine the standing of this competition in the eyes of the piping public. The promoters and volunteers who have made it a West Highland fixture for the past 30 years should be allowed one small glitch among their decades of hard work and efficiency.

Skye adA welcome on board the good ship Piping Press to our latest advertiser, Skye Gathering. They are guaranteed the best possible exposure for their competiton. There’s a special atmosphere about Skye and I would urge all pipers and listeners who have never been to make the effort to attend. Always ranked third in the solo piping pecking order behind Oban and Inverness, Skye hosts the Dunvegan Medal and Clasp, the Silver Chanter, the Kemble Star for Marches and the Peter MacFarquhar Star for Strathspeys and Reels.

If sometimes at Oban and Inverness the musical fare is questionable – set tunes are not always classics – at Skye you are guaranteed compositional quality. All the ceol mor is from the MacCrimmon associated canon. Classics abound and it is more than likely you will hear Lament for the Children, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay, Lament for Patrick Og, Rory MacLoude’s Lament, MacSwan of Roaig, Donald Ban……These names alone should have you searching for that Portree B&B.

spa logoThe final of the Scottish Pipers Association Knock Out competition takes place at the College of Piping on Saturday from 7pm. The contestants are Stuart Liddell, fresh from his band’s success at the Virginia Tattoo competition, and a busy time at the MacCallum Bagpipes roadshow in Brittany, and John Patrick the winner last year.

The competition is generously sponsored by McCallum’s. There will be a full bar service to oil what is always a very entertaining evening.

The SPA Knockout started in 1964 when the winner was Duncan Johnstone – a never to be forgotten occasion given that the genial and brilliant Duncan got the shout over that genius of the bagpipe, P/M Donald MacLeod. Of course anything can happen when the crowd has the vote.

Duncan in full flight
Duncan in full flight

Duncan only entered the competition under pressure from the then SPA President John MacFadyen. John was looking for someone to stand in for John MacKenzie, Dunblane, who’d had to pull out. Duncan’s first opponent was Hector MacFadyen, Pennyghael, and after that and a couple of less-stringent examinations, made it through to final to face Donald.

Duncan told me that he had met Donald the day before the big night: ‘I asked him if he was all set for the final. He just turned to me and said slowly, with a straight face, ‘no, no Tuncan, I haven’t looked at my pipes all week’.

‘I said to myself, ‘aye that’ll be right’ and had a quiet laugh.’

Duncan played first and got the verdict. His secret was to start with a bang: strathspeys and reels. Then he’d slow things down with some marches, always lifting things to a climax with his consummate hornpipe and jig playing.

We’ll have more on Duncan in our Famous Pipers column in the future. He is pictured up top after winning the KO. Have a listen to him playing live here just as he might have done on that great night back in 1964.

oz logoIt’s good news that the Australian Pipe Band Championships in October will be broadcast over Livestream to the rest of the world. For too long the pipe band scene in the Antipodes has been something of a mystery to those in the northern hemisphere. Apart from Victoria Police (nearly 20 years ago!) and excellent bands from NZ such a Manawatu appearing at the Worlds, we get very little insight into what goes on down under.

Thanks to the foresight of Pipe Bands Australia things are about to change and an improved worldwide appreciation of their member bands will be the result.

Yes, Livestreaming is a good thing – most of the time. I am not so sure about local contests. It discourages people getting out to attend I fear. Yet there is nothing like live music is there? A boon for those overseas right enough but a word of advice to those promoters who do use this technology. Try not to have dead air; by that I mean a situation whereby viewers are staring at a blank stage listening to the hubbub from the audience.

And nothing kills your broadcast more than interminable tuning from pipers. In these circumstances most will use the catch up service and, like tv shows with adverts, whizz forward to the real action.

Don’t miss this opportunity for world-class piping and drumming tuition

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1 thought on “PP Editor’s Blog: Highlands & Islands/ Skye Gathering/ Oz Livestream/ SPA KO

  1. Having done a bit of stewarding at games giving pipers the wrong prizes is a fear and a nightmare for me. It is so easy to get things mixed up. My sympathy goes out to the steward and organisers as well as the pipers. It happens in other spheres and we should not be too hard on ourselves. I think I read or saw in the TV a competition which did not feature in the Piping Press in which this happened. I think it was in the Miss World competition and the wrong wifie got the crown. It was corrected and there was floods of tears from the contestants. The pipers involved in Oban would have had a stiff upper lip of course. As well as Darach having the consolation of getting into the piobaireachd list he has something in common with the deposed Miss World. I would cherish the photograph. I recall an incident when a piper had his name engraved on a trophy which he won. However the engraver made an error and for some reason engraved details for two years, the second year of which the piper was not in attendance at the competition. I was not directly involved in this cock-up! It was laughed off and the incident gave reason for light hearted banter and a dram.

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