PP Editor’s Blog: Drumming Points/ SPA KO/ Dr MacKay/ NEPADA/ NIPDS

Congratulations to last weekend’s Grade 1 winners St Laurence O’Toole at Bangor, Northern Ireland, and Scottish Power at Banchory. 

It is good to see these big bands supporting the smaller contests and not just the major championships. At the latter the Power narrowly beat Fife Police on ensemble preference and at Bangor it was Field Marshal who were nudged into second on a third prize for their drummers.

St Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band from Dublin under the leadership of P/M Alen Tully
Off to a flier…. St Laurence O’Toole from Dublin under the leadership of P/M Alen Tully

There has been a lot of talk recently about drumming judges deciding band contests and I have some concerns too. Where the drumming judge is approaching his duties through the prism of the pipe band I don’t have a problem. But where the drumming is considered in isolation from the rest of the band – the corps, its unison, its technical brilliance – then should his points allocation really have parity with, say, ensemble?

The same goes for the separate drumming prize. I have no problem with it provided the assessment is made with the band in mind and not solely the corps as a unit. That there is an issue is surely pointed up by the fact that a band can win the ensemble yet be seriously marked down by a drumming judge.

Is it time for two drumming judges at the top end, one that looks solely at the corps as a unit and another who assesses how well the beatings accompany the pipers? Half points for each. Or if you think that too unwieldy, keep the four judges but allocate only three sets of points, two piping and one ensemble/drumming, their combined total halved. That would solve the problem overnight.

Or maybe it would be best to wait and see how the move towards consultative judging pans out. Post-contest and in a tent with his fellow adjudicators, a drumming judge who has buried a band that the piping and ensemble judges had first or second might not feel so sure of himself and perhaps the final placings would be decided on a more holistic basis. It’s all about getting the best possible system and we must never forget in these days of huge drum corps and expanding ‘mid-sections’ it is a pipe band we are trying to adjudicate.


d mcp feat im
Thanks to Hugh MacCallum for clearing up the identity of the man in the middle of the Oban pic published last week. Hugh writes: ‘Interesting photo on the PP today.  The gentleman behind John MacLellan in the photo is the late Dr Kenneth MacKay, Laggan, a stalwart on the bench for many years.’



Dr MacKay did a huge amount for piping in the Laggan area and it was for him and his pupils that Bob Brown, Balmoral, recorded a whole series of tapes of tunes. This catalogue formed much of the basis of the ‘Masters of Piobaireachd’ CDs Norman Matheson and I produced and edited for Greentrax Recordings (starting in 1998) and which have proved so popular among ceol mor students.


nepa logoCan I draw attention of all New England Pipe and Drum Academy students to the daily schedule which has now been posted here. It is going to be a great week – serious study at all levels with plenty of time for socialising and lighter moments. For those still pondering there’s more on the teaching faculty here.


Our 'Piper of the Year'. Stuart Liddell
Modern master….. Stuart Liddell with yet another trophy – the Clan Donald Quaich.

I hear that the Scottish Pipers’ Association KO final a week past Saturday required a hurried change of schedule when finalist John Patrick called off sick. In their wisdom SPA officials decided the show must go on and the other finalist, Stuart Liddell, was more than happy to play twice. He of course received the generous winner’s cheque courtesy McCallum Bagpipes, and well done to all concerned for upholding the best of showbiz traditions.

Listeners were astounded by Stuart’s breadth of repertoire, playing as he did for 80 minutes and not a tune and hardly a gracenote out of place. The bagpipe was robust and perfectly tuned to the end of a mighty performance that included a rendition of the piobaireachd Lament for Alasdair Dearg MacDonell of Glengarry.

As I said in my Tips for the Games piece, anyone who can’t play for more than forty minutes without drowning in a puddle of perspiration has something wrong with their instrument and despite the lights, the crowd and the occasion Stuart Liddell, a modern-day master, sailed through this twice-as-long concert on a breeze.


Congratulations to all the successful candidates at the recent prizegiving of the Northern Ireland Piping & Drumming School (see pic up top). John Kelly reports: The NIPDS ‘Annual Presentation of Certificates’ was held in Laurelhill Community College, Lisburn on Wednesday 4th May.  Prizewinners, parents and guests were welcomed by the School Director Mark Armstrong, who also gave a brief report.  The special guest was Councillor Thomas Beckett (Mayor of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council) who presented the certificates.  The ‘Student of the Year’ was John McEvoy (Annsborough Pipe Band) who was presented with the Gavin Bailie Memorial Trophy by Gavin’s father, Sam Bailie.  The talent of the NIPDS students was clearly evident as some of them took part in a short musical programme prior to the presentation of certificates; also taking part were the Kathryn Stewart School of Highland Dance and the Co Armagh Drum Majors. A light supper was served afterwards.’

NIPDS ‘Student of the Year’ John McEvoy (Annsborough Pipe Band) is pictured performing at the NIPDS prizegiving
NIPDS ‘Student of the Year’ John McEvoy (Annsborough Pipe Band) is pictured performing at the NIPDS prizegiving

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

2 thoughts on “PP Editor’s Blog: Drumming Points/ SPA KO/ Dr MacKay/ NEPADA/ NIPDS”

  1. I’m sure it isn’t the first time that a contest has been decided by the drumming judge, nor will it be the last.
    Lets not forget it’s a pipe “Band” that is being judged, as for a second drumming judge “who assesses how well the beatings accompany the pipers”, I may have it wrong, but should the ensemble judge not already be doing that?
    As both the piping judges are qualified and fully trained by the RSPBA I would expect them to be listening for the same thing playing and tone wise and if they had been able to agree on the order of 3 bands, which I wouldn’t have thought was too tall an order, the contest wouldn’t have been decided on the drumming result. Maybe consultative judging would have sorted that one out?
    The piping already counts for double the drumming mark, so maybe you would prefer it to count for even less?
    I’m sure this season will be no different from any other and we will see results where piping marks differ hugely, so I hope to see the same type of probing analysis when a band gets 1st and 10th for piping! 🙂

  2. I seem to remember that once upon a time it was a “Pipes & Drums”, or possibly a “Drums & Pipes”, depending on your choice of regiment.

    Regardless, I think the idea that the individual disciplines should not be judged on their own merits, is a fairly daft one, especially if not consistently. I’d have some sympathy for the notion of replacing the panel with four ensemble judges. The idea that drummers shouldn’t be judged on how good they are at actually drumming seems a rather queer one to me.

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