Apologies for the delay in my second bulletin from the World Pipe Band Championships; so much going on in piping at this time of year. Before I get to it however I want to reflect on a couple of things. Firstly do you agree with me that the pipe band season is over a little early? Say what you like about Cowal, but it extended things by two or three weeks and gave a good finish to the run of majors.
Now I am not calling for a resurrection of that championship; by their poor treatment of the bands the promoters brought the withdrawal of major status on themselves. However, no traditionalist wants to see the demise of the ancient gathering and I hear with pleasure that entries for the band competition are up this year; maybe some bands are thinking, like myself, that the old place needs a bit of support.
Their historic trophies need to be used and earned. Many are over 100 years old after all. Think of the effort and talent expended in their winning over many, many decades. So, could Cowal not be given some sort of a shot in the arm by the granting of a new status, say a of ‘West of Scotland Championships’ run by that branch of the RSPBA?
The title might attract many bands down the Clyde, give the end of season a bit of focus and make sure those old cups and shields don’t just end up covered in cobwebs in the secretary’s attic.
My second point concerns the Champion of Champions titles. When these were announced at Cowal they added an additional fillip to the day, another cause for celebration for the winners. Being announced at the Worlds, as they are nowadays, this very important title gets lost.
Of course the Worlds is the ‘big one’, the one bands all want to win. But we should not belittle anyone who takes the Champion of Champions title either. To come top of the league after five majors is a very special achievement showing a consistency and a depth of ability sustained over the best part of four months.
This year in Grade 1 Inveraray took the title by one point from FMM, a significant victory and one that was subsumed amid all the celebration at Glasgow Green. So my suggestion is that we have a re-think on the Champion of Champions titles, separating them off from the Worlds. Could these not be presented at Cowal as they were in the past? Or what about a dinner the same weekend as the World Drumming at which all the winners are invited to attend and called forward to receive their trophies?
All the winning bands and others could be invited to take a table with one or two of the adjudicators and officials too. A sponsor could be found and video clips shown. Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity for everyone to come together and celebrate the season past?
Anyway, to the Worlds and the Grade 2 final and my comments - with the usual caveats of distance and extraneous noise. This was a most enjoyable competition in which all the participating bands were asked to play a medley. Johnstone got the contest off to a good start. I liked their sound, particularly the drones, and the delivery was clean and professional but I’m sorry to say much of their content left me cold. It just lacked melody and simplicity. That said, we cannot take it away from P/M Bowes (pictured top) and the amazing job he had done in bringing this band to the brink of Grade 1 (and I hear they will be playing in this grade at Cowal).
The Police Service of Northern Ireland had, by contrast a medley full of good tunes strung together in a not over-complex way, their playing better than some bands I heard in Grade 1. They have had a marvellous 2016 season and surely will now be promoted to the next level as Grade 2 Champion of Champions. On this evidence they more than deserve to be there.
Lomond & Clyde are another band on the up. P/M Wilton has moulded this outfit into a solid unit with a bold, steady sound. Again the arrangements could have been seen as over complex, as if they were trying too hard to impress. However everything was very well executed and I wasn’t surprised they made the list. St Thomas Alumni from Texas had a thin tone and the opening march went on a little long; the Ds deteriorated as their medley progressed but I liked the strong finishing reels with the Little Cascade prominent in the mix.
City of Discovery showed good unison but lost impetus for me when they hit the strathspeys: lack of melody and lift. Closkelt are a neat wee band from Northern Ireland and though they only had 10 pipers presented good tunes well played on pleasing instruments. Glasgow Skye had a great sound and a great start. The slow air lacked integrity not saved by seconds and the strathspeys were sluggish. Brieg from Brittany played well with the strathspeys and reels nicely handled though they became obsessed with rhythmical repetition of the low A in the latter; a good band.
Oban and MacKenzie Caledonian played well enough with accurate fingering but just did not have the required sound to help them into the list. North Stratton from Canada were better in the tone department but I couldn’t make up my mind whether the opening tune was a march or a polka or a hornpipe and they lacked any sort of lilt in their jigs. Buchan Peterson had a fine sound - perhaps the best of the day - and the pipes were well supported throughout by the drummers.
All of these bands all did very well in making the final in what is a very tough grade. My list was a follows: 1 PSNI 2 Buchan Peterson 3 Johnstone 4 Lomond & Clyde 5 Glasgow Skye 6 Closkelt. The actual result - the one that matters - was: 1 Johnstone 2 PSNI 3 Lomond & Clyde 4 Brieg 5 Glasgow Skye 6 Buchan Peterson. Get the full summaries here.