Review: The Uist & Barra March, Strathspey & Reel and Hornpipe & Jig

The editor continues with his look back at last Saturday’s Uist & Bara competition this time concentrating on the ceol beag events, the March, Strathspey and Reel and the Hornpipe and Jig, competitions he judged with P/M James Banks MBE and John Wilson……

It is surprising how some pipers give every attention to detail in their piobaireachd but not so when an MSR or Hornpipe & Jig hoves into view. Here we had the Ladies Hornpipe with a throw on D in the first part rather upsetting rhythmic flow and not in any setting I’ve ever seen; there we had the Man from Skye with an extra doubling on low G and a ‘rodin’ B to low A rather than a plain note as the composer made the tune.

We had P/M Jim Christie of Wick, a good enough tune, yet there are much better compositions with which to impress. We had a setting of Cameronian Rant as a jig from goodness knows where – practically unrecognisable. Tune selection and settings do play an important part in the impression one leaves with judges.

Finlay Johnston, winner of the March, Strathspey & Reel

In the end none of these worries concerned Finlay Johnston who was a clear winner of the MSR for the second year in a row. The pipe just hummed from start to finish and Finlay was able to concentrate on the job in hand. His Arthur Bignold was particularly impressive and he seems to have shrugged off the safe playing approach of a couple of years ago to emerge as one of the best ceol beag players around. He was going well in the H&J too until a fumble put paid to his chance of a prize in that discipline.

Second place went to Cameron Drummond. Cameron demonstrated a cool mastery of technique and timing; the chanter seemed better than in the piobaireachd too. He pushed Finlay all the way; again the march – Lochaber Gathering – was outstanding. Smoothing out the runs in Caledonian Society of London would help his cause.

Overall winner Callum Beaumont

In third came Callum Beaumont – another fine performance marred by a note error in the last part of Cockerel in the Creel and a couple of doublings unclear: double D from C in Mrs John MacColl and double F in the strathspey, Inveraray Castle.

A commendable fourth went to Douglas Murray; pipe much better than in the ceol mor and technically perfect apart from a bad miss on the birl in Highland Wedding; expert phrasing and bright tempi throughout. His other tunes were Ewe wi’ the Crookit Horn and Alick C. MacGregor.

Graham Drummond proved he was well up to playing in this company. Two-bar phrasing shone throughout his set, with notable control in the reel Alick Cameron, Champion Piper. However a lack of clarity in a few bottom hand movements took the shine of a good performance. Like Innes, Graham deserves all praise for standing in at such short notice.

Of the others Niall Stewart had consistently weak double Fs, noticeable from the off in Kantara to El Arish but a brilliant bagpipe; Innes Smith seemed in far too much of a hurry – lack of preparation time again; yet the finger and bagpipe is good; Glennn Brown had some slurring on the bottom hand; Wilson Brown was a wee bit erratic in the reel and had one bad miss in the march; Jamie Forrester played a fine march (Alan Dodd’s Farewell to Scotland) and strathspey (Arniston Castle), but lost the tempo plot completely in John Morrison, Assynt House, the large crowd in the College of Piping probably getting to him towards the end. Playing in public at this level is not easy.

The Hornpipe & Jig was the usual mixed bag of excellence and near break downs. I wonder if giving the pipers their tunes a week early makes them over think their approach? The winner, Cameron Drummond, was outstanding – clarity in the finger, good control of tempo and sure phrasing. Cameron’s tunes here were Colin MacKay and Angus John MacNeill of Barra – a good choice for the U&B.

Niall Stewart made up for his lapses in the MSR with a good clean run in the H&J to take second with Donald MacLeod and the Skylark’s Ascension. The latter is a tune that has grown on me over the years. It was composed, if memory serves, by Archie Lindsay the tragic victim of a road accident on South Uist some years back. The other prizes went to Callum Beaumont (third), Craig Sutherland (fourth) and Jamie Forrester (fifth).

Before he read out the prizes, Piping Convenor John Angus Smith reminded everyone that in the third week in July, the Uists and Benbecula become the centre of world piping with the games and the Young Piper of the Year contest. He urged those who could manage to make the effort either to compete or to attend as a listener. I echo that. There is something unique about a tune on the machair and pipers are always made very welcome by the locals up there.

Piping Convenor John Angus Smith (far right) looks on as John Anthony, winner of South Uist’s Flora MacDonald piping competition 2016, entertains at the U&B ceilidh

A summary of the prizes showed that Callum Beaumont was the Champion Piper of the day and after the presentations and the vote of thanks, it was down to the committee room for some well-earned refreshment and another highlight of a fine day, those gaelic songs.

• Get full results from this major competition here and read a review of the ceol mor playing here.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Uist & Barra March, Strathspey & Reel and Hornpipe & Jig

  1. Just want to provide a bit of insight regarding the Cameronian Rant jig. The arrangement of it as a (very technically challenging) jig was one by Willie Morrison. Admittedly it is not my cup of tea in regards to tune choice, more-so if it were to come to solo tune submission. However, it certainly has proven its staying power. It’s been played by him on record at least as far back as the piping centre recital series in the 90s I believe and by a good few pipers since, some at the very top.

    I do think you present an interesting point on leaving an impact on the judge through tune selection. Sometimes effective tune selection However, even with the classics there appears to at least be some spectrum of musical preference inherent in people that displays the “one man’s muck is another’s brass” principle. And even then I have heard a tune I love played in perhaps a style I’ve not been very keen on and much preferred a performance that was in a great flair and style of phrasing of a tune I wasn’t perhaps so keen on (though I do appreciate the merits of those tunes I perhaps may not like personally).

    I acknowledge your concession on this point that Jim Christie of Wick is at the very least a good tune, but it makes me wonder if this type of pressure to play “impressive” tunes that competitors may interpret in several different ways as meaning, to judges could lead some excellent players away from their strength and style into tunes that are perhaps not as suited for their fingers, so to speak.

    I suppose this is all very much comes down to personal taste and these are just my own musings, but I think that, needless to say, regardless of tune choice, each performance should be judged on merit and not whether or not the judge knows where or who that particular arrangement came from.

    1. Edit to 2nd paragraph: Sometimes effective tune selection can show off a piper’s strength of certain aspects of phrasing and technique, allowing them to fully capture an all round package of a very natural and comfortable sounding performance.

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