Two Days At the Highlands & Islands Festival – Second Instalment

By Robert Wallace

To the contest the following day where I was asked to adjudicate the P/A Piobaireachd and B MSR with Iain MacFadyen. It is always a great pleasure working with Iain and the long hours spent concentrating on the performances seems to fly in.

Iain has done so much for piping, turning out so many fine players and judging at the highest level; he sets an example for us all.

Only nine of the 14 entered played in the piobaireachd. The standard was mixed. The winners played well.

Darach Urquhart continued his fine form (he was second at the SPA Professional earlier this month) with a sparkling rendition of the Earl of Ross’s March to take first. Though it took a few minutes for him to bring the pipe in, it settled and stayed the course no problem. The finger was accurate and crisp, maybe a little over crisp in some of the GDEs and fosgailtes but that was a minor criticism. The hiharin groupings could have done with more differentiation but otherwise the expression and momentum were all that could be asked for.

Second came local lad Angus J MacColl with the End of the Great Bridge. This was mature playing from a young piper, the main fault being a sameness about the tempi in the early parts of the tune and a lack of flow in the a mach. Good pipe and finger and a good performance from first on.

In third we had regular prize-winner Jamie Forrester with a respectable attempt at the difficult MacDougall’s Gathering. Jamie too had a nice instrument and good hands. However the cadences were a shade laboured with too much on the B, and the note after the grip turns in the T & C were over stressed. The runs bottom hand to top at the ends of these variations need to be controlled more too.

Regular prize-winner Jamie Forrester is pictured after his success in the John MacLellan contest

I have heard it said recently that this tune is too short for a Gold Medal competition. I beg to differ. It is about ten minutes long, requires consummate technique, a quality pipe for those high Gs and the other top hand work, and an understanding of the complex rhythms involved in bringing out the best in the melody. Anyone who can satisfy the judges on all of that deserves a Gold Medal, no question.



Fourth went to Craig Sutherland who produced a lovely pipe for the taxing Nameless, Cherede Darievea. The ground could have been phrased more and Variation 1 doubling was snappy. Otherwise Craig can be well pleased with his progress with this long, challenging piece. Super finger.

Dr Peter McCalister was fifth with the King’s Taxes. Peter had an excellent instrument, the drones particularly resonant and full. More could have been made of the echo in the double echo movements in the ground and Variation 1 was staccato in feel, especially the doubling. More attention to the semiquavers at the end of the three note groupings is the cure. He could also focus more on the beat notes in the T & C.

Of the others Gordon Bruce started well in I Gave a Kiss to the King’s Hand but lost the pipe half way through and concentration with it. Faye Henderson had a good instrument but seemed unsure  in the Park Piobaireachd No2. Usually unflappable, Faye had a hesitancy on D in the rundown and an occasional open dare. Perhaps unsettled by this she went off in the taorluath and stopped.

Allan Russell was random in his approach to the Prince’s Salute. He wandered through this bold melody without a care in the world – and without the chance of a prize; a waste of a very fine finger and pipe. Greig Canning had an off day with Donald MacLeod’s Lament for John Morrison of Assynt House, the rough pipe not doing him any favours.

Greig and Jonathan, winners in the B MSR

After lunch it was on to the B Grade MSR where 14 competed for honours. The clear winner was Jonathan Simpson of Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia PIpe Band – assured handling throughout with clear technique enhancing the melodic line. Second went to Greig Canning of Inveraray. The pipe was much better than in the ceol mor, just the occasional lapse in pointing putting him behind Jonathan.

In third we had Edward Gaul who had one of the best pipes of the day. A few small technical indiscretions had to be taken into account, but this was enjoyable ceol beag from Eddie. Fourth went to Peter McCalister. Again a rock steady bagpipe but I felt Mrs John MacColl proved too much of a handful and the phrasing suffered accordingly. Peter came onto a game in the S&R and was well worth his prize. All the way from Ulster came Andy Wilson. Andy gave us correct, if a little staid, music on a good, nicely balanced instrument. Had he gone for it more he may have done better.

Of those who didn’t make it: despite occasionally erratic timing young Connor Jardine showed some poise and promise in his set; Brighde Chaimbeul will do much better when  she selects better tunes and stops tuning her drones whilst sounding D; Stuart McCallum can play alright but the nerves just got the better of him; Chris Lee needs more definition in his finger work; ditto Cameron MacDougall; Caitlin MacDonald is on the comeback trail and better double Fs will help get her back to where she was before her lay off; John MacDonald‘s chanter was screaming at us on F and high A; Calum Wynd lacked control, especially in his reel; Jamie Elder will do much better when he opens up his fingerwork.

Senior Champion, Angus J MacColl

In the final analysis Angus J MacColl emerged as overall senior winner for the day which, as his father Angus D told me later, was quite an achievement given that he had been lambing all week on the Dunacht estate – yes the same estate where their distant relative the great John MacColl used to ply his trade.

Another nice touch was Angus J winning the trophy for runner-up in the P/A Piobaireachd, a trophy in memory of his grandfather Dougie. We all remember Dougie in the early days of the Festival where he was a willing steward, efficient and quick to offer encouragement. Hard to believe that was all of 30+ years ago.

• Read the first instalment in this article here. Click here for results from the Highland & Islands Festival piping. The solo games season gets into full swing at the end of this month. Check out the Piping Press Guide to the Games here.