P/M Robert Mathieson and His Time at Shotts – Part 2

The highlight of World’s Week this year will be the concert ‘Rise’ to be given by the 2015 World Champions, Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band (above). To help set the scene, here’s the second part of a 2010 interview with the band’s pipe major at that time P/M Robert Mathieson….

He [Jim Kilpatrick] has obviously been integral to the success of the band and you and him are seen as the terrible twins or the dynamic duo whatever way you want to look at it. You must have something between you. What is the magic that binds you together and keeps you together?
Jim and I were at school together and we both played in Polkemmet and we both went to Shotts and we both went back to Polkemmet and we both went back to Shotts. So we have had a kind of parallel pipe band career. I’m very much a rhythmical piper and have always been interested in drumming. It’s the rhythm that is the bond between us. I would say that one of the biggest influences on me composing tunes is drumming. A lot of the tunes that I write are rhythmic and driven by rhythm and some of them don’t make much sense if you were to stand up and play them on the bagpipe by yourself because they are written for the dynamic of the percussion round about it and I am very much aware of that. A lot of my tunes are disposable and I’m not precious about them in any way. So I think that musically has helped us stay together.

Jim Kilpatrick in 2015 with Shotts
In the last ten years you’ve won the Worlds on three occasions, 2000, 2003 and 2005. That’s five years since you last won it. Do you feel any pressure?
Yes, I think we have to kick the ball hard this year and I fully intend to.

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So what are you going to do this year that is different say from last year?
Improve the sound. That’s the main objective but we are never far away musically but we need to be better rehearsed. Any time that we have won the title the sound has been a major contributor to that and I don’t think we have been just as good the last two or three years. We’ve been leaving the door open a little bit and I think there are more bands with a tone now, so one little difference in your sound and it is gone, you’re beaten.

Do you think the standard is better now?
Tonally it is better; I’m not sure about musically. I think there is a trend to try to be different for the sake of being different. Some of it is not my type of music but it might suit others.

Though you’ve never been known as a solo piper you did have success at the MacCallan Trophy in Brittany on a couple of occasions. Is it true that at the time you were the only piper to win all categories in the competition Scottish, Irish and Breton?
Yes, they call it the grand slam. The major factor that drove me was the music. I really love the Breton music and I have a great interest in Irish music and at that time I was really in to it and wanted to play in that competition because of the menu of music you had to submit to take part.

You are still a fine player. Do you ever regret that fact that you never did more of the solos, that you gave your whole life to the band as it were?
No, I don’t regret it but if I hadn’t won the championships that I have won with the band then yes, I would have regretted it. But I made a decision very early on. I felt that I couldn’t do both to the very highest level. To do the solos you need to do a lot of piobaireachd work and I’ve only really dabbled in that. I can play piobaireachd and I love the music but it is not the thing you can dabble in.

P/M Robert Mathieson and Shotts. Robert is sporting the Worlds Grade 1 winner’s banner with a young Glenn Brown to his left
How do you see the future? You’ve done a tremendous amount of work in bringing up the band from the position it was in when you took over in the late 80s. You won all these championships. You’re sitting with 26 pipers, a huge drum corps. You’ve just had national exposure via the Hogmanay Show on television and you are known worldwide. At what point might you say ‘well I’ve done my bit’?Well I don’t think that is far away! One of the things that I am doing with the band is trying to get as much talent and experienced players into the ranks this year because I feel that it would be better if any successor came from within the ranks. I’ve watched top bands change pipe majors in the past and very often it is a ‘walk away’ situation and the band goes into free-fall. I am determined to do what I can to stop that happening when the time comes so I am trying to bring as many contenders that might be interested in doing it into the ranks. There might be a few surprise faces when people see some of the pipers that have joined this year.

That’s highly commendable. Some people don’t realise that you only have the tenure of office for a short while.
We have a lot of overseas players come to play with the band and to do that you have to be a top-notch player. I remember saying to all of them ‘I want your job. I just want to be able to come over in the summer and play with Shots in the back rank with my pipes going and enjoy my piping and let someone else take it over!’ Whilst I say it might be sooner rather than later that a successor would be appointed, that wouldn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t stay and have a tune in the back rank.

• Read more on P/M Robert Mathieson’s success at the Worlds here. Get your tickets for Shotts’ ‘Rise’ concert, to be held in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, here. Read more about Jim Kilpatrick’s career in the January 2017 Pipe Band Magazine.

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