Build Up to the British – A Preview of the Grade 2 Pipe Band Championship

We continue our build up to Saturday’s first major pipe band championship of the season, the British at the St James Playing Fields, Paisley. Here our Special Correspondent takes a look at one of the most competitive grades, Grade 2.

A field of 16 will kick off the first major of the season for the Grade 2 prize. With four of the big guns of the most recent few seasons (Bleary, PSNI, Johnstone and Buchan) all finding their newly promoted feet in the Grade 1 contest, the new order will unfold as the new Grade 2 champions and top six emerge.

This is a grade with strength and depth and watched closely abroad  too, with a handful of overseas bands likely to pitch up at Glasgow Green in August, throwing their glengarries in the ring. That day in August promises much and will be a Qualifier followed by a final. Remember, the March Strathspey and Reel is drawn at the line (in the final) from two entered, and the bands have the Medley qualifier. This British Championship will be a Medley (4-6mins) for Grade 2.  Judges slated are Messrs Wark, Stevenson, Coils and Turner. The grade kicks off at 2pm.

After missing the 2016 season Manorcunningham Pipe Band were recipients of a funding package (€8k) under the Music Capital Scheme in the Republic of Ireland.  Good to see that they are back in business and out this year with P/M Carson.

Manorcunningham on parade at the Worlds

Grampian Police step off next and will have higher finishes in their sights after narrowly missing the Worlds’ final in 2016. Debutants City of London, led by P/M Iain Westgate, will be given a warm welcome at their first Major having only previously played at the Jim McGinn Memorial indoor contest. Watch out for a new take on the march Lord Alexander Kennedy perhaps.

Some might think that this is now Mackenzie Caledonian‘s time. With three big guns cleared out and up to Grade 1, the Grade 2 field opens up and the Mac Cals should have a solid season. We are used to their musicality. Glasgow Skye Association (pictured top) will wheel up to the line next. A much loved band and promoter of the pre-Worlds concert, the early chatter is that the showing at Gourock last Sunday indicated that this is the band to watch in 2017 with a strong pipe corps and well-led drummers oozing experience. A possible head to head of Glasgow Skye v Lomond & Clyde in the season ahead, perhaps?

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Glasgow City, are relatively new kids on the block, albeit the players have lengthy track records. The band swapped lead tip in March and is another band firmly eyeing a Worlds final later in the season. Scottish Fire & Rescue Services will be looking to make strides from their placings last year. The band also has a growing novice programme to feed through younger talent in the future. It will be interesting to see the scale of the snare line and mid section (which demonstrated good precision last season). The band didn’t make the final of the Worlds last year, but that must be the goal.

Balagan, from Denmark, had a fourth in last season’s European Championship. The band narrowly missed the Worlds final, but are back to improve on that and repeat their 2015 achievement. We applaud this well-travelled and dedicated group for their sheer effort and obvious love of pipe bands – and airports. Oban Pipe Band were Worlds finalist in 2016 (12th) and had mid-table showings elsewhere. They saved the best for last with a good day out at Cowal at the end of last season.

P/M Euan Dewar leads Oban Pipe Band during a trip to Spain in 2012

City of Discovery will follow and have progressed greatly since their origins at the 6/8th Dundee BB a few years back. Steadily improving, they always give a very musical performance. Zippy snare line and good ensemble in the outing at Dundee City last week. Dumbarton & District is a relatively new name to reckon with in the grade having had Novice and Juvenile bands in recent years. They are reinstated in Grade 2, returning after an absence and will bring the experience of new P/M William Brown and lead tip James Brown, alongside youth and enthusiasm, to bear. 

Isle of Islay will be aiming to make the top ranks of the grade this year and make it to a Worlds final – just like many others – hence the close competition in the possible top to middle order of G2. Lomond & Clyde are one of the larger bands with championship aspirations for sure. The band has had several near misses of the big wins, winning a qualifier and finishing third in last year’s World Championship. If they can lock in a consistent ensemble performance alongside top of the class drumming they will be in the frame all season long.

Closkelt pictured at the Worlds

In 2016 Closkelt were placed in 6th and 8th in the majors they attended. The band will be looking to improve and get further up the rankings. Colmcille, another 3A promoted band and a winner of their 3A heat last August, had a bad day at the office in the following  final on the Green – out of character with the rest of the season. However, they are now up in Grade 2 as a newly promoted name and good luck to them. With a strong showing from the Bucksburn & District Novice B last year, this is a band with a proven youth feeder system. The Grade 2 band will be looking to take steps forward and improve on 2016.

These are the 16 Grade 2 bands taking to the field at Paisley with some others limbering up for the UK Championship in Belfast. In addition, City of Dunedin (Florida), St Thomas Alumni (Houston), Worcester Kiltie (Mass.), and a few others in Australasia, Canada and further afield, will be watching the results closely. Whilst Grade 1 will undoubtedly create headlines and maybe even deliver the unexpected, Grade 2 will provide a great spectacle and great listening as the season progresses.

• Going to the British? Get full details here. Wondering about the weather? Showers are predicted so take your rainwear. Get the draw and playing times for the other grades here courtesy the RSPBA.

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