Review: Grade 2 at the 2017 British Pipe Band Championships

This summary of the performances at the Grade 2 British Championship follows last week’s prelim piece from our Special Correspondent. Here he gives us his thoughts on a hard-fought Grade 2 contest last Saturday at Paisley….

From Arena 4, the one nearest the motorway and the airport take off path. Brightening sky with the earliest contests facing rain just an hour or so earlier. During the grade the clouds ebbed and flowed, the sun made a minor appearance.  We can only imagine how tricky it was keeping pipes stable in the last 20 minutes or so before game time. For those looking to watch a rerun of the grade, the RSPBA filmed the whole of it (see below).

Some general observations first…there were significant differences in band numbers and splits between pipers and drummers throughout the grade. Also, the larger bands when in final tuning, just over my shoulder, were loud enough to be too close to the southern side of the arena.

Manorcunningham….first on and ultimately drumming champions in G2

This was a medley competition. Manorcunningham got off to a crisp start with Russell Weir of Howwood and had great tempo from the off. The overcast sky brightened and only one jet took off as they reached the conclusion of a well executed medley. Highlight was Johnnie McDonald transitioning to Los Romanes Highlanders. Slick snare line. They took the drumming prize beating Skye.

Grampian Police, being of a same sort of number of players, started with Uphold the Right and some nice harmony, at a more measured pace. The three tenors added a nice dimension to the score. Highlight was Mrs Macleod of Raasay and the neat move to wind up and close with Bungee Jumper. No jets until they counter-marched off.

The sun broke through the clouds for the large debut band in Grade 2, City of London – and they did start with a relatively new ‘take’ on an old march standard, Lord Alexander Kennedy. Maybe some nerves with the ‘early one’, but they settled in. P/M Westgate set a cracking tempo and there were more than a few feet tapping as they hit Maguire’s Jig and transitioned to the slow air The Rose with great snare dynamics.

Sadly, the obligatory jet during strathspey Lady Madelina Sinclair. The mid section came through for In and Out the Harbour with nice piping harmonies in Tasha’s Tune to round off, and maybe even a hint of ‘LAK’ in reprise. This band should be pleased with its first outing and one to keep an eye on as they find their feet. They might feel fortunate to get a 4 in piping alongside the 14. Just as City of Discovery will feel hard done to with a 14. A tale of two cities perhaps.

A greying sky greeted the Grade 2 and experienced stalwarts, MacKenzie Caledonian. They reminded us of The Day the Co-Op Flooded and Banks of the Allan. There were absolutely no clangers, if you pardon the pun, in The Soup Dragon. A very nice touch to finish off with The Video Kid. Third place overall.

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Glasgow Skye, maybe the largest band of the grade, 12 snares, 19 pipers, broke into pace with Murdoch Nicholson zipping along and a Grade 1 quality drum score at the back end. The two jigs followed and there was concise harmony and nice to hear Tommy Tilly’s Air with nice understated snares and tenor voicing. Annie Grant and American Legion Bridge and Portobello the highlights perhaps and a really strong drone throughout. All building to a destination and musically, a great listen. Overall second, second in drumming, scoring: 2/4/2/2

A tough act to follow for Glasgow City, a smaller band, up next. They stepped off to Una McIntyre and straight into Mojo’s Jig. The well liked Rory MacLeod was a bright spot overall. Three Peaks of South Uist was well trailed in too and P/M Witherspoon closed off the medley with Gus Clark.

Scottish Fire & Rescue

Scottish Fire & Rescue under P/M MacLaughlan and some young faces in his ranks. Laid a Herring in Saut to start and into Sparky Cherry and Jamphlar’s Jig. Another jet as they played into the slow air. It’s hard not to enjoy a medley with Devil in the Kitchen when well played. They wound up nicely to Lost in Time. The band has a fan club and many of the Novice band players looked on to where they hope to be.

The Danes!

The Balagan band from Denmark (18 pipers) stepped off next. The temperature dropped as they pulled up at the line and the darker clouds came in. After The Gathering with some harmonies, Mrs MacLeod of Raasay made her second appearance in the grade. The back end came through well and the snares were well tuned at a high ping rate with musical tenors. The slowing into Mist Covered Mountains coincided with a turboprop going off from the airport at almost the same frequency of the bass drones. The Ness Pipers to Rattle and Hum to close. Musical and enjoyable – only some slight freelance piping at the margins. Overall fourth, with a third in drumming dragging up the average.

It was now definitely colder and there was sadly a no-show from Oban. City of Discovery came up next though, under Pipe Major McGregor and their good showing at Dundee last week. Much to say positive about them particularly a couple of bars of Bronnie’s Blue Brozzi with great snare drum to pipe complement. It was also great to hear precision strathspey snare playing. Very solid finish to The Highlandman Kissed His Mother and the tricky harmony. This band is on the up. As said, the 14 might be a sore one next to the 7th: 14/7/4/5.

Reinstated Dumbarton & District, under P/M Brown, made a welcome return to the grade and aptly started solidly with The Return of Three and Four. The Dumbarton fan club of other grade band members gathered around. A nice firm drone sound held and shortly after into Dr Flora MacAuley. This was a very well joined traditional medley, yet one of the shortest of the day. Catching Rabbits then on to finish with Smelling Fresh. D&D sounded well and with more risks taken will see higher placings.

Islay at the line

The sun broke through for Isle of Islay, perhaps proving that the sun does shine on those islanders. A lively start with The Welsh Dragon and maybe a hint of echo on the harmony. Another jet might have blocked my ear. The Kesh Jig and into The Fuddler then slowed into The Water is Wide, nicely maintained and complemented by tenor, bass and snare. Later another Devil in the Kitchen then a reel into Sleepy Maggie and Kelsey’s Wee Reel to close. The harmony was locked in now and the pace to the end was snappy: 3/12 /12/9.

With a modest pause, a further jet, then a turboprop left the G postcode and the clouds gathered. The wind picked up as the big guns of Lomond & Clyde wheeled in next (see main picture top), the crowd increasing again. P/M Wilton stepped them off with Hole in the Sole and into Lee Moore’s Jig (nodding to the Grade 1 arena where piper Moore was playing with Fife Police and had earlier led his Preston Lodge charges in Juvenile). Chi Mi’n Geamaradh  the slow air was spectacular in its control and build. The overall feel and dynamic of the strathspey playing was a great lesson. The Christopher’s Birthday and transition to the same tune was very clever and a reprise of Hole in the Sole brought the medley to a close. Contenders for sure. Results gave an overall win: 1/2/5/1.

Closkelt brought a nice lesson in Irish medley playing, both in delivery and composition. A smaller band in number, yet very musical and well-balanced. The highlight was For Ireland I will not Tell her Name. Sleepy Maggie transitioned to an entertaining Trip to Ballymena. Busy snares and neat finish: 5/6/6/8.

Newly promoted Colmcille stepped off as the penultimate band in the grade. A neat Jock Broons’ to Rory McLeod and Merrily Danced the Quaker’s Wife, slowing into The Water is Wide. This band will find its feet but the water is indeed wide from Grade 3 to 2. Three snares and, the single tenor drummer did exceptionally well in her solo. More power to them and to a good season.

To close the grade, Bucksburn & District under P/M Selbie introduced themselves and got underway well with Donald MacLeod, to Rodney Hull (with no Emu) and Molly Connell. There was nice phrasing in Water of Kyle and on to round off the medley with Rory McLeod: 6/1/7/12

In conclusion, the bigger crowds might well have been at the Grade 1 arena, and Grade 2 fans ebbed and flowed with the popularity of the bands playing but, a good competition nevertheless. Easy to spread the field to top, middle and bottom thirds. The crowd will be well versed in the airport flight timetable just as much as the most played tunes of the day: The Water is Wide (great tune but getting tired), The Devil in the Kitchen and Rory McLeod. Those bands pushing the medley discipline with controlled risk taking and innovation stood out, and the top two could face up to dealing with a Grade 1 repertoire in short order.

Looking at the scores, some wide margins which will no doubt give rise to discussion. Top two never in doubt and some way ahead from the chasing pack. More from Belfast in a couple of weeks. Over and out.

• Get all British Championship summaries here. Read our review of Grade 1 here.

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