Some say the only tunes he knows are the ones he takes when he has a cold….others suspect he is a band bus driver on the make, even more that he’s the pay of the RSPBA. All we know is he’s called MacStig……
Phew! That was the weekend that was. To be dubbed the ‘wet and wetter weekend’, as band enthusiasts and bands tried to cram in both main Scottish events at North Berwick and Bridge of Allan, within 24 hours of each other. Of course, other happenings over the water (Lisburn) and over the pond at Maxville were ongoing too. Grade 2 bands in action all over.
We know our American and Canadian brethren think nothing of travelling hundreds, if not thousands, of miles, or driving for multiple hours and crossing borders for their art during a weekend. But you try to get a west coaster to go east coast in Scotland (and vice versa) and nose bleeds start without a punch being thrown. Consider the panic attacks of the ‘central belters’ having to go north to Forres, some three to four hours away. I recently spoke to a piper from the west coast of the US who, not untypical, makes a five-hour round trip to band practice, and near 10,000 miles to compete in a World Championship.
However, both North Berwick (NB) and Bridge of Allan (BA) were well attended by bands and public alike. Ninety-nine band performances were listed at NB (some no shows and, of course, some ‘playing up’ too) in the two-ring set up and curtailed by the weather. Sub 80 performances made it, but a great competition until it began to tip down. Sadly, that dual ring arrangement means you have to choose your fare and can’t watch all. The temporary stand (bleacher for the Americans) at Ring 1 in NB is compact, bijou and you get to know your neighbour. It gave rise to great comedy moments.
‘Is anybody sitting there?’ (To an empty seat) and impromptu Mexican waves when people came in and left. Lots of Canadians, Americans and Aussies cheering on their bands. Loudly – to the chagrin of the understated Scots. The volume of the cheers doesn’t directly correlate to the tone and sound of the band. Sadly, the same seating arrangement was on offer at BA.
As an observation, and having had a chance to listen elsewhere to some of the often overlooked grades, Wallacestone in 3A, Burgh of Annan and The Highlanders (4 Scots), should be pleased with their outcomes this past weekend and higher grades will surely beckon.
In Grade 2, Glasgow Skye blew socks off with two runs (MSR and Med) on Saturday. Outstanding. On the prize list again on Sunday at BA. On Saturday Lomond & Clyde played the ‘Hole in the Sole’ Medley and it was warmly appreciated. On both days St Thomas Alumni, from Texas, made their presence known, especially in drumming with a great back line. The P/M marshalled a very tidy pipe corps, filled with both experience and youthful exuberance. Dark horses for this coming weekend. Then there was Pipe Band Club, Australia, picking up the G1 MSR at BA ahead of Skye (and Peel Regional Police G1). A second dark horse emerges.
Another highlight was Mackenzie Caledonia at BA, turning out what I think is the best sounding Medley they’ve played all season, just about peaking nicely for next week. Very good. The Vikings of Balagan played their way into the reckoning to make a final next Saturday and they also confirmed they will play all five Majors next season. All this before the others in the Worlds’ draw make an appearance – City of Dunedin, the 2016 North American Champs, Worcester Kiltie, on the way and fresh from taking the Medley in G2 at Glengarry on Saturday. New York Metro, MacMillan, North Stratton and more besides. Can you handle it?
So just to recap, results to note at NB included Skye winning the Grade 2 Medley over L&C. A great showing by St. Thomas Alumni in the Medley was tempered by an early one in the MSR set, but no such issues at BA. And at BA itself, Skye excellent, MacCals with a lovely tone, chasing very hard. Surprise packages, if you didn’t know them, St Thomas and Pipe Band Club. And over in the Emerald Isle, at Lisburn, both Closkelt and Manorcunningham were neck and neck with honours even over two runs. Both will be looking forward to playing hard in the Medley Qualifier, going through to the Grade 2 Final and, aiming to make the list of 6 prize winners.
Talking of those Qualifiers, it looks very tough with two lots of six to go through, leaving 16 bands high and dry and with a free afternoon to think ‘if only’. Brutal. As an aside, being able to watch a combined G1/2 event was interesting, with newly promoted Johnstone winning the curtailed G1 Medley at NB, demonstrating that those who go up can flourish.
Talking of which, Lomond & Clyde and Glasgow Skye have been head to head this season in all four Majors so far, L&C with three and Skye with one. However, with so many ‘point takers’ now in the mix and bands like the MacCals, Manorcunningham, St Thomas, Pipe Band Club marching onwards and upwards it has become very interesting. That’s without factoring in names who have picked up points domestically – Closkelt, City of Discovery, Grampian Police, Bucksburn, Balagan, City of London, and the others who haven’t been out this weekend. We’ll leave it to the eight adjudicators to sort it out shall we, because their views are the only ones that matter. Here’s the running order for Saturday.
I do hope the RSPBA video crew is able to cover the Grade 2 Final as it has at the Majors and NB. Those Twitter releases of each attack and release of the video on the YouTube channel thereafter, have been great. It doesn’t replace ‘being there’, but for those of you unable to be so, it helps.
Whatever happens, the final will be a classic. Synchronise watches for 3.35pm this Saturday. (Get over from Grade 1, finishing around 3.15pm). Now, I have no idea what is going on regarding the arena allocation on the day, however, if you look very, very closely, the Grade 2 Final could just about slot into the main arena. Wouldn’t that be great for the Grade and the Finalists? Here’s hoping.
This coming week is all about incremental gain and polish. Small things make big differences. Quality not quantity. So from this columnist, I wish each and every band in Grade 2 all the very best of fortune for Worlds Week and Saturday itself. Thank you for entering into the spirit of fun these pieces were meant to engender by increasing awareness and interest in the Grade 2 competition. It has been a privilege to watch and listen to you all over the last few months. Thank you. May the best band win. Over and out.