And so a small, whitewashed township on the shores of Loch Fyne in the heart of Argyll has become capital of the pipe band world. From lowly beginnings local lad P/M Stuart Liddell has taken his band up the grades from Juvenile to the very peak. No wonder he wept as RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton read out the ever-to-be-remembered lines ‘Grade 1 World Champions for 2017…… [Ian is a master of the dramatic pause]…Inveraray & District’.
The crowd at Glasgow Green erupted but no, Stuart did not join them in their celebratory leap. His response was a bowing of the head, an embrace and a reach for a tissue. We all receive success and failure in different ways. I filmed him on the way to the podium:
How touching was that?, firstly the congratulations from Stuart’s P/Sgt Alasdair Henderson and then that sincere slap on the back from P/M Richard Parkes of runners-up Field Marshal Montgomery. A class act if ever there was one.
After receiving the Worlds trophy it was back to the band, more embracing and after a short victory parade (see pic, top) Stuart spoke: ‘I am still in shock. I can’t believe it’s actually happened. It feels great but will take time to sink in. These grey hairs don’t lie, it’s been a while since we started with the juvenile band.
‘The band built itself up over the years and here we are. We have a few other players now but we started some of the pipers right enough. As regards the playing, we had a challenging draw being early on [in the MSR] with the cold, damp, moist morning. And then come the medley in the afternoon the sun came out and I think our pitch rose about six hertz in two minutes. It was really hard to work with that but we tried to cope the best we could and we were happy with the runs. We were solid.
‘We had less playing in the tune up in the morning because of the moisture. We didn’t want to push the pipes too much in case they didn’t last for the whole day. We did just the right amount of playing ; any longer and they would have been soaked.’ A word for the drummers? ‘They have been fantastic and have always been there or thereabouts and they did a great job today and pulled us through.’
With that it was a celebratory dram and more music.
Stuart is one of the few Worlds-winning pipe majors who has achieved the equivalent height of success on the solo platform. Indeed no other pipe major in the modern era has come close to winning what he has done at the major gatherings at Oban and Inverness. I am not sure if the pipe band world fully appreciates what a master of his art he is.
Only a few years ago he achieved what must be the greatest one gathering success of all time winning the Clasp, the Former Winners’ MSR and the Hornpipe & Jig at the Northern Meeting in Inverness. Pipe band people may not realise that this Clasp and the Former Winners are for the very cream of the solo crop, people who have already won Gold Medals and separate March and Strathspey & Reel titles.
To take just one of these awards in one year is a life’s achievement, especially the Clasp or the ‘big’ MSR. To take all three displays a rare level of ability. At the time I wrote that here we were witnessing a truly brilliant piper at the peak of his powers. Now with Saturday’s win Stuart joins John MacDougall Gillies and Bill Livingstone as the only pipers to have won the Northern Meeting’s top piobaireachd prize and a World Championship. And he’s not done yet.
• Stay tuned to Piping Press for more reaction and reviews of the 2017 Worlds. Get full summaries from the RSPBA here.