Some say he wears a glengarry with his pyjamas….others that his kilt was at Culloden….yet more that his dress sense is more Prince, than Charlie. All we know is that he is called MacStig…….
The climax of the 2017 Pipe Band Season arrived last Saturday at Glasgow Green, the home of the World Championships, with cold, overcast conditions, rain at times yet brightening towards evening. But enough of the weather…… drama was unfolding in many grades and our focus was on the home straight for Grade 2.
For the second tier it was sunny and bright for the final with two Scottish bands who’d led all season going head to head. One fell at the last hurdle and the other won by a head. Add to that drama the dark horses arriving from overseas and, as predicted, we had a Grade 2 classic.
Earlier in the day the qualifiers, in far-flung arenas, threw up some surprises and some disappointments no doubt. However the list of 12 marching to Arena 1 for a late afternoon final, playing a drawn March, Strathspey & Reel set, was broadly in line with the expectations of the neutrals. City of Discovery and Grampian Police, on a better day, would have expected to go through, but the strong candidacy of St Thomas (Texas), Pipe Band Club (Oz), City of Dunedin (Florida) and College of Piping (PEI) shuffled the pack.
I dodged back and forth to hear likely contenders in each arena, until the timetable eased with Heat 2 running on. It was good to hear these medley offerings, remembering that these scores would have no bearing beyond this round. In Qualifier 2, St.Thomas Alumni’s piping was way ahead of what I heard at Bridge of Allan (admittedly a howling day) and they scored 1 1 in Piping and ahead of Skye. In Qualifier 1, both Dunedin and College of Piping (Summerside) beat Lomond & Clyde in Piping with 1 2 and 2 1 respectively. So both of the local big guns were behind the dark horses. Interesting times awaited.
Fallers in Q1 included GramPol who will be disappointed, however the other emergency services band from Scottish Fire & Rescue narrowly missed out pitching in what must have been their best piping performance of the season. Balagan sneaked in ahead of a decent outfit from North Stratton. As expected, Manorcunningham and MacKenzie Caledonia also qualified.
In Q2, the casualties included City of Discovery, expected to go through, but finishing at the bottom of the pile. Kilchoman Isle of Islay pulled out the stops and almost made it, narrowly edged out by Bucksburn & District. MacMillan were nearly there too as were City of London. Dumbarton, propelled by what I think was their best run of the season, qualified fifth on EP.
So to the sunny Grade 1 Arena, and a globally broadcast G2 Final. A decent crowd remained after the exodus following Grade 1. The listeners on the road outside the stands were four or five deep. When the announcement was made on Wednesday that the G2 final would be in Arena 1 there was disappointment that virtually all seats had been sold already, and as those people generally only wanted to watch G1, there would be empty seats – paid for but empty for G2 nonetheless whilst many stood outside looking on. More about seating later.
So on to the final. Would the dark horses mix it with the two favourites, Lomond & Clyde and Glasgow Skye? Could MacKenzie Caledonia repeat the quality of playing in the Medley heard at Bridge of Allan, albeit this was the MSR? More questions than answers, but the answers lay ahead. Adjudicators for the final were Messrs Kerr, MacShannon, Innes and Ronaldson.
Manorcunningham rolled down the alley at just before 3.35pm and got off well, having drawn Set 2, Lord Alexander Kennedy, Ewe Wi’ the Crookit Horn and Lt. Col. DJS Murray. They might have run out of steam in the reel and the ending wasn’t as tight as I’ve heard from this tidy band. Drumming was crisp and bright They were placed sixth, (scoring 6 8 5 5) on the list, and should be well pleased with their season. From this listener, thank you ManorC.
Next up MacKenzie Caledonia drawing Set 1 and off into Highland Wedding; good strathspey in Susan MacLeod and finishing with the Brown Haired Maid. Once again a very strong Ensemble, scoring 3. Mixed in Piping scores but overall 5th with a report card reading 8 4 8 3 and not far away from fourth place. Interestingly, third placed of the domestic bands, to add to three more thirds and one fourth in the Majors this year. There’s consistency for you. Thank you MacCals.
Dark Horse 1, in the form of Pipe Band Club, Australia (PBC), stepped up next, fresh from success at Bridge of Allan where they caught my eye and ear. North Berwick the day before had been less successful for them but they picked up momentum as the week progressed. The form of the earlier round didn’t show up though and they looked tired launching into Set 2. They were rather slow into John Morrison of Assynt House, and maybe had less confidence on show than I had previously witnessed. An eighth finish belied their earlier form but the score card of 9 and 10 in Piping could not be bailed out by a 2 in drumming. (9 10 2 8). Haste ye back PBC.
Pipe Major David Wilton and his Lomond & Clyde band had delivered a great season to date: three of four Majors and poised high on the Champion of Champions table. My antennae were twitching with the Qualifier performance of the Medley, and post event seeing the third place and two 5s for Piping. In the final though, they drew the same MSR set they have drawn all season – including the lovely reel Arnish Light (played by Shotts in their concert kart week too). L&C’s final didn’t start well, and you can only feel for the piper having the challenge of failing to ‘get away’ . That was probably enough to push them down the score sheet and leave the door open for others. They scored 5 5 1 4. At the conclusion, first in drumming, second place overall, and L&C picked up the G2 Band Champion of Champions. I’m sure the latter would readily be swapped for the Worlds title that slipped through their fingers. Promoted to Grade 1? Surely. I’ll miss this very musical crew next year so thank you L&C. In their words: #montheclyde
Next up the Vikings of Balagan, sneaking into the final and well deserved after their season. Next year we can look forward to them attending all five Majors and that might assist recruitment. Ninth overall and off the pace for their usually strong drum corps. 7 7 9 7. ‘Mange tak’ Balagan.
The sunshine greeting the arrival of Iain Donaldson’s City of Dunedin, wasn’t quite Floridian, but no doubt welcome to a band used to it hot, hot, hot. I happened to be in proximity of a vocal group of super excited supporters, resplendent in their Dunedin T-shirts. The band gave us solid piping and in those ranks, alongside the former 78th and Shotts man Donaldson, were a few known faces and experienced hands. If you get a chance, playback and listen to the reel. They finished fourth, scoring 2 1 7 9. With a steady supply of younger players arriving from the Dunedin School programme and those existing experienced players, this is a band going places. Thank you for making the trip Dunedin, you were a pleasure to listen to.
Their nearest geographical rivals (by a thousand miles), St Thomas Alumni, qualified strongly with a 1 1 in Piping. They set off at a cracking ‘we mean business’ tempo and this was maintained into the strathspey. Clear contenders in my book. They took third ahead of Dunedin with a more even score across the piece (3 5 4 4). Drumming ably led by Donald Trump (Graham Brown – see my Shotts concert report) and brother Blair on hand. This band competes rarely and we hope to see them again next year. A steady stream of players from the St Thomas Episcopal school programme should keep the conveyor primed.
Maybe a surprise qualifier were Bucksburn & District, but they are always a nice band to listen to. Making the final was possibly their prize and I happened to be loitering at the needle when the qualifiers were announced. Just observing the joy and excitement was great fun. Into Arena 1 and they seemed tense to start (a big arena and probably the biggest crowd they have played for), but they gave a good performance including a most enjoyable rendition of Donald MacLeod’s Cockerel in the Creel. They finished towards the bottom of the order, but they had their run in the sun – literally. Well done Bucksburn and enjoy the time off before looking forward to 2018.
The College of Piping, Summerside, pleasantly surprised me in the Qualifier. I had heard them the previous weekend and was thinking that making the final would be a tough ask. Here their MSR was less assured and I simply think they were running on vapour as the set progressed. 10 9 6 10 – finishing 10th. A good trip no doubt, and congratulations to their 4B 2017 World Champion colleagues.
So to Closkelt, a small but well-formed unit I have enjoyed listening to whenever they have played this season, proving this is not just about mega bands and being too big for the circle. They scored 5 6 10 6 and seventh overall, hitting the bar and missing out on silverware. See you next year. Thank you all.
Glasgow Skye Association (pictured top celebrating their Worlds title) qualified first from their heat and were sitting atop the Drumming Champion of Champion table with this one to go – and already with one Major under the belt. They may not have known that the door to this Championship was left ajar by L&C, but they stepped right through it. Super playing and sound and, after they finished, G2 World Champions in my mind. They delivered on the day. In the kind of juxtaposing that pipe band scoring throws up, they took third in drumming (yet winning the CofC) but 1 and 2 in Piping, where they have chased such scores most of the year. They sealed it with a 1st in Ensemble (1231). Glasgow Skye, World Champions, a worthy season, and surely promotion candidates with their running mates at L&C. Thank you Skye, well deserved.
Dumbarton & District returned to the competition arena this year and made it to the Grade 2 Final after getting through the Qualifier. They held up the finalists table rankings but they were there. They also have a youth programme and are on a journey. These journeys can often go far with the right people leading and supporting. Just look at the ‘Ascension’ of Inveraray & District as a shining example of hard work and persistence. Shed loads of talent too of course. Welcome back Dumbarton and thank you for getting out there and making it happen.
That closed the Grade, the Championship, the Season and this specific G2 column. Skye demonstrated that success was about diligently sticking to a style and playing for it on the day. Form books don’t count at the Green. Sadly for them L&C, an excellent outfit, hit the same outcome as PSNI in 2016. Both of these bands (Skye and L&C) demonstrated that no one, domestic or overseas, could touch them this season. Both are clearly ahead of the pack and surely prime promotion candidates to that polarising Grade 1 where two tiers are emerging in a natural way, rather than by design. Grade 2 will be poorer for losing them but the resilience is there to create a good contest in 2018. The likes of MacKenzie Caledonia, Manor C, Balagan, Closkelt and the other finalists will see to that as will the likes of City of Discovery, the fast improving City of London, GramPol, Fire & Rescue and Islay not to mention those heading up from 3A.
It has been a great ‘Majors’ season, from that howling day in Paisley and the proximity of the arena to motorway and airport runway. A curtailed entry at scenic Belfast and similarly in Forres. Then another atrocious day, this time in Dumbarton and, finally, a sunny end to the season as the Grade 2 Final was beamed live globally – very special for those watching in to support Dunedin, St Thomas, PBC, Balagan, and the CoP PEI. Five of twelve finalists from overseas, two in the top five.
There were some issues with Arena 1 ticketing. The getting in and out was not ideal, as both single entrance and exit were at the same fixed point. ‘Umbrellagate’ has been written about elsewhere, and I reluctantly had to leave my vuvuzela, barbecue and fluorescent coat in the car. So called ‘Loo Alley’, on the south side and not to be confused with ‘Sphincter Alley’, was foul and the contractor should be cleaning the ‘facilities’ between Friday and Saturday and throughout Saturday. Maybe they were and we are just a mucky lot.
Comedy – Like many of you with a sense of humour, I was heartily entertained by @fakebobworral on Twitter throughout Friday evening and Saturday. If you haven’t ‘followed’ you should go and look. It’s brutally funny and reminded me that this is all supposed to be fun. The only opinions that matter belong to the adjudicators who have the toughest job, and they publish their opinions in the simplest of terms by using numbers. They are scrutinised, everyone is a judge and they are always in the invidious position of disappointing many and pleasing a few.
We should all express a warm thank you to the lady and gentlemen who judged G2 this season in capes and shirt sleeves (but mostly capes). Also to those stalwart stewards who set up, run the timetable, time medleys, draw the sets, and tear down the tents. The compilers, the tech team behind the excellent Twitter stream and video coverage. Grade 2 has been well served this year with the Arena 1 venue the icing on the cake. So endeth 2017, Grade 2. World Champions – The Glasgow Skye Association; Champion of Champions – Lomond & Clyde. Over and out.
• Read the PP Grade 1 review here and a huge thanks to our correspondent MacStig for his fine coverage of this very competitive and entertaining grade throughout the season. Please message him below with any comments.