Argyllshire Gathering – Final Thoughts and Former Winners’ MSR Review

Firstly a mention for young Lewis Russell winner of the MacGregor Memorial piobaireachd competition, writes the Editor. This is a tough challenge for the aspiring young professional. Entrants have to play once in a qualifying heat and again in the final if they make it through.

Lewis (17), from Livingston, has been taught since age 10 by Andrew Frater from Uphall. Andrew said: ‘Lewis is a natural player and very easy to teach. He has worked hard and deserves his success.’ Lewis now goes forward to the Silver Medal at Oban in 2018. Lewis is pictured up top with his trophy and the chanter presented by sponsors RG Hardie & Co.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the achievement of Cameron MacDougall, Nigg, the 2017 Silver Medallist. It is only a few short years since Cameron graduated from the MacGregor himself and his progress shows that the promotion system employed at the AG is bearing fruit. All congratulations to Cameron and his tutor Niall Mathieson.

Silver Medallist Cameron MacDougall with Piping Convenor Torquil ‘The Toff’ Telfer

A mention too for Gordon McCready who had a miserable first day at Oban, going off his tune in the Gold Medal and breaking down in the Former Winners’ MSR. Gordon rescued his visit to the west coast with a consolation win in the Jig proving that it is always worth keeping going right to the end of any gathering.

My main duty on Day 1 was the judging of the Former Winners’ MSR. I joined senior adjudicators Ian Duncan and Willie Morrison on the bench in the decorated main auditorium of the Corran Halls.

Three pipers withdrew from the competition Christopher Armstrong, who also pulled out of the Gold Medal, Donald MacPhee who had a medical issue (hope you are OK for Inverness Donald), and Roderick MacLeod who played in the Senior Piobaireachd but failed to show for the Former Winners.

The playing was mixed with a number of top players not up to the mark on this occasion. These included Stuart Liddell (indifferent tempi, finger misses), William McCallum (indistinct bottom hand work) and Angus MacColl (rushing). No such worries for the winner Jack Lee (John MacDonald of Glencoe, Islay Ball, The Rookery) who thus completed his ‘grand slam’ of major titles. Afterwards he told me he had now been competing in Scotland for 40 years. Jack, who turns 60 next year, went on: ‘With this win I can probably retire happy! However I will definitely play next year and see what happens after that. It all depends on how I feel physically. I still have the passion. It’s all about whether I can still deliver. I thought I played quite well this evening and it is always nice to come out on top against so many great players.’

Well Jack certainly did play very well, with commanding technique and an ultra steady instrument. The performance grew as he proceeded: solid in the march, lively in the strathspey and then some real magic in The Rookery. Jack showed all his guile and experience in holding things together on the home run.

Grand slammer….. Former Winners’ MSR champion Jack Lee, Surrey, BC, with his trophies. Jack runs a thriving bagpipe and bag making company with his sons and plays his own products

In second came Finlay Johnston with Hugh Alexander Low of Tiree, Cabar Feidh and the Rejected Suitor. If anything the pipe was better than Jack’s by a very small margin but Finlay had a couple of minor finger flaws and an occasional light D throw which despite his otherwise exemplary playing  had to be considered. Third prize went to Cameron Drummond with a bright presentation of Lochaber Gathering, P/M Hector Maclean and Miss Proud. There were the occasional catches E/C/E and E/F/E and the birl from low G smudged. But the pipe was very good and ditto the expression.

Fourth went to Bruce Gandy who played the Crags of Stirling, Caledonian Society of London and Lochiel’s Awa’ Tae France. He had a few rhythmically unstable moments in the reel and the march could have done with more phrasing. All told however, a professional performance from a fine piper.

A word here for Bruce’s son Alex who had a wonderful day at the games on Day 2 winning both the March and the Strathspey & Reel. Alex will now be competing against dad in the big one.

Alex Gandy, winner of the ceol beag double at the games

Fifth was Iain Speirs with Knightswood Ceilidh, Tulloch Castle and John MacKechnie. The pipe shaded off towards the end and there were a few technical lapses in the reel but again professional delivery from a fine piper.

Close to the money were Alastair Lee who needed to let go more, Niall Stewart who had the best pipe in the contest and the best march (Parker’s Welcome to Perthshire) but who inexplicably went off in Broadford Bay, Alasdair Henderson (the title holder) who went wandering in the Sheepwife, and Craig Sutherland fresh from his win in the Gold Medal. Craig’s drones drifted slightly and he had several misses on F in MacLean of Pennycross.

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To the games on Day 2 with Craig leading a good turnout of pipers to the field. The numbers were bolstered by entrants in the relatively new RG Hardie Trophy competition for Intermediate MSR. This contest is only open to those who have competed in the MacGregor Memorial contest the previous day. The winner was Luke Kennedy. A smashing performance from a young lad with the confidence to put in Cameronian Rant as his strathspey!

Assistant Piping Convenor Jamie Mellor presents the RG Hardie Trophy to winner Luke Kennedy

Second was awarded to Brighde Chaimbeul for musical interpretation. Double E from F was not always true in the Caledonian Society of London but the tune had life as did her John Morrison, Assynt House. Third was Andrew Fergusson, a good piper who must work on his birls, fourth to Bobby Allan who had a few crossing noises and a couple of misses, and fifth to Angus MacPhee from Inverness who needed a bit more phrasing in his delivery

All things considered a good competition and a tough one for the youngsters given that they have to submit three MSRs. Judges were myself, Walter Cowan and Stuart Shedden.

• Get all results from Oban here. Read more about the 2017 gathering here.

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