World Solo Drumming Review: Inveraray’s McWhirter Takes the Blue Ribbon Event

Some say he believes in Santa, others that he is one and the same….even more that he thinks SLOT is for coins in Vegas and Shotts his number of chances. All we know is he’s called MacStig………..

In what crowns an exceptional year for lead drummer Steven McWhirter, he added his seventh consecutive, and eighth overall, World Solo title to a fantastic year for Inveraray & District Pipe Band. Moreover, he will be pleased to note that three other Inveraray drummers were in the final, making up one third of the roster.

Given the showers outside the several hundred competitors at the World Solo Drumming Championships were glad it was an indoor contest at the Glasgow Caledonian University, . They came from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, both coasts of the USA, the Emerald Isle and all corners of Scotland.

The premier adult grade qualifiers (March Strathspey & Reel of choice)  started in earnest at 9am, with those earliest competitors on site well before 8am. As mentioned in the preview piece last week, 53 drummers were chasing 18 places in the semi final (six from each of three heats) to join the pre-qualified 19 drummers already there. As a flavour of the degree of difficulty to make it through a heat, Qualifier 1 had a couple of G1 lead tips in the midst. Heats 2 and 3 were no different, with big names and talented young turks too. For 25 of them, the day would be over by around 11.30am.

Steven on his way to victory

Those making it through (in order announced – not placing);
Gus Sicard – Inveraray
Daniel Luby – Inveraray
Eli Fugate – Prince Charles USA
Rory Duncan – Vale of Atholl
Gavin Orr – Police Scotland Fife
David Ross – Glasgow Police
Glen Creighton – SLOT
Matthew Wenlock – Vale of Atholl
Steven Graham – LA Scots USA
Gareth McLees – FMM
Anael Tangay – Scot Power
Gavin Noade – FMM
Eric Ward – Bleary
Jason Hoy – Vale of Atholl
Steven Shedden – Glasgow Police
Russell Esler – Scottish Power
Marcus Wenlock – Vale of Atholl
Eric MacNeill – City of Dunedin, USA

Inveraray, Vale and SLOT drummers collectively took 15 of the 37 semi final slots. The 18 heat qualifiers joined last year’s finalists (who are all given a bye to the semi final the immediate year after) and the regional qualifiers from a few contests around the branches. A 19 and an 18 drummer semi, beckoned. A drawn March, Strathspey & Reel from two submitted (the other to be played in the final if successful). There was chatter in the auditorium later that one of the semi finals allowed a pick at the top of the order, in error. Unconfirmed.

With the big guns now in the game, the audiences grew, albeit ebbing and flowing with each player. It was also noticeable that some of the youngest Juvenile players, who were finished for the day, were in to see their tutors and heroes. Elsewhere the Juvenile 5 (MSR) was rattling away on a different floor and being filmed by RSPBA for broadcast post event, whilst the opening rolls and first minute or so Tweeted @rspbahq. More of that event in a separate Review later.

Surprises in those qualifying for the final? Not really, and that final 12 were then announced for the head to head later in the afternoon. The regional competition pre-qualifiers made no inroads to the final and perhaps those contests need to be looked at again.

In playing order (*denotes seeded to semi final by being a 2016 finalist):

Derek Cooper – Inveraray*
Stephen Creighton – SLOT*
John Henderson – Inveraray*
Chris McNichol – Inveraray*
William Glenholmes – Vale of Atholl*
Michael McKenna – SLOT*
Grant Cassidy – SLOT*
Jason Hoy – Vale of Atholl
Gareth McLees – FMM
Steven McWhirter – Inveraray*
Blair Brown – St Thomas Alumni*
Jake Jørgensen – Scottish Power*

The startling fact is only two drummers made it through to the final from the morning heats. Maybe it isn’t. Well done to FMM’s Gareth McLees and the Vale’s Jason Hoy for sticking at it and in the zone for more than seven hours. Gareth’s finishing final position was well deserved and he should take a bow having played three MSR sets and a Hornpipe & Jig at that intensity. The award for endurance to him and FM piper Scott Wallace.

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A Hornpipe & Jig set starting at 3.45pm, with Judges for that element being Messrs Noble, Coils, O’Neil and Dudgeon. The March Strathspey and Reel bench was Messrs (P) Brown, Baxter, Cook and Parkes. In a nice touch, a worthy tribute was paid to Joe Noble after his many years as an adjudicator. Many will also remember his playing days too and the Band Room in Glasgow. Thank you Joe. [Learn more about Joe here.]

Former World Solo Drumming Champion Joe Noble

The H&J rattled through in about an hour and on to the score weighted March, Strathspey & Reel. It was approaching 6.30pm and getting dark outside when the final ended. All transmitted live to the world.

I urge you to go online and watch if you haven’t. The technical complexity and creativity of the top 12 was simply blinding. Amongst the highlights for me, Michael McKenna’s Shepherd’s Crook was worth watching for the transition to the reel alone.  Chris McNichol’s Strathspey (Cameronian Rant) and compare and contrast to an equally snappy version from William Glenholmes, Blair Brown and Jason Hoy.  Then there was Steven McWhirter’s playing. Just watch and wonder.

Michael McKenna, SLOT, runner-up at the WSD

Before we get to the view of the results, we have to acknowledge the massive logistics and organisational effort of the team behind this event, including the university volunteers. I reckon there were over 300 performances on the day, including finals and qualifiers. Adjudicating that lot takes a bit of managing, as does shuttling players from practice rooms to final tuning and performance rooms, often on different floors of the building. The pipers playing for multiple colleagues with varying sets must also be mentioned. They are all ‘piper of the day’ perhaps, but I thought Craig Munro (Wallace Bagpipes), Callum Beaumont, Glenn Brown and Christopher Armstrong were all in the hunt, had there been a piping prize.

Tune Selection – there are the old favourites for sure and hearing the old trads of the march world is always good. Lord Alexander Kennedy rolled out a few times. The Cameronian Rant is a favourite too, and drummers know why, the pipers must loathe it given the blowing. As mentioned, there were some exceptional versions. In the Adult final the H&J sets had more variety with more contemporary tunes than I can recall.

As an aside, it’s a pity only 12 H&J sets were heard out of some 300 performances. In other parts of the world they are standard fare in most Grade contests.

At 7pm the results started to flow with Nigel Hodgen of Andante, the principal sponsor, handing over silverware and medals. The five Juvenile Tenor then Snare grades saw some of the best young talent on the planet come forward for presentations and a photo call.

Third placed Blair Brown in action

Then the hush as the big one was announced. Steven McWhirter made it a magnificent seven in a row and his eighth championship. Michael McKenna (SLOT) snapped at his heels again for second and Blair Brown (St Thomas Alumni, Texas) third. The hardest working man of the day, Gareth McLees (FMM) 4th, William Glenholmes (Vale) 5th and Chris McNicholl (Inveraray) 6th. Steven took straight 1s in the H&J and a more mixed, but winning, bag, in the March, Strathspey & Reel.

With the Inveraray Concert announced for Northern Ireland, it will be a sell out for sure as crowds flock to see the World Champions, the talented crew led by Stuart Liddell and eight  times world solo drumming champion Steven McWhirter. Over and out.

• Read all about the history of the World Solo Drumming in the January 2017 edition of Pipe Band Magazine.

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