Some say he thinks ‘reindeer’ is a weather forecast, others that he believes ‘snow’ is just a Glasgow negative; yet more are convinced he’s as thick as the sole on an Army issue brogue….. All we know is he is called MacStig….
So the year is about to turn; 2018 is almost upon us. One hundred years from the end of the Great War and a defining moment for Army piping and the vast catalogue of tunes written for advance, retreat, victory, and remembrance.
Many of us turn somewhat melancholy at this time of year, and I once had a girlfriend like that: head like a melon face like a collie. [You can talk MacStig, and like you, that’s ancient; get on with it. Ed.] As the background music in the old butt’n ben reminds me that ‘here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore’, it is time for a look over the shoulder to remember what occurred in the 2017 pipe season, particularly Grade 2.
From the new competition in Dundee outside the Caird Hall, to Gourock, the howling wind and rain and aircraft take offs of Paisley, the sunny afternoon in Belfast, the upmarket prosecco bar at Forres, ankle deep in mud in the shadow of Dumbarton Rock, rained off Massed Bands at North Berwick and Bridge of Allan and World’s Week, we take a whistle-stop MacStig eye view of how the season progressed and peaked at the Green. (Pause for a Chick Murray joke: ‘I was once on a Clydeside bus tour and the guide said ‘if you look over there you’ll see Dumbarton Rock’. Well I stared at it for five minutes and it never moved.’
Regular readers of this column will know that during the summer a great deal of time and focus was spent on Grade 2 at the Major Championships and the competitions around them. This gave me the opportunity to grade hop and watch other bands across the spectrum and there were small flashes of brilliance, excellent organisation and some surprises in the silverware.
It was my good fortune to follow G2 bands and admire the quality at that level. The pick of the crop were the two newly promoted bands, Glasgow Skye and Lomond & Clyde [pictured top]. They shared the honours in Championships throughout the season and I don’t expect either to simply be making up the numbers on the Grade 1 list in 2018. Their musicality and experience will have them punching up.
Two overseas bands really caught my ear this past season and will be pushing to go a couple of places better in 2018. These were St Thomas Alumni of Houston, Texas, taking third at the Green, and from Dunedin, Florida, Ian Donaldson and Eric MacNeil brought a fine sound to Glasgow for fourth. Their band will be travelling extensively in the US and to Canada before arriving in Scotland next August. Other 2018 contenders? Peel Police, post downgrade, must be in the frame for the G2 title at the Worlds, and Ravara will perhaps feel there is something to prove.
On the home front, MacKenzie Caledonia had a fine season and played some great music too. I know they thought I was giving them stick referring to the steadiness (I used the phrase ‘Steady Eddie) of their playing. My point was far from critical; it was a compliment. They had a very solid sound through the year and I expect them to make strides in 2018.
Two others worthy of mention: Closkelt, a great sounding band and I think harshly considered on occasion. I do think there is an unconscious bias in the minds of many, audience included, when a smaller (in number) band marches into the circle, especially after a mega band with 20 pipers, 12 snares and a full raft of tenor drummers in full flourish has been on. We should look beyond number and simply listen to the sound. Closkelt had rock solid fundamentals when I heard them.
Manorcunningham is another band I must mention. A very strong sound. From Grade 3 we will add Royal Burgh of Stirling and Wallacestone & District. Both newcomers will be ones to watch. Mentioned in Dispatches must be London City, making their debut in the grade, playing in a few of the Majors and placing in the Scottish (sixth). I’m full of admiration for what they are trying to achieve and we should watch their rise as they are well-funded and supported by a few financial firms in the City. Just watch them go.
Finally, the Vikings of Balagan. What can you say other than congratulations for the past year? We should all be delighted to hear that they will be back next season and in all five Majors. God Jul, Balagan.
All of these bands are worth finding time to go and hear as I plan to do come next May.
• To be continued.