For the first time in six decades I have spent New Year in the Southern Hemisphere. Strange feeling to wake up on December 31 to sunshine and temperatures around 25 degs. C, first footing ‘neath the Southern Cross.
Still, it was something I just had to put up with – all in the name of my daughter’s wedding and judging at the Waipu Highland Games on New Zealand’s North Island.
Our first evening was spent at a barbecue at the beach side home of Maureen Taylor, partner of the late Geoff Hore. Geoff is the famous collector of piping books and manuscripts. There are hundreds of items in his collection and it is reassuring to know that it remains under Maureen’s protection and that of trustees Greg Wilson and Stuart Finlayson.
Greg, three times Clasp winner, told me he is now domiciled on the South Island at Christchurch, the city where he did so much restoration work following the earthquake six years ago. Greg plans to come over to compete in Scotland this summer.
Stuart will be well known to many from his time in Scotland in the early 70s when he studied with P/M Donald MacLeod and Duncan Johnstone. As well as being a fine player and teacher, Stuart is a noted composer with some excellent pieces to his credit. He has so many unpublished tunes that he is working on a book. He has kindly agreed to an interview about his early career and that time with Donald and Duncan.
It was at the home of Stuart and his wife Margot that we were staying, and after supper on Hogmanay it was off to a pre-games kitchen piping contest run by Waipu piping convenor Bain MacGregor in honour of his late wife Helen.
Eleven pipers played. The judge was kiwi professional piper Liam Kernaghan with the audience allowed to vote on the winners too. It was an enjoyable, light-hearted evening with a crowd of about 100. The winner was Stuart Easton multiple times NZ champion and last year’s Silver Medallist at Inverness.
In second came Stewart MacKenzie P/M of Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band. At the interval Stewart revealed that band planned to travel to the Worlds this year – good news for all those who appreciate expression in pipe band playing. It has twice taken Manawatu to the Worlds final.
Third and fourth prizes went to two very good players, Jordan Johnston and P/M Ian Robertson. The youngest competitor was 15-year-old Campbell Wilson, son of Greg and a lad with a promising future in piping.
Waipu Games are one of the oldest in the world and are now in their 147th year. They clearly pre-date many Scottish games and have a proud tradition of sticking to the ancient formula: piping, dancing, and the heavies. More on that tomorrow when I will be able report on the piping in detail.