With a sell out crowd achieved the day before, the venue was packed for the annual gala concert featuring celebrated soloists, mini bands, Highland dancers and all held together by Ken Eller, the long-standing master of ceremonies, writes our Special Correspondent.
In a nice touch, the students of St Thomas Episcopal, from Houston, Texas, kicked off proceedings, led by former World Champion Drum Major, Jason Paguio of the SFU organisation.
The playbill ran on at great pace as wave after wave of acts followed. The trio of Gold Medal winners, Calum Beaumont accompanying the first batch of dancers, and his pipe major Stuart Liddell followed. A very warm response for the man who has won the lot. The CV being read out was so lengthy that Stuart decided to take a seat. There was even a cheer for his tuning. He played a Ross Ainslie piece (Durty B with ‘u’ I imagine) to start, and captivated a rapt audience. What more can be said – flying fingers and simply blinding. Entertainer with a capital E but grounded in the very best. Shock and awe!
Stuart was given rousing applause and was then joined by his lead drummer Steven McWhirter. The musical chemistry between this duo is palpable. Top end stuff every time.
Perhaps the most poignant set was when 2017 Glenfiddich winner and Piping Press ‘Piper of the Year’ Jack Lee led a group from SFU, including his pipe major Alan Bevan, in a stunning tribute to the late Andrew ‘Boney’ Bonar. This was Winter Storm in its most sombre moment. They played the piobaireachd ‘I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand’ in tribute to a piper, gentleman and devoted family man who lost his battle to cancer last year. Boney had asked Jack to play the piece at his Memorial. It was fitting in that Jack had taught it to Boney many years ago. There was a rousing ovation in respect of the playing and of course in memory of Andrew. [See pic up top.]
The mood changed and after the break with the drum faculty playing the classic Alex Duthart fanfare – ‘Salute to Max Rayne’. The drum line, led by eight-time world Champion, Steven McWhirter, was filled with Grade 1 lead tips, Creighton, Jørgensen and Gordon Brown of Boghall making his Winter Storm debut. In addition, young Kerr McQuillan of Boghall, the Grade 2 snare winner, joined some of the St Thomas teenagers in the line too. Surely a great memory for them to stand in amongst giants of the snare drumming and bass section world.
Gordon Brown remained and played a classic March, Strathspey and Reel set with piper Anne Gray and bass Steve Foley. Gordon remains one of the best in the business and it was great to see him at his first Winter Storm.
An Inveraray ‘mini band’ gave the audience a chance to hear a portion of that World Championship winning ensemble. The audience in Ballybriest, Northern Ireland, for whom the whole band will play in the spring, are in for a treat. This group blew the roof off.
Following that was no problem for the bold Fred Morrison. Kicking off with the great Highland bagpipe and surrounded by Highland dancers, he transitioned to a soulful piece on whistle, before closing out with his classic Hard Drive, last heard by many on Worlds day in the Field Marshal Montgomery medley. Fred had the audience going, and his stage presence and craft worked wonders. He has become a fixture in this concert and is hugely well liked.
Finally a parade of winners and what seems an ever-growing faculty took to the stage, received their ovation, and the 2018 Winter Storm concert was over. Into the night, sub-zero temperatures, up the hill to the hotel complex for the after party ‘Winter Steam’, and more fun.
Beth Wilson, the Mid West Highland Art Fund President, organisers and her team, including long-standing fixer Cliff Davis, run a wonderful event. Arguably the best of its kind in the world. It surely can’t be far away from being recognised as a pre-qualifier for more national and international competitions. For instance, with the World Solo Drumming event adding regional qualifiers to provide automatic semi final places, the Winter Storm Snare Gold Medal competition would be a strong candidate. As an aside, it was won by Grant Cassidy of SLoT, already a pre-qualifier for 2018.
There you have it, and there is no reason to believe that 2019 won’t be bigger as this event has momentum, the faculty, prizes and aura of one not to miss. They seem to freshen things up just enough whilst retaining the core. Well done MHAF – great job, as they say in these parts.
• Full results from Winter Storm here.