This was a smaller contest than previous due to severe snow on the day and the two days before. We had 25 pipers initially on the list and on the day 13 appeared. Those included pipers from the USA, Germany, and the frozen West of Scotland. A lot of effort was made to attend in these difficult circumstances – so thanks go to all of them, and to audience members and supporters. Recordings of the winning tune and the runner are below.
The weather also prevented the attendance of both judges (Patricia Henderson and Donald MacPhee) but fortunately Alan Forbes – a Senior judge with 35 years’ experience – was present. He asked myself (as convener) to assist him, which I did in small part. The following comments on the contest are my own.
The winner was Robert Wilson playing MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart. He struck up with a strong bagpipe, nicely tuned though the F was a bit sharp. The tune started rather cautiously with long low As in the Urlar and Variation 1, but was flowing well by variation 2, and the tripling and crunluath were very enjoyable to listen to.
Gregor McCulloch was very close behind with another harmonious bagpipe playing Lament for Mary MacLeod. The Ground and Variation 1 were lovely, with possibly some rather clipped notes coming into play in the Doubling of this, especially at line ends. He held the theme note of the crunluath doubling a fraction too long, interrupting the flow there. However these were very small points – and as in all judging, the final decision on the prize list came down to a matter of opinion.
Stuart Gaudin was third with The Groat on a quiet but sweet bagpipe (were they Glen drones?). The whole tune was a bit cautious from the start, and could have had more ‘kick’ to it. In the crunluath there were tight movements and the middle note of the fosgailte was therefore not heard. He employed an interesting foot accompaniment to his playing, which was not off-putting to me personally.
Helen Thompson got into the prize-list from her position as 1st on – not always easy to do. She had some technical difficulties and a couple of chokes in Tulloch Ard, with a tendency to come off the theme notes early in some of the variations. The pipe was not quite in tune from the outset, however her understanding of the tune and musicality gained her 4th prize.
The other players provided a wide variety of entertaining performances. Outstanding amongst this list was David Hester who had come from the USA to play a tune he learned directly from the Campbell Canntaireachd – Finlays’ Lament. This was a powerful bit of playing in the style (if one is allowed to use the word) of a previous winner of this contest, Barnaby Brown. Unfortunately he got a bit lost in the crunluath-a-mach and the judges felt that the later variations lacked phrasing.
Allan Harper needs to work on his movements a bit in Donald of Laggan and stress the theme notes of the taorluath variation. John Forbes had a lovely if gentle bagpipe and is a very musical player – he would have been in the prize-list if he had not jumped off the theme notes throughout Too Long in This Condition. Evan Wraga started nicely but suffered from a flat F and a sharp D in Catherine’s Lament, and had a tendency to ‘fall into’ the later variations without a pause. His crunluath-a-mach needs a lot more lower hand sound.
Graham Farr played a well-paced Lament for the Iolaire and if the short notes had not been so clipped throughout he would have fared better. Taorluath and crunluath movements need a bit more low G sound. Tom Peterkin, a previous winner, was not very relaxed in the Battle of Bealach nam Brog and the tension made his movements tight and short notes very clipped in places – it just wasn’t his day, and he knew it. Janette Greenwood started Captain MacDougall really well and Variation 1 was going fine until she suddenly changed her rhythm into a form of 3/4 which persisted thereafter. The theme note for the crunluath movements were just a bit too long, interrupting the flow of the breabach.
Dagmar Pesta from Germany started and finished Sir James MacDonald of the Isles in a very musical fashion, but the theme notes of variation 1 and the taorluath were very long indeed. Walter Gray was last on with one of the great tunes – The Blue Ribbon. His drones were the best of the day – really lovely – and he started and finished the tune with grace and fire equally measured. Sadly there was a fair bit of self-composition and lack of poise in the middle, and one got the feeling that if Walter sorted this, he would be a winner.
Robert Wilson’s winning MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart:
Gregor McCulloch’s Lament for Mary MacLeod: