MacStig Rides in from the West With A Tribute to a Grade Two Hero

Wherever it is he goes to ‘find himself’ over the winter, our rantin’, rovin’ reporter MacStig has returned refreshed. He says the harder he looked inwards the less he found. The sun tan suggests the destination was more Western Isles than West Palm Beach. Maybe he forgot to remove the glen g/ crash hat combo, but hey, let’s just say welcome back. Time to get writin’…………..

Spring, Easter, daffodils, sun (sometimes) and the grass growing season, the latter to be marched on and marked out with white line and circles. It’s not long now. In the words of Bobby Ball, that post-modern philosopher and member of the comic duo, ‘I’m excited Tommy!’

The clocks ‘spring forward’, the lighter mornings and evenings are fast approaching, and the snow of March will disappear into memory. There will be sighs of relief from the pipe band collective, a collective yearning to get outdoors and play away from those stuffy halls and band rooms.

So, the close season approaches its end point;  the hard work has been going on for months; there have been some indoor competitions; there are even slots for the semi finals at World Solo Drumming in October filled already. Midst all this hubbub, what has been running through my mind? More than the usual ‘nothing’.

Firstly, a tribute. City of London Pipe Band (main picture) will compete in 2018 and march in memory of the late Pipe Major Iain Westgate who ended his fight against cancer in the close season. Those who have followed this column will know of the huge respect given to Iain, and the admiration of all at Piping Press for his tenacity and courage. In the creation and leading of his band in their first competitive season last year, the placing in the top six at the Scottish Championship was perhaps the highlight and, it was through failing health Iain watched the band from the sidelines at Glasgow Green.

P/M Iain Westgate

By all accounts P/M Westgate fought hard and never let  his cancer own him until the very, very end. He reportedly got on with things, issued instruction, guidance and was even sorting out the programme for 2018 in late December. The band has said it will retire his unique setting of ‘Lord Alexander Kennedy’ but roll it out in his memory from time to time. (Those who heard its debut as the start of their Medley will never forget it.) It was rightly a talking point last year and much commented upon.

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We send our condolences to Iain’s family, friends and band. But a thank you too – he was an inspiration to many. The band should be warmly welcomed at the first Major Championship at Paisley and maybe our community will applaud City of London after they finish their set. Iain deserves nothing less.

MacCals on the grass

From London to the city of Dundee, the city making a mark for new architecture, riverfront and redevelopment – and home to MacKenzie Caledonian Pipe Band. They gave a big Centenary Concert in the close season. It was excellent, giving a glimpse of their top players and the conveyor belt of talent coming through from their ‘wee’ band. A unified lot for sure, delivering good arrangements, some of which we hope will appear in their Medley for 2018.

It was a strong and varied programme, yet at the core, recognisable as MacCal. If you weren’t there and get a chance, go pick up some of the YouTube clips of the concert (link below). Try and find the ‘finale’ (it starts with the ‘The High Drive’). This was at a point where the concert was reaching the end, and all the hard work had paid off. I got a sense that the band relaxed here and let go a little with that freedom creating an electric finish for a great audience of fans.

In that ‘High Drive’, I heard what this band can do when they let rip. And as an aside, it was great to see some of the past members on stage at one point in a neat ensemble, complete with flourishing bass drum. Those were the days, and dare I predict a return of flourishing basses at some point?

Turning to the wider Grade 2 season, with many going out of, and coming into, the G2 field, it will be most interesting to see just how the likely domestic successors to the Major titles (the two winners of all five last year having ‘gone up’) deal with the overseas bands, when they roll into town just before the World Championships. I’ll get to those overseas prospects in later columns but for now, it will be fascinating to hear and see who steps up to the mark as Grade 2 leaders. As an early forecast, I suspect the Mac Cals will be there or thereabouts – that over winter discipline of being ‘concert ready’ helping big time.

With a couple of larger Indoor contests this weekend (March 24th) and two more in April, it will soon be 12th May for Dunbar and Bangor, closely followed by Banchory, Dundee City and Gourock on the 13th. Then, before you know it, Paisley, the British and Major number 1. The rain, the wind, the smell of wet wool and wet grass. Can it be beaten? Over and Out. 

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