Australian PB Champs./ Skye Piping Review

On the eve of this year’s Australian Pipe Band Championships, Pipe Bands Australia have announced details of their plans for the 2020 contest, their Diamond Jubilee Year.

Forty bands have entered the  2018 championship which take place at the Brisbane Boys Club, Toowong, Queensland, on Saturday, April 7.

In the run up to the contest PBA have also instituted a Hall of Fame recognising individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to pipe bands and piping and drumming in Australia over the years. These include well known men such as Allan Chatto, Nat Russell, Brett Tidswell, Sam Young, Sandy Campbell and Alex McCormick. Details here.

Looking ahead however, the 2020 Championship will be held in Maryborough, Victoria, on 4th and 5th April 2020. Pipe Bands Victoria has named Maryborough Highland Society as promoter for this Championship following consideration of ‘extremely strong proposals received during the expression of interest stage’. The decision has been endorsed by Pipe Bands Australia.

PBA President Chris Earl said: ‘Maryborough Highland Society has been central in the advancement of pipe bands in Australia since holding its first Highland gathering on New Year’s Day 1857. It was at the gathering in 1924 that bands first discussed forming the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association, the first in the world, and in 1961 hosted the first Australian championships following formation of the Australian Federation of Pipe Band Associations (now Pipe Bands Australia) in June 1960.

‘On 1 January 2020, the Society will host its 159th Highland gathering and begin the final countdown to the central Victorian community hosting the Australian Pipe Band Championships for a second time three months later.’

Highland Society general manager Malcolm Blandthorn said: ‘The championships will reaffirm our strong commitment to fostering Scottish music and, in 2020, with not one, but two significant major events in one year. Our gathering and the championships will complement each other.’

Pipe Bands Victoria chairman Tim McLeod said: ‘We congratulate the Maryborough Highland Society on submitting a strong proposal to again host the championships that PBV believes will not only be an outstanding event but one that leaves a legacy of engagement for our pipe bands in the region. We believe the two-day championships will engage with the Maryborough community and the region. Princes Park will be an excellent location for bands and provide audiences with a wonderful view of performances.’

Chris Earl added: ‘It is fitting that the 2020 Australian Pipe Band Championships are presented in the community where our championships began. Our championships have grown since 1961 to become a truly international event.’

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Last weekend saw a successful recital held on the isle of Skye. Dr Roderick MacLeod, Fear an Tigh, has written this review: ‘The St Columba Episcopal Church Hall in Portree seems the locus for all islanders interested in piping. It is a well known venue for the senior piobaireachd competition [the Col. Jock MacDonald Clasp] at the Skye  Games, where the world’s top piping champions lock horns every August. Pleasing it is.

The Isle of Skye Piping Society, under Cailean Maclean’s fine organisational skills, last night set out a programme of music that delighted all present. From a ‘cast’ of four stars we were entertained and thoroughly thrilled. Bha  an oidhche air leth ceol mhor.

Young Dougal McKiggan, a fifth year pupil at Portree High School, set forth the pace. Dougal is a pupil of Iain Ruairi Finlayson the school’s tutor, Skye schools. The appointment of piping tutors to Highland schools, tutors of the greatest calibre, is now in its third generation and very, very successful it has proved. The young island boy and girl pipers of Skye are its rich harvest. Last night, on account of a chest infection, the talented Dougal took up on the Border [bellows] pipes and competently so. Tapadh leat!

Having a tune out in the Uists last summer, Brighde Chaimbeul

On to delight us was the supremely gifted lady piper Brighde Chaimbeul, who is now a rising  star among the competing pipers of the day. Her piping tutoring has been in the expert hands, in turn, of Niall Stewart of Kyle while she  attended Sleat Primary School, Iain  Speirs of Edinburgh when she attended the prestigious St Mary’s Music School, and, on her return to Skye, is under the guidance of Dr Angus MacDonald (sar Ghaidheal; sar Phiobaire). Brighde is a musically talented young lady and a multi-intrumentalist who has recently travelled to Ireland and Bulgaria to extend her musical  experience. Cum do shuil orra, or theid I fada! Her parents, Angus Peter of a South Uist link, and her mother Lindsay from Edinburgh,  can be roundly pleased with Brighde’s advance in music. Her younger siblings are fast progressing too!

Without a Gaelic song or two a ceilidh is not a ceilidh on Skye! Step forward Anna Mairtainn from Linicro, who  gave us an insight into  the wealth of traditional Gaelic songs in the collection of the late Catriona Dhughlas of Kilmuir; a seam of gold. Anna sings unaccompanied in traditional style and so her contributions fitted in well, especially the cantaireachd in piping style. Her singing of ‘Uamh  an Oir’ [the Cave of Gold] is a favourite to all piping ears. Bha thu air leth taitreach. Taing mhor, Anna…

Patrick Molard

Our grande finale was a virtuoso performance and display of musicality on the great Highland bagpipe by Patrick Molard, a world  class player from Brittany. Patrick has been ‘singing his pipes’ since boyhood and he so easily and effortlessly crosses the cultural styles, Breton, Highland, Irish, all on the most versatile piob mhor of the best tone and finest tuning. I have never heard anyone so complete  an all round piper/musician perform before an audience. His ultimate piece of music was his exquisite playing of the piobaireachd ‘Maol Donn’ or MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, the (Argyll) Campbell Cantaireachd setting. A’Phadruig, bha sibh milis.

All in all, the evening was a best-ever experience and one I was very pleased to chair at Cailean coir’s invitation. Late night home, doffed the kilt, and was serenaded to sleep by the memory. Sona, sona, sona…

Skye Gathering will be held on 7/8th August this year. Click on display ad above for details. Entries for the Dunvegan Medal close May 30.

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