Preview of the Grade 2 UK Championship in Belfast

Some say his granny was a welder on the Titanic with a mouth to match….that he has inherited her vocals and can be heard howling down the slopes of Black Mountain every full moon……that to him using his loaf is launching lumps of Veda at Lough Neagh’s birdlife. All we know is he looks like this….

By MacStig

Raincoat, check, umbrella, check, sun cream, check, ferry ticket….there’s always something you leave on the kitchen table, so be sure to have whatever you need for trains, planes or buses in your sporrans for the upcoming UK Championship. Destination, the cricket grounds at Stormont, Belfast [above]. The one and only time many of the Scots-based bands will indeed cross water for a contest this year. Glengarry, check….almost forgot it.

In Grade 2 we have a change in the roster with a number of Scottish bands not making the trip (just as a few Northern Irish and Irish bands will be absent at Forres in due course). However, the 14 taking the field and marching to the circle will all be vying for the silverware. Adjudicators on the day will be Messrs Colin Moffett, Tom Brown, Mark Wilson and Jennifer Hutcheon.

Scottish Fire & Rescue will blue light it and kick things off at 13.30h, with the grade closing with Ravara at approaching 15.30h. In between times will be all manner of wonders for this first Grade 2 Medley Competition of the 2018 Majors.

As stated, SFR will be up first and looking to build on their performance at Paisley. With a better strike and thicker sound to sustain the piece, they should do better and continue the path to improvement. The senior band is travelling without the Novice band – note the very limited number of entrants in Novice A (7) and Novice B (3). They had the loudest fans at Paisley and here’s hoping the band gives them something to cheer about on Saturday.

Balagan had some issues at Paisley as I reported, but some linked to new players, some nerves and a massive sound that tried to boom throughout the whole March Strathspey & Reel. I liked the firm intent last time out and I hope they can balance that with a togetherness, clearer dynamics and steady playing. The P/M will no doubt be drilling all of that and I am looking forward to a musical Medley. Very definitely worth listening to.

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Wallacestone & District have a chance to rekindle the promise of the start of the season. Two words of encouragement from me. Confidence and concentration. If they can carry on the way they played their reel Lochcarron last time, and replicate that precision, I forecast a much better outcome. A bit like SFR, they need to get the basics right – start, tempo, transitions and togetherness before the stop. Easy enough for commentators like me to write, harder to execute. Come on W&D, best foot forward.

The Mac Cals are next and I really have high hopes for this band. They’ve taken a step forward from last year. A strong Ensemble last time out at Paisley and a firmer hold on tone will set them up to challenge the top spot. It’s not far away.

Closkelt march on a little after five past two. An exemplary sound in Paisley pushed them to lift the title and I know their drummers will be looking to up the ante too. They’ll need to up the Ensemble also (they got a fourth at Paisley) although I did have them nearer the top of the pile that day – but what does that matter? It’s about the sound – very sweet, nicely aligned and one of the best G2 bands you will hear. If they do what they can do, they are nailed on the list at the end of the afternoon.[polldaddy poll=10029688]

Grampian Police Scotland (GPS – as in homing in on their sound) come into sharp focus next. No frills, they will arrive, march in and deliver the Medley. Drums will need to kick on and stay with the tempo. That is the big unknown – for me the piping will be top six all season long, but here we have a Medley with all sorts of challenges and a drum line that will be smarting from the 12th last time out.

New Ross will arrive from over the border and as British Champion Drum Corps set out their stall. Who thought they looked like they were just promoted, as they are? Not many and they’ve settled into the grade well. I’m not sure if the different Adjudicator will go with the drum score this time, albeit the Paisley MSR will be a different measure to the Stormont medley. Time well tell if their drumming style is a universal winner. Piping needs to be cracking on in tone. A good band to listen to.

Manorcunningham at the line

Manorcunningham follow and their Paisley fourth was a bit of a surprise to me as the eighth in Ensemble will have been to them. The have a good sound but have Closkelt as the measure in tone to aim for. The two elements of the band need to gel slightly more effectively and that was the only real pointer I could come up with. They are a solid outfit, and destined for the upper echelons of the grade. A very good band.

A first outing in the Majors for Colmcille on home soil. I well remember them from last year and they had the worst of the weather at Belfast which impacted on their overall tone. Let’s see what they can deliver on the day. Welcome back Colmcille.

Kilchoman Distillery Isle of Islay played very well at Paisley and whilst it was a big step on from last year, I had them in my mind as a wild card  for the list. Watching the tempo set by the drummers and the playing is key. I thought it dropped after a very brisk set of rolls last time out. At their very best they have the capacity to make the prize list, but as this is their first airing of the Medley at a Major they have a new test. They require thought, crafting, a destination and build. A considerable uplift from 2017 and a solid group worth listening to.

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Royal Burgh of Stirling had a bad start to their day at the office last time. I covered the point in the Paisley Review and have no doubt that the Burgh will have been working on the whole thing during the weeks in between. The drum corps is one of the best in the grade to listen to – music cleverly executed, good lead and return phrases. Pipers need to drop the nerves, enjoy the spectacle whilst being razor like focused for the core six or seven minutes from drawing up to the line to the cut off. Again, easier for me to write than execute.

All the way from New England, USA, Worcester Kiltie make a run for the UK Championship. A winner in G3 a couple of years back, they had a go in G2 last year, appearing in Glasgow. It’s intriguing that they are in for this one and we hope they have a great trip. Hats, Glens and Tams raised to them for the effort.

Bucksburn & District, second from last on, (penultimate is a much overused word) will be looking to consolidate their fifth place at Paisley. Tidy at last outing, but this is the Medley genre and requires more. I think they are up to it and with a fair blow, will be there or thereabouts.

Last on and closing the grade will be  local(ish) heroes Ravara who will certainly be hurting a bit after a nine for drumming at Paisley. They are better than that, and a I’m sure my cloth ears did hear a slightly flattened bass drum tone. However, there were aircraft and other sundry noises to contend with. They will be focused on the prize, a better drumming day and repeat in piping/ensemble will have them up there.

There you have it. Grade 2 runners and riders for Belfast. Quite a few names missing from the whole roster of those who could compete. But it’s all about being in it to win it. I’d dismiss any whispers of either Belfast or Forres being diluted wins, although I know it is being said in some quarters. You just watch the efforts and paces being gone through and tell the bands the same thing. I have no doubt that August will bring the whole gang together as they chase the big one. This year, perhaps more than most, the G2 Worlds’ will be a classic.

As I’ll be arriving in Belfast and Stormont earlier than the Grade 2 start, I might well take in a bit of the 4A Final (starting at 10am), the Juvenile Final starting at 10.30h (six bands) and then get over to the highly competitive and recommended Grade 3B Final. The latter is only a 10 band contest, finishing just after midday and allowing a bit of time to sample the local vendor offerings. From memory, there is an exceptional coffee bar. I don’t expect a climbing wall a la Paisley, but there is always the front elevation of the cricket pavilion.

There is also the separate field where the G1s are usually warming up from around 1pm and that is worth a meander. I remember witnessing that superb Inveraray chanter practice last year, the one caught on video and immortalised on YouTube. Fascinating stuff.

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If you are not going I’m sure some extracts will be on the excellent Twitter feed from RSPBA – they usually do the first 60 seconds of bands from the off. And I have no doubt that local hero Big Rab and his crew will be there live streaming. If you see him ask for a T-Shirt. A great service he delivers too, and I just wish I could bottle his excitement. MacStig merchandise is under consideration.

That’s all for now and a review will appear on these pages just as soon as the Editor finds space next week. To those of you marching over the white line, have a great run. We’ll be watching. Over and out.

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