Worlds Build Up: Saturday Access for Grade 1 Non-Qualifiers/ Comprehensive Preview of Grade 2

A reader who is also a member of a Grade 1 band competing at the Worlds has written to Piping Press: ‘I’m contacting you regarding tickets for the Worlds. Grade 1 players from bands who fail to qualify will be expected to pay to enter on the Saturday. 

‘These tickets will cost £13 in advance and £16 on the gate. I believe there is a caveat in that anyone in uniform will be allowed in free. It would be interesting to hear how others feel about this. I’m sure some might say just wear your uniform or pay like everyone else but it would be my view that this is more than a little miserly.

‘All the Grade 1 bands provide a full-day of entertainment on the Friday for which they receive no remuneration. Indeed the performances are broadcast worldwide and the recordings and images used for commercial purposes. I appreciate the RSPBA have handed most of organisation over to the Glasgow Events company so it would be good to know where the association stand on this entry charge. I’m playing in this competition so would prefer not to give my name.’

Piping Press contacted the RSPBA on behalf of Mr Mystery Man and they confirmed that each band which does not make the G1 cut will be given 25 free tickets for Saturday. If there are more band members than that who wish to attend then they simply have to wear uniform and they will get in for free. Association Chief Executive Ian Embelton said: ‘The number of free tickets being given out amounts to some £4,000. This is reasonable I feel. Any band member who does get one of their band’s 25 tickets will have the option of wearing uniform and still getting in for free or paying at the gate.’

G2 World Championship Preview, by MacStig

With the frenzy of what I’m calling ‘murder polis’ weekend and the activities in Northern Ireland and around Scotland, it’s fair to say we now have as good a snapshot of the Grade 2 runners and riders we will ever have before the big one. Some bands were big and bold, out there at every opportunity, whilst others were shy and sensitive sticking to their single-minded plans for the Worlds Qualifier this coming Saturday.

There are two schools of thought; get out and be competition ready (braving the weather and setting a mark with adjudicators ears), or go through your paces in private/public practice near to your accommodation. Both approaches are right of course. All preparation must simply be about the 5-7 minute of absolute zeroed in focus required in the moments just before, during and closing the March, Strathspey and Reel qualifier. It is also jeopardy because every band and each player will have a preferred ‘set’ in their heads. It’s human nature, so when the numbered ball comes out of the bag in the hand of the P/M at the line, there is always a ripple, a frisson of excitement as the news gets passed around.

It will be an earlier start for the Heat 1 names and consequently a longer wait for those qualifying from that group for the Final. A 10.20h start will mean you can catch the earliest participants tuning up from quite early, but not so sharp as the Juvenile and Novice A finals kicking off at 09.00h – tuning from maybe 07.30h, arriving at heaven knows when, and leaving home at silly o’clock. Too bad if you have children in each grade or the schools are juggling tuners for both. As an aside, I don’t have a solution, as the P/M’s of these grades are almost all in G1 bands with Saturday finals starting at 10.00h. Anyway, G2 qualifiers will virtually run in series, and only the last on in Heat 1 will overlap with the Heat 2 starter. That also suggests separate arenas – to accommodate the separate judging panels.

Turning to Heat 1, the panel has Brian Switalla and Terry Lee on Piping duty, Alexander Steele on Drumming and the educated ear of Jennifer Hutcheon on what might be the all important Ensemble pencil.

I’ve already said a lot about City of Dunedin and their title challenging pedigree. They scored very well in piping last year taking 4th behind the then promoted Glasgow Skye and Lomond & Clyde. Their nearest neighbours in Texas, St Thomas, took third. All irrelevant and it is about the here and now. Drumming has cracked on with lead tip Eric MacNeill now very well settled and bringing his SFU experiences to what is now certainly his drum line and score. Winners at Glengarry and a lively Medley to look forward to in the afternoon for sure. Their fans won the ‘best fans’ award last year and we expect a vocal group to be in town. If they negotiate the qualifier it will be all to play for and they will be in the mix in the early evening for sure. As an aside, watch out for the bass drummer, one of the best around in my book and a very clever tenor group with some excellent syncopation. That’s another reason why this drum corps is making it up the lists.

Balagan has not had as strong a season as last year and, in spite of playing all of the Majors, inconsistency has reigned so far. Maybe some nerves, some inexperienced players and it has taken a while for them to settle. Drumming was stronger and cleaner last year, and this is really their last chance to pull the season out of the bag. In this strong heat I fear they will be watching the Medley final from the stands or the other side of the fence, but would dearly like to be proved wrong. If they draw set 2 (Links of Forth, Cally Soc of London and Pretty Marion) I think it will suit them better but lifting the Strath and getting the pulse right will be key.

The superb New Ross drum corps

New Ross has been the most impressive of the newly promoted three from last year. Their drumming has often delivered the best set snares, tenors, a confident bass and brilliantly executed scores. More than enough for Grade 2, verging on Grade 1 drumming. Also in making New Ross stand out, many others have tried what are supposedly G1 level scores and are simply not delivered the precision playing or zing in tuning the heads. New Ross has and, if piping can lock in early and not wander, I expect the band to be on the cusp of qualifying for the Final. They will be loitering at Cleopatra’s Needle scoreboard and scouring Twitter from around 12.30h to see if their weekend is about playing in a final or not. Too tough to call.

The New Englanders of Worcester Kiltie have put themselves out there this year and it will have been noted that they stepped right in amongst the field to get on the prize list in Belfast earlier in the season. It’s worth remembering that Belfast (UK Championships) had a few Scots bands absent. Anyway, this is a well equipped group with a solid Ensemble, but drumming will have to get going just as Piping needs to be rock solid in this qualifier to be absolutely sure of a run in the afternoon. I’m full of admiration for the commitment, cost, and time these players have put in making two trips over and covering Glengarry too. 

Greater Midwest, from Illinois, has a new P/M in Ben Peterson taking over just a year ago from reed maker Adrian Melvin. A new lead drummer too and the band is settling in to the new set up and fair play to them for coming over for the Worlds’. Outings this year have been limited and they should go and enjoy the spectacle of playing and simply ‘play’ without any pressure, nerves or heat. Tempo should be held steady as adrenalin has a bit of an impact and can push things on too much.

One of the well-regarded bands in the Grade, City of London, needs to repeat the drumming togetherness of Dumbarton where they saw their best ever drum score. Piping has been up and down although there are some clever hands and good pedigree in that Corps. They need to dig in and get over the hump of this year, recruit hard over the winter and come back in 2019.  I hope they get Set 1 (Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod and Loch Carron) a trad set, steady as she goes and get the strike right, the transitions in line and tempi stable. That’s easy  from the seats in the stand. Go well, City of London.

Winners of two out of four Majors and leading the Champion of Champions table is Centenary celebrating Mackenzie Caledonian. It would be a script writers dream to see tem win the World Championship and take the Champion of Champions in such a year. However, in recent weeks they have become a bit of a conundrum. Firstly the drumming has had to run hard all season to keep up with the expected solid piping, then the piping went off at Dumbarton in the Scottish – admittedly on a howling wet day. The piping came back at Bridge of Allan but drumming left the door open for George Watson’s Juvenile to win that contest. They need to lock it all in and get through. When they do, it’s a very musical Medley with which some success has been had.

Pamela Whyte’s Grampian Police Scotland has come into form at exactly the right time. Gone are the freelancing moments, the wanderers and creating a very solid unit now looking to not just qualify but get on the list at the end of the day. Momentum is with them and more of the same, without thinking they have cracked it, should see them into a final in the afternoon. I think Set 2 (John MacDonald of Glencoe, Atholl Cummers and Major Davis Manson) is a tidier grouping for them. If they draw 1, the change into Susan MacLeod needs to be on it with no hesitation and lengthy hold. I expect the blue light to be flashing in the Final.

Prince Charles Pipe Band, from San Francisco is more of an unknown quantity this time although I heard reports of an excellent concert with Fred Morrison earlier in the year. There are extracts online of those looking to re-acquaint themselves with the band. I wish them well and congratulate them on making the trip for the big one. It’s not quite the ‘Bay Area’ but I know they will have a great time.

The Burgh, the Royal Burgh of Stirling that is, have demonstrated flashes of brilliance at some points in the season, unfortunately not often enough or for long enough periods of time. Finding their feet in Grade 2 after a fantastic time in G3 last year, drumming has provided some of the brighter highlights and next season will be a better measure of them, now that they know the pace and complexity required. On their very best of days they have a chance to qualify, so it has to be the very best run of the entire season – as if the Worlds should be anything else.

The second Californian band, LA Scots, will breeze in from Tinseltown with players coming from all points of the compass. Settled in G2 after a period of time in G1, they will at least get to play on the Saturday this time and be in uniform on the big day. I do feel sorry for the G1 bands not making it through from the Friday. There will be G1 DNA in the mix here and a bit like Ravara and Peel Regional Police, two other former G1 bands, they could pull something out of the bag and glitter in the hoped for sunshine.

Last up, from the North East of Scotland and hosts of the Beach Ballroom concerts, Bucksburn & District. A mixed season and glimmers of pushing on from last year at times. Slightly in the growing shade of their near neighbours Gram Pol, I do hope we get Set 1 (David Ross, Cal Soc of London and Mrs MacPherson of Inveran). They need to nail it from the off and hold steady to have the real chance of qualifying in this field. They will be hanging around the scoreboard waiting and I think there is a better than even chance they will be getting the kit back out for the late afternoon.

City of London…piping up and down

For those who like the stats, in this heat five out of 12 bands are from the US bands (two from California), one Irish band and three Dundee/Aberdeenshire bands (MacCals, GPS and Bucks). Me too.

Grade 2 – Qualifier 1

1 10:20 City of Dunedin – U.S.A.
2 10:29 Balagan – Denmark
3 10:38 New Ross and District – Eire
4 10:47 Worcester Kiltie – U.S.A.
5 10:56 Greater Midwest – USA
6 11:05 City of London
7 11:14 Mackenzie Caledonian
8 11:23 Grampian Police Scotland
9 11:32 Prince Charles – USA
10 11:41 Royal Burgh of Stirling
11 11:50 Los Angeles Scots – U.S.A
12 11:59 Bucksburn and District

Adjudicators: Brian Switalla, Terry Lee, Alexander Steele, Jennifer Hutcheon

At high noon, the second qualifier will start, under the watchful eyes of Sam Young and Robert Mathieson on Piping adjudicator duty, Bill Black on Drumming and James Campbell, Ensemble. The draw has thrown four Irish/Northern Irish bands in together, two Canadians and sundry others. I’ve no idea what that all means but I know there are eagle-eyed theorists out there looking at nationalities and such like for conspiracies. The adjudicators are all…. qualified.

First off is our blue light service from Scottish Fire and Rescue and a bit of a farewell party for incumbent P/M Alistair McLaughlan. What he and his team has achieved from where they started four years ago, including a feeder Novice band is tremendous and should be applauded. Sadly the P/M of that Novice band is also leaving, so change is afoot for next season. Finishing in the lower echelons of the Majors this year I hope the band draws Set 2 and plays Links of Forth, Maggie Cameron and McAllister’s Dirk with gusto and aplomb. They are a credit to the colleagues and folks they represent in the Fire and Rescue Service. As an aside, their Juvenile Drum Major is going for the big one after winning two Majors’. Good luck to her.

Ravara, a great addition to Grade 2, pictured here last week at Portrush

The G2 ranks have very clearly benefitted from Ravara joining them, with some very good performances and high placing finishes in the season so far. They have flitted with glory a few times and took the Scottish Championship, proving their Medley can be a winner. Before that, they need to consolidate, play well and get through to the final by playing their best March, Strathspey and Reel of the year to date. They have two very good sets and my preference is 2., Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band, Dora MacLeod and John MacKechnie. I expect Ravara to be playing in the late afternoon.

Colmcille has impressed and I see it as a very strong work in progress. Well ahead of where they were in 2017, the band has come on to a good game providing musical performances – well stitched together and they all seem to be enjoying the music too. I sensed stress and concern last year, whereas this time around it is much more comfortable and relaxed. They will have to pull something very strong out of the bag to challenge the qualifiers from this group, but they have it in them.

I think Manorcunningham is one of the best bands in the grade though some of the outcomes this year have gone against them. They should avoid being frustrated, which is easy for me to say, when they probably had put in the hard yards over the winter to get higher up the prize list. They have a Championship winning performance in their locker, but the key is getting pipes and drums whizzing in full canter at the same time. We haven’t quite had that so far. They will, on form, get a chance to roll out the Medley in the afternoon by my reckoning.

Wallacestone & District should reflect on the season and be happy that the trend is improving. I know there is always a disappointment after a winning promotion year to be languishing and pushing water uphill to finish in the middle to bottom of the table each time. They had their best day at the Europeans in Forres, and again I must mention without the full Irish and Northern Irish roster, however, they showed promise. Making the final would be their ‘final’.

North Stratton, all the way from Edmonton, Alberta, will be hoping to emulate their 2015 and 2016 season by making it to the G2 final. Sadly, last year, they clipped the crossbar, finishing 7th in a heat where the first six went to Arena 1. I had a close look at the band at North Berwick and liked what I heard.

St Thomas Alumni, Houston, Texas

The big battalion of the St Thomas Alumni Pipe Band is up next, and was the third placed band last year, having scored exceptionally well in piping in the qualifier. The strength and depth of the band is well-known and in due course there may be more and more former pupils of the school the band takes its name from. Finalists for sure, surely.

Kilchoman Isle of Islay are on a bit of a roll, way ahead of last season and will be knocking at the door to qualify – one better than they achieved last year. Drumming has been a weaker area for them but piping has topped the Grade, so the stirrings of something special are in the water – or single malt, given their sponsor. My preference is their Set 1, John MacDonald of Glencoe, Maggie Cameron and Fiona MacLeod. On form they will be there in the afternoon sunshine (if I write that often enough the sun will shine) taking their place with the other 11 best G2 bands in the World. Any slips and they will be watching from the stands.

The Dundonian ex-Boys’ Brigade band, now City of Discovery is a solid player in the Grade and maybe hasn’t made the progress some would have thought from a couple of seasons ago. They seem to have stuck a bit for now and aside from the odd flash of better things, particularly in drumming, the performances have been rather lacklustre. They didn’t qualify for the final last year and had a very poor outcome that day. I hope 2018 is a better day out. Sure & Stedfast will be the watchwords.

Now then, the conundrum of Closkelt, a very able and highly competent band having what might look like a phenomenal season. Yet by their standards there may even be a hint of disappointment or exasperation. I think they have the sweetest tone, if not the best overall piping sound in the grade. The first outing for the British Championship was a win. Second outing was a 2nd, and more recently the 3rd place was as good as it got. They have the tools in the bag to work it to the final. If drums sing and match piping this band could catapult up there to be in the hunt in the early evening.

More ‘blue lighters’ in Peel Regional Police, now in G2 and having had a good showing at Maxville behind Dunedin and Worcester Kiltie, albeit sharing seconds and thirds with the New Englanders across Medley and March, Strathspey & Reel. I did get the opportunity to get close to the sound last weekend and I’m reckoning a further improvement in pipes to atmospherics this week will assist. They will be there on the cusp of qualifying subject to there being no slip ups.

Et finalement, Bagad Brieg, the finalists from 2016 and hoping to repeat that feat this year. I well remember their qualifier performance that day and thought it was middling and that they scraped into the final. However, they pulled it up for the final and got 4th on an Ensemble Preference. The only bands beating them that day are all now up in Grade 1. That’s why I said in an earlier column you dismiss this name at your peril. I don’t know what to expect and this is truly the wild card of the qualifier. Bon chance mes amis.

Grade 2 – Qualifier 2
13 12:00 Scottish Fire and Rescue Services Pipe Band
14 12:09 Ravara
15 12:18 Colmcille
16 12:27 Manorcunningham – Eire
17 12:36 Wallacestone and District
18 12:45 North Stratton – Canada
19 12:54 St Thomas Alumni – U.S.A.
20 13:03 Kilchoman Distillery Isle of Islay
21 13:12 City of Discovery
22 13:21 Closkelt
23 13:30 Peel Regional Police – Canada
24 13:39 Brieg – France

Adjudicators: Samuel Young, Robert Mathieson, William Black, James Campbell

That is the lot – and it is a lot to get through, with 24 performances before a further 12 in the late afternoon (sunshine) and broadcast to the world. I reckon there might be five and possibly six overseas finalists – if we exclude the Irish/Northern Irish names from that category. On recent showings I am forecasting a US win, for what it’s worth, although the French might just surprise. The only opinions that matter will be the judges’, and we have the cool-headed and long experienced John Wilson joined by Maurice Rhodes on piping duty, with Brian Martin judging Drumming, and in the Ensemble position hugely experienced former lead tip and World Solo Drumming Champion, Paul Turner, who might just have the casting vote on several of the final positions. EP can also mean ‘extremely punishing’ to the band losing by it.nGrade 2 – Final – Arena 1 and Broadcast ; Starts 15:35. Over and out.

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