I agree with Piping Convenor Alan Forbes that the Northern Meeting’s two-day festival of piping was a great success. With the quality of the playing on show it could be considered nothing less. I sat through all of the Clasp and Gold Medal competitions bar four performances, and heard the 40 or so tunes from a position only five rows back from the stage. Important that. Up in the gods you just don’t hear the detail. The gallery of superb instruments had to be heard live to be fully appreciated. The Clasp in particular gave us an array of bagpipes the like of which we seldom hear. Winner Callum Beaumont’s was outstanding. (Calum is pictured above on stage with adjudicators William Wotherspoon and Iain Murdo Morrison, his tune highlighted on the screen above.) Not far behind Callum’s were those of Alasdair Henderson, Alan Bevan, Finlay Johnston, Greg Wilson, Bruce Gandy and Iain Speirs. In the Gold there were excellent pipes from Peter McCalister, Gordon McCready, Innes Smith, William Geddes and Connor Sinclair with a few others on their coat tails.
Whilst I am on the subject of the Medal I was told that one of the pipers I missed was allowed to play without a bonnet. This is against the express rules of the NM. The promoter needs to do something quickly before this is repeated. Many of us will remember the day when a piper who showed such disrespect for the competition would have been considered improperly dressed and been disqualified, or ordered from the stage by the judges. Enforcement is probably a steward’s job. No Highland dress – bonnet, kilt and jacket – and you don’t leave final tuning.
There was also a prevalence of pipers simply ignoring the tuning lights. One individual was nearly 40 seconds overtime before he started his tune. And there were others almost as culpable. Is this fair on those pipers who abide by the lights? I don’t know how this can be policed. Judges will be reluctant to get involved in tapping the culprit on the shoulder à la John Burgess in the infamous David Murray/Alasdair Gillies incident of a few years ago. And at Eden Court the lights man does not have easy access to the stage. One for Alan to ponder.
As to the playing, how pleasing was it to see the up and coming pipers from Scotland doing so well? I have heard both Sandy Cameron and Cameron MacDougall play better (nerves on the big stage) but very well done to them on making the list in the Gold Medal. The same goes for Connor Sinclair, fresh in from the Silver. If Connor had just set his MacKenzie of Gairloch out better – more phrasing and punctuation – he would have been higher up the list I am sure. I was very surprised that Gordon McCready did not make it in. He held the attention and commanded the stage like few others on the day. Mention should also be made of Innes Smith and William Geddes who both gave good ‘half tunes’ starting well and falling away in the later variations. Alastair Lee was competent and set his stall out well – not far off the pace.
The Clasp? Brilliance from Callum Beaumont. Huge disappointment for Iain Speirs going so well before his B/D. Music from Greg Wilson. Good tune but weak pipe from gentleman Jack Lee. Stuart Liddell and Angus MacColl? You know my thoughts on Argyll’s titans. Superb pipe from Alan Bevan, tune just lacking the finer touches. A super competition. Radio will be good but will not do the 2018 Clasp full justice. You cannot beat live music.
In all I heard 41 piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting, all from close quarters. (Add in Braemar and that made 67 in three days – ya gotta love this stuff). The quality, variety and depth inherent in ceol mor is stimulating and rewarding. If you have not begun your journey there’s no time like the present.
Talking of Eden Court it is a real shame that the cavernous auditorium, associated now with such great performances and so much piping history, was never visited by more than a smattering of listeners at any time during both of the above mentioned competitions. Despite the history, is it time to move away to a venue with less seats but more atmosphere? Does such a 200-seater place exist in Inverness? Since its revamp Eden Court has come in for a lot of criticism from pipers and their supporters too. The bar prices, the lack of a suitable area to socialise; it’s functional but not fraternal.
Another problem…..After the civic reception on the Wednesday night I spoke to one local piper who complained that the Northern Meeting did not mean a lot to pipers in the area. There was a disconnect. They knew they were not good enough to qualify to play at the Meetings but as there was nothing for them they tended to give the whole carry on short shrift. Well why not have a local piping event held on the grass outside the theatre? I think they did something similar for the Inverness Games last year. A couple of tents and a local Piobaireachd and MSR could be staged no bother. They do have a similar event at the Argyllshire Gathering and it might be a way for the NM to get the Inverness pipers on side. And it would announce the pipes to the town’s populace and tourists at the same time.
I do think a tourist ticket would be a good idea too, one priced to encourage the thousands of visitors in the Highland capital in late August/early September to come along for a listen to the national instrument. They wouldn’t stay for more than half an hour but they might spend £5 on such a cheap brief. It all helps the bottom line. I’m told Eventbrite ticketing has such an option on its app.
The marketing people at Eden Court need to help out more. I did not see one single poster for the competitions in the town itself yet there were plenty for upcoming films and other shows at the EC. If the NM are paying a reputed £10,000 for the theatre hire then they are entitled to expect all the support and publicity that comes with it. The stewards and organisers from Alan Forbes down do a thoroughly professional job of staging the competition and they and the pipers they attract deserve to have their efforts acknowledged by a large and appreciative audience.