Reflections on the Former Winners March, Strathspey & Reel at Inverness

The two most important light music competitions in world piping are the Former Winners’ events at Oban and Inverness. To qualify for either pipers must have won an ‘A’ grade March or Strathspey & Reel at Oban or the ‘A’ MSR at Inverness. Today our Special Correspondent recalls the evening he spent at this year’s Northern Meeting listening to the ‘big’ MSR. The montage above shows the winner Alex Gandy, Nova Scotia, set against the scene of his triumph, Eden Court Theatre. Alex received the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society Silver Star and the MacBrayne Challenge Trophy and £500. Competitors in this contest must submit six marches, six strathspeys and six reels and they are asked to play two from each category. Alex is the son of the well-known Champion Piper and double Gold Medallist Bruce Gandy……..Opinions vary on whether the format at Inverness (two marches, two strathspeys & two reels) is a greater challenge to the format at Oban (one tune in each category, each played twice through). For my part, I have always maintained that the Inverness format is a greater test, and one which is far more appealing to the listener, writes Our Special Correspondent.

Put to one side the disappointing numbers of listeners for the Gold Medal and Clasp contests, the audience on Thursday evening in Eden Court Theatre was, by some considerable way, the largest of the meeting and one commensurate with the overall quality of the performances on show. Twenty-two pipers entered.

The winner, Alex Gandy from Nova Scotia (pictured above), gave a fine performance on a well-tuned instrument, playing Jimmy Young, Morag Ramsay, The Bob o’ Fettercairn, Kirsty McCalman’s Favourite, Drumlithie and Neil Angus MacDonald. Listen to Alex here on the BBC’s ‘Pipeline’ show (1 min 43 secs. in).

Second was Stuart Liddell (£350). His rendition of Bonnie Ann, The Duke of Roxburgh’s Farewell to the Blackmount Forest, Dora MacLeod, Cat Lodge, Peter MacFarquhar and the Smith of Chilliechassie couldn’t have been far off first place. Stuart also features on the above BBC programme.

Third went to Iain Speirs (£200) – again a well-tuned instrument and a solid performance of Hugh Kennedy, the Knightswood Ceilidh, Bogan Lochan, Tulloch Castle, Loch Carron and The Grey Bob.

It says everything you need to know about how good Angus MacColl is that what I thought was a below par performance from him was good enough for fourth (£150), with some big tunes – Highland Wedding, Glengarry Gathering, Susan Macleod, Ewe Wi’ the Crookit Horn, Pretty Marion and Alick C McGregor.

Fifth went to William MacCallum (£100), who was on first and produced a solid run playing Murdo McLeod, John MacFadyen of Melfort, the Cameronian Rant, Ewe Wi’ The Crookit Horn (a different setting to that played by Angus MacColl), the Man From Glengarry and Roddy MacDonald’s Fancy.

Alan Bevan can count himself unlucky not to have been in the prize list; Ian K MacDonald and Ben Duncan might have pushed for a prize also, had it not been for their reels – Ben falling away with a rather complicated setting of Charlie’s Welcome.

Unlucky at Inverness….Alan Bevan is pictured after his success at this year’s BC Pipers’ Indoor Meet

A thought to finish is that, whilst the timing of the contest suggests it is the most popular for listeners at the Meeting, the number of competitors makes for a marathon session – spare a thought for poor old Andrew Hayes who finished the contest at 11.15 pm – over five hours after it had started, with little more than a 15 minute break half way through. 

Restricting the numbers competing, or finding a way to start earlier (how about 11 am on a Saturday?) seem to me ideas worth exploring. That should not detract from the fact that this is a contest everyone who has an interest in piping should endeavour to get to. You will not be disappointed. 

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