MacStig Previews the World Solo Drumming Championships

Some say his tap is more flim than flam, others that his top head is as thick as a brogue sole and the only thing he knows about bars is how not to pay for his round. All we know is he is our one and only MacStig and that since the season closed he’s been far too quiet…….

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First thing to say it that I have a passing interest in drumming even if some of the intricacies pass me by. It is indeed a dark art. However I can appreciate excellence and am very much interested in the mechanics of the annual WSD competition as it affects bands more generally.

It is often a bellweather for health in a drum corps and offers a glimpse of the pipeline of talent coming through the various teaching programmes.

With the RSPBA releasing the draw in the last week or so, the Editor asked me to reflect on the ramifications of the new qualifying process, which can be seen clearly with a quick scan of the names in the Adult contest.

Plenty of pre-qualified semi-finalists from the four ‘regional’ heats. Many of the big names and finalists of recent years elected to pass on the pre-qualifier rounds (three in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland) and will play from early in the morning for a place in the Semi Final.

Other prior year finalists, who under the old rules would get an automatic bye to the ‘semi’, might even argue that the nearest qualifier to them was an Atlantic Ocean away.

Before we get into the subtleties of what will be fascinating jousts, the statistics are worth more than a cursory glance. There will be 44 drummers in the heats, split over thee qualifiers, from which 18 will proceed (six from each heat) joining the 14 names already on the semi-final roster (suggesting two names are not taking up their places won in the regional qualifiers).

The entry numbers are down. There are 58 competing drummers (44 plus 14) this year, versus 72 last year (53 plus 19), which increases the chances for the pre-qualifiers considerably – although there are more than a handful of ‘prior year finalists’ in that group who would be expected to proceed, barring any major mishap.

In Heat 1, to be adjudicated by Messrs Ciaran Mourdaunt and Greg Dinsdale, we will have the eight times and current champion, Steven McWhirter on at 0924h and joined in the heat by his colleagues Daniel Luby, Chris McNicholl, and Gus Sicard, all from Inveraray & District. Steven Shedden of Glasgow Police is there too, as is Craig Laurie (after a season with SLOT), and two corps drummers from Scottish Power: Angel Tanguy and James Craig. Les Galbraith from Johnstone will close the Heat at just before 11am.

Canada’s Greg Dinsdale will judge Heat 1

Heat 2 is a scorcher too, with two more Scottish Power players kicking things off (Wesley Cole followed by Russell Esler). Fair play to Eli Fugate from the west coast of the US and a regular fixture in the final at Winter Storm, and he is joined by Eric MacNeill, the lead tip of G2 winning City of Dunedin, Florida.

A pity both are in the same qualifier. David Ross from Glasgow Police, Gavin Noade from FMM and the dynamic duo of Stephen Creighton and Mikey McKenna not only compete, they are on one after the other. Both seasoned finalists.

Ian Lawson and Arthur Cook (a past winner), both still very close to G1 bands and closer to the ‘still playing end’ rather than the ‘long retired’, will adjudicate and sort that lot out. Good luck to them.

A frequent prizewinner at the WSD, Mick McKenna of SLoT

Heat 3 has one withdrawal already, so 13 will play and may explain the semi-final split of 17 in one (with eight pre-qualified) and 15 in the other, (with six pre qualified). That’s before the tin foil hat wearers come up with better conspiracies.

In any event, the third American, Joe Fleming, makes the trip with St Thomas Alumni, as does former finalist Blair Brown of the same outfit where his brother is the lead tip (but absent).

Derek Cooper, an American enjoying Scotland under the Inveraray flag and a past finalist, closes the heat. A special mention for Lewis Taylor under the Dowco Triumph banner, for what might be the last outing for that kilt given the recent news about the band.

Matt Shaw, on the back of a good season with Ravara, also features as do two more Glasgow Police players. Paul Brown and Paul Turner will judge and decide on this one.

There are seven Inveraray drummers across the qualifiers (none in the pre-qualified slots), six Scottish Power with lead Jake Jørgensen already pre qualified. Five SLOT players with both Creighton junior and Grant Cassidy pre-qualified.

When you look at those pre-qualifiers, Vale of Atholl played well to take three berths, although all in Semi 1. Glasgow Police have three in Semi-Final 2, and eight players overall – the largest contingent from any one band.

Denny & Dunipace lead drummer Simon Grant is joined by his colleague, Ross Martin in Semi 2 as pre-qualifiers. Police Scotland Fife have two pre-qualified in Semi 1 and two players in the Qualifiers. Judges Bill Black and Stuart Coils will take Semi Final 1 with Sandy Steele and Brian Martin on Semi 2 duty.

From the lot, there will be six qualifiers from each semi final who can look forward to a further March, Strathspey & Reel and Hornpipe & Jig performance. The MSR final will start at 15.30h and run to almost 17.00h. David Brown, Greg Dinsdale, Ciaran Mordaunt and Mick O’Neill will adjudicate.

After a short break, the H/J section (run in the same order) will start at 17.20h and close at around 18.30h – yes 6.30pm. Judged by Paul Brown, Gordon Craig, Arthur Cook and Paul Turner.

World Solo Drumming Champion, Steven McWhirter

Results are usually within half an hour (we hope), and the entire Juvenile competitions in snare and tenor will be completed by 4.30pm and 5.30pm respectively. As a look to the junior contests, there are 45 tenor drummers over the five sections, with the first three in each placed and medalled. Adjudicators are Gary Smith, Sharleen Muir, Trevor Buckley, Stevie McQuillan and Niall West.

In Junior Snare, there are also five sections (first six placed and medalled), with the MSR 5 Section hosting the vast majority of players who have already transitioned to Grade 1 bands – the age cut off being the November before.

If you are arriving early and want to see some of the very best up and coming talent, Section 5 starts at 9am sharp and will run to just after 11am. Some great drumming expected and pleasing to see far travellers New Zealand Police represented by Louise Bentley, and New York Metro by Shane Stapleton from the line of Stapleton drummers and a fixture at Winter Storm in Kansas.

Amongst the group there are young guns from Glasgow Police and Scottish Power, adding to their tally of players entered. Also across junior snare and tenor, plaudits to Boghall & Bathgate drum school for getting big numbers out, just like North Lanarkshire Schools, George Watson’s and Dollar Academy.

Players from Australia, Canada, are in there too and I noticed that 78th Fraser wunderkind Blair Beaton is back in Juvenile Section 3, defending his win of last year.

He will face Kerr McQuillan of Boghall, a super prospect having mopped up in snare competitions more recently and a past tenor World Champion.

From the others in that Section 3, there are real prospects who have flashed brilliance at other contests: Callum Nelson of North Lanarkshire and Caitlyn Malloy of Dollar, and the returning past prize winner from St Thomas School, Texas, Sebastian Arguelles. If you want to watch a high jeopardy contest starting at 11.30am it is Juvenile 3. Judges Ciaran Mordaunt and Paul Turner will have to sort out that lot out and again, the very best of luck to them.

Juvenile Section 1 has 26 entrants (it is a March set contest with two heats) and the final (12) starts at 11.45am.There are 84 Juvenile drummers across the five snare sections and with 45 tenors, that brings 129 players to Glasgow for the big day.

The packed main hall for the World Adult Final

In closing, some reflections on the Adult snare contest. With overall numbers down, the acid test will be just how many of the pre-qualified semi finalists make the Final, or indeed how they rank in the semi-final placings, and just how many come through the Heat, the Semi to the Final.

If the pre-qualifier gives one advantage, it is to play later in the day, which might be helpful to some, and to win it will ‘only’ be two sessions versus a morning starter playing through three rounds. The regional heats had sporadic numbers with one having just more than the qualifying spaces available and, with three in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland.

The Overseas contingent is disadvantaged, especially those who would, under the old rules, have pre qualified as prior year finalists. I’ve raised this point before, but a competition with a qualifying berth in the North American sphere must be worth considering.

Aside from one Dowco drummer and one from California, the West Coast is mostly absent and it won’t go unnoticed that SFU has no representation this year, after many years of having competitors. Of course many of them are now under different banners, and they are perhaps considered SFU Alumni, but it is sad to see that name missing. More so, Boghall & Bathgate with an admirable, large junior contingent, but no adult players across the Heats or taking any of the Pre Qualified berths. Changed days indeed.

It will be a grand day out for those going along and the Adult Final, we hope, will be live streamed, as will the results, expected around 7pm UK time. For those arriving at 8am for a 9am start, the Adjudicators, the Stewards, the organising team and all connected, it is a blisteringly long day. To them, a thank you in advance of what I know will be a very slick competition and opportunity to see and hear some excellent playing.

A final few words about the accompanying pipers on duty for their band colleagues, friends and pupils. They are often unnoticed, but crucial to the overall outcomes. Their service is greatly appreciated, and do not for one second think the pressure is ‘off’ because it is a drumming contest. Maybe the idea of a prize for the best piper in the adult final will surface again. It would be very well deserved. A weekend away from drummers would be an ideal prize.

• World Solo Drumming Championship and International Junior Solo Tenor Drumming World Championships will take place in Glasgow Caledonian Ian University on Saturday October 20th beginning at 9am. All events are free admission apart from the Adult Final which will require a ticket priced £5, tickets available directly from the Glasgow Life Website

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