Review of the 2018 World Solo Drumming Championships

Thank you MacStig! Email him at originalmacstig@gmail.com

Some say Spanish omelettes are less colourful than his hose, yet more say he can scramble a hornpipe with the best of them. Others, that his  crescendo finish can’t come soon enough. All we know is that he was in the corridors of the World Solo Drumming Championships yesterday listening to the chat and the playing. He is, of course, MacStig…….

Having cut short a sojourn in the windswept isles of white sand and windburn, it was back from the Inner Hebrides, not Barbados, through Argyll, avoiding the ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ a road which after extensive flooding is again resting and demonstrating the baseball rule of ‘three strikes and you are out’. The locals are gritting their teeth again and dealing with a near 70 mile diversion.

Having arrived early and followed the advice to dine at breakfast like a king, it was to Coia’s, a 90-year-old establishment in Duke Street, where you can never go wrong and they refer to a Glasgow salad as a bowl of chips. Who doesn’t love this city on a balmy autumnal Saturday?

There were no horrors in this World Solo Drumming Championship, other than the temperature difference from the street to the qualifier performance rooms. I’m sure that created initial challenges for the accompanying pipers. The open window policy eventually created equilibrium part of the time, but the overflow pollution of warming up noise on the other floors will leave me with low-level tinnitus of rat a tats for a few days. As an aside, I use ear defenders. Defence against drummers.

I looked in on the cream of the Juvenile MSR contest (Section 5), which was off early and had the young guns of the Grade 1 and the top Juveniles. All under 19, given the cut off date, and just older than 17. More commentary will follow. Juvenile 4 had some shining examples of excellent rudiment execution and musicality too. More of that later too.

Finalist Craig Laurie

The Adult heats (a drawn March Strathspey & Reel) – all three rooms had ebb and flow spectator attendance and on a few occasions the judges outnumbered the fans. Too bad for those coming all this way to face two judges, tumbleweed, and not qualifying. The big names had their regular camp followers of course and perhaps some others looking on for big shocks. None was forthcoming at this stage.

Overall the stars shone, qualified, and the cohort making up the rest of the Adult field, who fell at the first hurdle, ranged from a few who were close (and probably better than some semi final pre-qualifiers) and those who would be done over by the best of the Juvenile 3, 4 and 5 crews. It really is time to consider one Graded contest, cut the phoney ‘war’ in some of the Juvenile grades, and those Adult competitors simply playing for 6 or 7 minutes to then pack up and watch the rest of the day. They would get a better chance of a prize in a grade more appropriate to their ability.

For instance the Juvenile 3 contest was quite electric at times and the top handful could hack it in the Grade 1 ranks. Three do. In there was a 6, 8, 6 part March Strathspey and Reel from one (the winner), an Atholl Cummers that was excellent from another and a Cameronian Rant that probably sealed the high placing for a third player. In Juvenile 5 most already are Grade 1, so that’s a given.

The Adult Qualifiers from the three heats (only in order of heat playing): Luby, McWhirter, Shedden, Lawrie, McNicholl, Siccard, Fugate, McKenna, Creighton, Noade, MacNeill, Ross, MacKenzie, Orr, Brown, Shaw, Cooper, Edwards. All added to the pre qualifiers.

They produced 12 finalists;(in no order): Gavin Noade, Gareth McLees*, Jake Jørgensen*, Craig Laurie, Derek Cooper, Grant Cassidy*, Blair Brown, Steven McWhirter, Michael McKenna, Gavin Orr, Jason Hoy* and Eric MacNeill (*denotes pre qualified to semi – 4 players). For those who enjoy random statistics – two FMM, three SLoT, three I’ray, one Scot Pwr, one Vale, one Dunedin, one St Thomas.

Super show from Grant Cassidy of SLoT in taking fifth

In populating that Adult final, one observation is that many are professional musicians, teachers, or tutors of some description. As I’ve said before, the hobbyist has no real chance against these Cool Hand Luke’s. The rise of the professional drummer is yielding more names than ever before, where the late great Alex Duthart led the way and others followed. And he would have argued convincingly that it wasn’t his full-time occupation.

As an aside, it was also good to see Drew Duthart with his 78th Frasers protegé, the young Blair Beaton playing and sweeping the cup in Juv 3 again. With more formal and organised teaching going on than ever, through bands, schools, and the Piping and Drumming Trust funds, the graduates of the Conservatoire and other programmes have more teaching income to run at than ever. I do worry about a peak though, but that’s another line of thinking for another day.

On equipment, the finalists Andante’s were pinpoint accurate. There were a few Pearls in the mix earlier in the day, but I thought the black Evans head on the SLoT and Premier man Creighton’s drum, he of the distinctive right hand slap stroke, was the best set for indoors. He did look less relaxed than his usual self in the qualifier. Easily through to the semi final though and notably wearing an old school sling.

Steven McWhirter of Inveraray a true ‘great’

The Semi Finals – of which I could only watch one, saw most of the 14 pre qualified names fail to advance (10 of 14). Something to note. A few of those who didn’t make it from the qualifiers to the semi final should really think about these pre-qualified places next year as they were up the calibre of some of those waiting in the berths having secured them way back in time. In my view, previous year finalists should be straight into the semi-final. And a North American qualifier event is a must. Easier said than done but better brains than mine could find a way.

And now on to that final. The auditorium was set and mercifully cool, the live streaming underway and no real surprises at the names featured. Maybe the absence of Glenholmes or Creighton Sr., noted. It was a reasonably big crowd, not a full seat sell out for sure, but with other contests still running until the early evening, understandable.

Just over an hour for the March, Strathspey and Reel and I’ll let statisticians and analysts sort out the most played tunes. But you’ll guess them in any event. The grand finale Hornpipe & Jig sets were a pleasing end to a long day and the race to the finish was well and truly on. The new format of a double of each was a good way to showcase, and showcase they did from Moving Cloud, Duckin’ & Divin’, Bonni’s Blue Brozzie and several more. More transitions and more content – great for the fans but riskier for the players.

In the gap to the results announcement (at 7.20pm) a reflection on the logistics to make this event work. Significant, from the ever-present Wilma Dalziel on the welcome desk and making sure those trophies and certificates were just so for the last time, and a fitting presentation was made. To the whole stewarding team, a significant working day for the army of Adjudicators and the Score Compilers – no mean feat. Then the Social Media team – getting early footage out on Twitter and results announcements. Neatly guided by President John Hughes and the endearingly deadpan of Mr Embelton. All great stuff and credit to those I’ve missed, too many to mention.

Kevin Rogers pipes for third place Mick McKenna

With the Juvenile Champions in Tenor and Snare winners announced (more from that later), the plaudits were fulsome and loud as the announcement of Steven McWhirter as the 2018 World Solo Drumming Champion was made as darkness had fallen on the city of Glasgow. In the new look Final with those who are the young Turks coming through, there was breakthrough for Grant Cassidy, the man who shot through the Juvenile Grades taking every trophy in succession, 5th, and a real step forward for him. Also a very solid day for Michael McKenna in Third (with three 1s out of 8) and second place for Gareth McLees, scoring 2s and 3s, but for one 6. Jake Jørgensen made it into the top six too in 4th. Blair Brown a regular feature in finals made up the 6.

Who now would bet against a further extended run for Steven McWhirter? He scored (1151) in the MSR (yes a 5th) and (3123) in the H&J – his combined score of 17 was well ahead of young McLees on 22 and McKenna on 23. Fourth and fifth were some way behind in 40 and 48 points respectively. Nine World titles, eight consecutively and only Jim Kilpatrick or Alex Duthart would have known and experienced the pure pressure of staying on top that long. It is impressive when a reigning champion defends, because no one else has anything to lose. More remarkable is the consistency over eight years. Steven McWhirter is a ‘great’, it is as simple as that.

Finally, the pipers who stood there and delivered, many for multiple players with multiple sets from early morning. I salute them all, including one trio of girls on pipes, snare and tenor. So my piping ‘man of the match’ is Matt Wilson the new Pipe Sergeant of FMM – I lost count of his sets including those as stand in for a Ravara tenor drummer and a Juvenile snare then running hard to fit in his colleague and finalist Gavin Noade. Simply mind-blowing to have delivered all of that for 10 hours. The other pipers are all deserving of a few days away from drummers. Glenfiddich beckons. The liquid, not the competition.

That was the day that was. The 2018 World Solo Drumming Championships. In my mind the jury is out on the Regional Qualifiers, some of which were poorly attended by competitor numbers. If those taking the slots mostly fail to progress, that gives rise to further questions. It would be interesting to hear from the drummers about the pros and cons of them, like getting the sets entered early, or alternatively the stress and strain of playing all the way from early morning. Looking at the top 12 standing in the corridor during the results segment, they all looked exhausted, but it was getting on for 7.30pm after all.

On the drive in the old jalopy westward, much to consider and further will follow on the standard of the Juvenile contests. Now where is that 70 mile detour? I’ll soon be Resting and Thankful. Over and Out.


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