MacStig Takes a Look Back At Some Highlights of 2018

Some say that winter is just too long without this guy. Well, ever responsive to the needs of our readers we tracked him down to one of the shiftier hang outs on the Spanish Main. We found him sipping – well you don’t really don’t want to know (whatever he says below), and there he sat in the tartan budgie smugglers (photo on application). And you will be pleased to know that between quaffs and laughs we got him scribbling again….

A balmy island in the Caribbean where seldom is heard the sound of auld Scotia… I shake the sand from my brogues, sip an ice cold tea, the year approaches its closing bars….

‘Closing bars’ was enough to set my mind back to that nippy call from the editor a few days ago. I had journeyed to to all the Majors, a few Minors, and a few concerts to boot, he said. 

Why not hammer out a few warm words for the freezing masses back in Blighty? I didn’t know you cared, says I, and now here I am at last setting aside the Ray-Bans and loading paper into the battered Remington…….

What a year we had, with the suspense of the Grade 1 World Final held to the very last nano second and, despite decoy BBC camera crews, there was a high degree of ‘will they, won’t they’, the ‘they’ dependant upon which band you happened to favour.

It could have been perhaps one of three, but wasn’t that close in the end on the score sheets, which many of you pour over in the aftermath looking for all sorts of things, secret messages, favourites, non-favourites, partisanship and more besides. ‘Twas ever thus and ’twill ever be. The ‘X Files’ and all that. 

St Thomas’ Episcopal School semi-submerged in flood water

On my own beat over in the world of Grade 2, it was no less thrilling, although the final contest was well flagged by many commentators as the two biggest US bands came into town, St Thomas Alumni from Houston, Texas and City of Dunedin from Florida.

That St Thomas recovered from the devastation of the hurricane related surge flooding in Autumn 2017, is testament to the robustness of the school the band emanated from, the strength of character of those concerned and is a real credit to them.

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Second in the World Championships and remaining in Grade 2 for the 2019 season, we can welcome them back, probably with a few more graduates of the school band, and what is a strong teaching programme, augmented with so many very good players from further afield. 

St Thomas Alumni, Houston, Texas

What can I say about Iain Donaldson and Eric MacNeill’s Dunedin that hasn’t already been said?

Thousands of miles traveled to take the Maxville, North American, title and a week or so later flip over the UK time for the Worlds.

Some eyebrows raised when they qualified sixth from their heat, but it was no matter, and they wanted the sound to be at its best several hours later.

I know they had been practising at the same times as the Heat and Final during the week running into the big one; that’s what you call preparation.

A world title, and a lengthy celebration back at home with parades and the city honouring the P/M – they really know how to recognise a win in Dunedin.

No issues with a parade as the local cops acted as a guard and escorted them. Brilliant for all of those in the band, the families and friends connected, and a strong example set to the hundred or more youths players in the Dunedin High School system – yes another strong teaching programme with first class facilities. Backed by a local charity and yielding results.

City of Dunedin, Florida, G2 World Champions and since promoted to G1 by the EUSPBA

There was no upgrade from the grading committee of the RSPBA before the year end, although the home EUSPBA duly upgraded Dunedin to G1.

The band is not expected to be in Scotland this coming summer though, and there is a mark of experience in not simply rushing to the Grade 1 Worlds’ contest after one winter.

One thing for sure is those warm Florida days between October and March, before the even warmer ones of April to September, give great practice conditions versus those in band halls and other facilities in the northern edge of Europe where we deal with dreichness, illness, coughs, colds and all.

It is rather too early to say how 2019 will pan out, but I expect the Grade 1 contests attended in the North American arenas will feature Dunedin on the prize list. 

For the more locally based heroes, much has changed since the season ended a few short months ago. It was almost more active than the football season transfer windows, and maybe Big Rab should do a live programme like Sky Sports with all the possible moved and counter moves.

I’ll deal with those a little later, but suffice to say the merry go round started and probably hasn’t finished just yet.

I really enjoyed the MacCals Centenary concert in the run up to the outdoor season proper and it did, as predicted, give them a flying start in the first few Majors.

Their best season for sure and a fitting way for the P/M to end his stint on the front right of the band. In comes the former P/M of Lomond & Clyde, having taken them up the ranks into Grade 1, and resolving his significant traveling commute by now leading a band near his place of work and living.

L&C in Grade 1 had a few changes too that are well documented. Our friends at ManorC, Closkelt and Ravara will also be raring to go after their 2018 season and will be in the mix for sure.

Add to that a couple falling out of Grade 1 to Grade 2 and some very interesting changes at Uddingston-Strathclyde where Grant Cassidy left St Laurence after a few seasons, and picks up the mantle from his old man, having placed in the top six in the World Solos.

Super show from Grant Cassidy now of Uddingston Strathclyde taking fifth at the WSD

That will be a draw for some up an comers for sure. The North Lanarkshire Schools’ programme graduates might well see that as a great place to learn.

Those are the catch up headlines from the grade but some further observations on the wider pipe band world to follow tomorrow.

Over and out – until mañana.

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