Whistlestop Tour of the Grade 2 Action over the Weekend

By MacStig

‘The best laid plans o’ mice and men, gang aft agley’…… It had been my intention to be in Banchory for the thrilling regional Grade 2 competition featuring the best of the North East. Like a bad joke about getting directions in Dublin – ‘if I was going there I wouldn’t be starting from here’, the journey overland from western parts to Banchory was too far in the time available, but Dundee was just about do-able for mid day.

The answer in future, a faster vehicle or removal of average speed cameras on the road. The sunshine had brought out cars, bikes, and motorcycles galore and the ‘dawdlers’. Dawdlers with nowhere in particular to go and a constant 45 mph. In a 50 or 45, in a 60, and 30 in a 45. 

I had read the Piping Press update from Ards and the big day for Ravara in G2 and Manorcunningham a close second. And I do hope Closkelt has the registration issue resolved for Paisley. Further, the contest in Dunbar had only yielded a win for Royal Burgh of Stirling with no other G2 band present. 

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With a sunny blustery start in the amphitheatre of the Caird Hall Square, adjacent to the Desperate Dan statue in the City of Dundee, I landed for the well attended competition. On a good dry day it is a picturesque venue with parking and amenities in all directions.

It was almost, dare I say it in the current political climate, European, with pavement cafes around the area. Local band attendance was good with the silverware winners in respective grades from last year, Mac Cals debuting their new P/M and roster in their Grade 2 band and Grade 3 cohort too. Then we had the young maestros of Dollar Academy parading three bands in different grades and others from this far flung Branch: St Andrews, Arbroath, Lochgelly et al. 

I arrived in time to pick up the Grade 4A/Nov Juv A contest just before the break for lunch. Aside from the hard bounce of sound from the granite paving, and echo if you stand in the wrong part of the square, it is becoming quite a draw for not only camp followers, but also those who happen to be in the city for other reasons too. And in the new scrubbed up Dundee there are many reasons to be there. I did manage to convince an American visitor that this kind of thing happens all the time, as they couldn’t believe the Brigadoonery unfolding before their Yankee eyes.

Before getting into what I heard and a brief report of this pre-Paisley run out and warm up, the Army presence was evident all around the square and good to see that link between the city’s local regiments at play. Some lunch break entertainment with Highland dancers and sunny enough to be al fresco.

Dollar Academy, competing at Dundee

The 4A/Novice A competition was a March, Strathspey & Reel, and the band slated to play last won the grade. Led by Callum Beaumont, his Dollar Academy Band, the strong second string to Matt Wilson’s Juvenile crew, came out in brisk fashion delivering an accomplished performance. I could see the P/M in earnest discourse with his charges afterwards going through the points and heard the school had about 20 debutants at the event. 

In Grade 3 the Mac Cals 3 and Vale of Atholl were the best to my ears and the former looks like a band with youth and experience. Almost a Juvenile band with some mentors. Very good sound indeed. 

The main event for me, the Medley contest in Grade 2, had lost City of Discovery before the start, given away by the P/M watching on in ‘civvies’. With Arbroath playing up from Grade 3 and Dollar Academy Juvenile joining David Wilton’s Mackenzie Caledonia, it would be a quick grade. For those unaware of the ‘playing up’ protocol, entered bands can play one grade up from their registered level. It also means ‘Juvenile’ is equivalent to Grade 3, but hold that thought. 

The Mac Cal 2 is a big band, and I reckoned 16 or 17 pipers accompanied by a wider back line and mid section than last year. It was full of intent and although regular readers will know of my less than glowing thoughts on harmonies generally, there were some clever parts. It just needs a bit more polish and I thought wandered a bit running into the slow air. The direction of travel is clever though, but not a big foot tapper for my very simplistic taste.

Arbroath Grade 3, playing up and assured of a cheque, were of their grade and delivered a more traditional medley. Good job and they will have benefited from the run. 

I don’t know what they have in the water at Dollar Academy but here was another season with another new Juvenile band being marched on by school tutor and FMM Pipe Sergeant Matt Wilson. A clever tactic they have used before in their Medley is playing a well known march intro and breaking into simple but effective harmony at the turn in. It works big time.

The transition break out of the slow air was brave and could have given lesser fingers issues, but the quality of hands here is beyond years. It finished on a dime and but for the fact it was youngsters marching off, it was something a top Grade 2 contest would hear.

The thought of this being Grade 3 equivalent is nonsensical. These young adults are worth listening to if you happen to be in Paisley next weekend. Just listen to the tone, the drone sound and, watch the hands. In probably the headline result of the weekend, they won the grade and edged the Mac Cals, a big name talked of as a likely silverware winner and almost upgraded to Grade 1 last month. Fascinating. 

Now to the North East, Aberdeenshire, where circumstances, a bit of seat swapping and coming and going on the local scene gave rise to Buchan Petersen downgraded from G1, the arrival of the new ‘Highland Granite’ band which was registered in Grade 2, promotion of Portlethan from Grade 3, and the disappearance of Grampian Police, whilst Bucksburn & District stood firm in Grade 2.

Gone….Grampian Police

Like the G2 cluster in the Island of Ireland (Closkelt, ManorC and Ravara) the three NE bands had their chance over the weekend too. Don’t confuse Granite City which played in Grade 4B (placed second) and Highland Granite though. All three of Buchan, Portlethan and Bucksburn scored eight points in the G2 contest with PortL winning on Ensemble Preference and Buchan second on EP over B’burn. In Grade 1 Portlethan again won over Buchan. 

And finally, to Gourock where the rain was absent for a change and the Grade 2 had newly promoted Royal Burgh of Annan and Uddingston Strathclyde, plus a host of G3 bands playing up, and Oban G2 in the same field as Oban High School.

Uddingston Strathclyde, winners of Grade 2 at Gourock

Interesting to note Annan’s intent on the draw to play up to Grade 1 after promotion to Grade 2 and mixing with the ‘Champions League’ names – they didn’t though. Uddingston took the Grade 2 and won the drumming, but Annan placed 1 1 in Piping, setting them both up well for Paisley. 

If you throw all of that up in the air, turn around twice and quickly say ‘Alex Duthart’ three times, you might well arrive at the outcome for the Grade 2 British Championship at Paisley. Then again you can wait to read the exclusive preview on PP later in the week. 

To close, congratulations to everyone who got out there on the grass (pavement in Dundee) this past weekend, and it is a sure fire sign that the season is underway. 

In passing, I hear that the RSPBA’s digital team will be filming/recording Grade 1 and 2, releasing the first minute of each band as they roll through the running order, and the full recordings will be released quite quickly thereafter.

That is a herculean effort and is the best way for the Association to stay ahead of the publication and rights curve. What absentees of the event will no doubt miss is the live-streaming of the results segment and Twitter will have to do. Over and out.

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