By Robert Wallace
The bands made the best of the cold, unwelcoming conditions at St James’ Playing Field last Saturday. It is an off-putting sort of place if truth be told. No trees, no shelter of any kind, motorway roar, airport roar, and otherwise lacking in character. If we are to go to the King George V playing fields in nearby Renfrew for 2020 so much the better.
The day started wet and cold, dried up and got colder. Tone and fingers suffered in every grade but before I get to my area of interest, Grade 1, what about the disparities in Grade 2’s piping results? One band gets first from piping judge A and 13th, yes 13th, from judge B. Both highly qualified and respected men; how could their opinions be so diametrically opposed?
Those who have followed my writings will know at whose door I will lay at least part of the blame for this extraordinary outcome.
If judges are arbitrarily moving about the circle can we expect them to achieve any uniformity of opinion? If judge A, whirling round one side, hears a mistake, does his neighbour ensconced on the opposite perimeter? To his ear everything is going swimmingly, he scores accordingly and immediately we have a problem.
Now that may not have been the whole story in Grade 2 on Saturday. I accept that, but as a start why not get them all sitting down facing the band so that they are hearing the same music from the same vantage point? It is a band contest after all. Why is there any need to focus on a particular section of the pipe corps at any one time?
With this, and some conferring post performance, we might avoid the embarrassing outcomes we witnessed at Paisley. Piping scores of 1/13, 12/1, 14/7, 5/10, 10/3 are disturbing to say the least. Yes, I accept that all results are subjective, one man’s meat etc., etc, but these figures point to a significant flaw in the judging modus operandi.
Bands must have confidence in those who preside over their efforts. Rogue results will always occur but is everything being done to ensure that they are kept to a minimum? Over to the Adjudicator’s Panel and the wise heads of Messrs Mathieson and Wilson.
Grade 1: here it was obvious that there was very little shuffling around. All credit to judges Worral, Rhodes and, in particular, Cameron Edgar on ensemble. He hardly moved the whole afternoon and gave his assessment from a fixed coign of vantage. Bands were guaranteed an equal listen, surely a prerequisite of all judging, particularly ensemble. I like to think that the approach these judges adopted was reflected in the final, very balanced, outcome in this grade.
For me St Laurence O’Toole were the clear winners. The bright tone from what I suppose were the new plastic chanters they have been trying out gave a lie to the dank, overcast skies – as did music that gripped from the off. I still think Stephen Creighton’s drums could be more snarey, warmer, but as a unit this band were the complete package. It was the determined approach that impressed. Not for P/M Alen Tully and Stephen safety first. It was a case of ‘let’s not die wondering’ and they belted into Lord Alex with complete conviction.
And that conviction continued through the strathspey and reel (though it should be a C taorluath to low A in Mrs MacPherson second part repeat, not D and E gracenotes). They knew they had the fingers to handle the smart tempi; they knew they had the sound. There is a confidence in this band, a confidence in their home grown talent and a confidence that is not misplaced.
Scottish Power also had a fine sound; wonderfully accurate chanters. The way they crafted the 93rd’s Farewell to Edinburgh was pipe band playing as good as you will hear, the tachum work in the later parts a model of unison, control and precision. It gladdened the heart of this listener I can tell you. Unfortunately the Power eased off the pedal in the S&R. This caution may have cost them dear.
What super playing from Boghall. I wrote last year that they had been hard done by on a couple of occasions, not even making the list when they deserved to. Well they made up for that at Paisley. Had they been first, no one could have complained.
Regular top six finishes last year and they may well have been given the ultimate accolade. When you give that little bit more from outside the list you are inevitably playing for a third or fourth. It shouldn’t happen but it does.
I have always liked Gordon Brown’s drum tone – it just blends so well with the drones. Huge kudos to P/M Ross Harvey, Gordon and the B&B pipers and drummers for sticking things out through the difficult times. The Boggies are back in the big time. Underestimate what they can achieve this season at your peril.
Field Marshal have sounded better. We’re so used to their tone being so good we’re spoilt. When it doesn’t measure up you are sort of, well, stunned. On first, it was difficult for them, but knowing all the dodges as they do it was still surprising that they failed to produce their usual arresting harmonics. The trouble was in the chanters not the drones. I watched them for a brief period in the tuning area and there was more than just a frisson of concern, with lots of tape shifting and the like. The fingering was as ever, immaculate, but I got the feeling that they knew the sound wasn’t there and this somehow affected musical delivery.
Inveraray were right up there with SLOT in terms of panache, pzazz, call it what you will. Unfortunately for P/M Liddell the day seemed to get suddenly colder just as he hit the circle and the high As and high Gs developed an unpleasant overtone, at least from where I was standing. And before I go any further I must repeat my usual caveat: I cannot possibly hear things as well as the judges in the arena. No matter where you were standing though, you had to be fixated by the brilliant hands from Stuart’s crew, and this despite the cold.
Fife Police I thought a tad fortunate to make it into the list. A good enough sound but there was an early season lack of unison and pointing, particularly noticeable in their Highland Wedding. P/M Murray will know all that and is just the man to sort it.
Of the rest, steady performances from Lomond & Clyde and Johnstone, deserving of mid table positions I thought, certainly in L&C’s case. Disappointing offerings from Shotts (sound, expression lacking) and Glasgow Police (note errors). Both can do much, much better.
PSNI and Skye are Grade 1 status bands make no mistake, but the MSR discipline exposed weaknesses in technique and unison. Don’t despair; it’s early days and both can be improved with hard work and – of paramount importance – concentration on the day.
1 SLOT 2 Inveraray 3 Boghall 4 S Power 5 FM 6 L&C
1 SLOT 2 S Power 3 Inveraray 4 Boghall 5 FM 6 Fife Police
- Read MacStig’s take on Grade 2 here. Like to comment on the Editor’s opinions? Please do so below. More on Grade 1 later as we continue our unparalleled coverage of the first band major of the season.