Grade 2 UK Pipe Band Championship Review

By MacStig

Grim, grey, wet and well worn, that’s our intrepid MacStig, not Lurgan. Well, maybe both……. 

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Victorian Public Parks with low lying aspects, in small towns with limited infrastructure, where one bus can block the main arterial street and a gilet jaune in a rain mac, waving arms, is the central control – what could possibly go wrong? The weather was the literal dampener in this one and why a Major is in a smaller regional town is utterly baffling.

I hear the adjudicators stayed overnight near Stormont. Oh how the hallowed (and well drained) turf of Stormont Cricket Club was sorely missed. The thought of a few years back here in Lurgan is unappealing.

By the late afternoon the Grade 2 arena was a ploughed field as bands schlepped up and down the mire. Before the off, the stewards brought in ‘Tom the Tractor’ (below) with buckets of mulch to be raked at the line to try and stop front rankers going missing in action before reaching the circle. The decision to cut Massed Bands and go with a shortened process was a good one. In the irony of such washout contests, the sun shone as the results were announced. 

Being an early arriver, I managed to tuck the jalopy somewhere in the Windsor Street approach and get in the side gate. It’s a public park, picturesque in the sun I’m sure, but the fountain only added insult to weather injury.

Relieved of £5 and there it was Lurgan Park: the water was high, and indeed wide, facilities somewhat limited with one coffee vendor (good stuff) and what seemed like an open barbecue that was sending smoke signals across the arena. I swear one said, ‘save me, I’m drowning!’

The lower field (for the lower grades), was a swamp and I suspect is below the park’s pond level. Again I commiserated with the ice cream vendor and the parents getting their drum major kids ready with polythene bags over their hose as splatter guards. Ah, the joys. 

And whilst I’m at the rant about competition peeves, people who talk through performances remain and continue to attend. Why? Then there are those who leave dog mess. Some owners don’t bother and, like most places, some do and some doo doo. Disgusting. 

After watching a very decent Juvenile grade which was over by around 10.35am, job done by the teenagers, back to bus for their social media fest no doubt – albeit a healthy crowd had gathered, not least Big Rab over the other side of Arena 1, staking his claim for position for the Grade 1 later.



I was grateful of the respite in a tearoom up the street where circulation and warmth came back into my hands. I’ll tell you something, had I been playing out there it would have been carnage with cold hands. Hats off to the dexterity of those youngsters in the ghastly conditions. I wonder if adjudicator handwriting on sheets deteriorates in poor weather. But ‘good attack’ always looks the same anyway. 

On to the Grade 2 performances and in general a wake up call. Pipe Majors, for heavens sake acknowledge the Ensemble judge before you get going. Having the learned judge hollering across the circle, as he had to do for a couple of bands, is not ideal. A campaign to reinstate the old about to ‘go’ – salute to the Ensemble judge starts here. Please. It demonstrates respect and that you are ready. 

As a header, Closkelt won in Paisley and I had them in the book as the likely lads and lasses if the same sound turned up. A smaller in number band, but hold that thought.


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First off Colmcille, a tidy sounding band, drew Set 1 (as did many). It was a deliberate tempo to start and they probably got the worst of the dreich weather pattern as they launched forth with Highland Wedding – it was more like Highland Spring on the ground. Then the first of the Maggie Camerons of the day and there would be more. Also Susan, Dora and Cecily too. I thought the strathspey pulsed along but the pipes lost the drums for about half a bar at one stage. They finished 12th of the 15 bands (9 10 14 13). They might be dry by Thursday. 

Drawing Set 1 too, Ravara looked up for the cup. Samuel Connolly’s sound is clear and clean. It held well and as a whole package. I thought this was the one to beat. Lord Alexander Kennedy was very strong, pitfalls avoided. Nicely played through and a strong, bold transition to the lesser played Tulloch Castle. The tone stayed and the blowing was mostly strong with the only signs of fatigue in the early part of the reel. Coaxing from the P/M got them there. One in my book as a silver winner. Scores of 3 4 2 2 nailed them second on the day and as close as it gets. 

Set 1 drawn again, third up and a long way from home, North Stratton of Canada didn’t seem to grab matters with 93rd Highlanders Farewell to Edinburgh. It was less pacy than I would have hoped, although the video recording from the RSPBA on Twitter had it moving along. The Shepherd’s Crook seemed more on a steady level than Loud, Soft, Medium, Soft. It wasn’t their day and conditions were awful. Fair play for getting over though, and a very welcome name in the running order. 15 12 12 14 unfortunately took them to last in the grade. 

Another Set 1 out the bag of what seemed to hold only number 1 and the dozen or so pipers of Closkelt blew my wet socks off with the attack and David Ross of Rosehall showing off the sound and dexterity immediately. I wrote that they ‘were in business’. Students of the art might compare their Tulloch Castle with Ravara’s on the RSPBA YouTube channel.

Closkelt on way to victory at Lurgan

Cecily Ross picked up and ran to the finish. This performance had usurped Ravara in my book (1 1 3 1) with drumming only behind surprise drumming winners Islay and second placed drum corps Ravara. Piping in my view would not be beaten. 

More strong piping followed from Royal Burgh of Annan, a new addition to the grade, but a high quality outfit. Mrs John McColl was a go getter, not without a few minor things and a boom boom bass, but their Maggie Cameron danced where Colmcille’s hadn’t been so fleet of foot – compare the two if you get a chance via the online offering. On the prize list at 5th by Ensemble Preference, yet away back from 4th place. More to come I think. (8 6 7 5). 18 or more pipers and noticeably so. 

From the North East of Scotland and the only representative from that area, Buchan Peterson had the bit of shouting from the Ensemble Judge pre another number one set. John MacDonald of Glencoe it was and they eventually clicked in and settled. The weather was brightening but under foot conditions verged on dangerous. The mulch delivered earlier was now mush and the steady parade of bands were creating plough lanes. Not the best I’ve heard BP and the drum corps wasn’t as settled as usual. I thought the snares light at times. (5 5 9 7) and sixth overall, but on the list. They also won best band on parade. 

Mackenzie Caledonia looked serious in the long march in. Determined with a sharp sense of focus. I had mentioned in my preview that they are, as a band, exemplars in the March, Strathspey and Reel discipline. So it was to be, although from my vantage point I thought the rolls were not as confident as they could have been. Ensemble was tight and mixed well and I didn’t get any hint of trouble in the back line other than a bit of leading in the reel. I had them just behind Ravara in third, but what do I know. They were fourth overall, second in a combined piping aggregate, but that was overturned by an 11th in drumming (2 2 11 3). Improving fast though. 

New Ross often turbo powered by a strong percussion section didn’t get going and seemed lethargic. Tired even. It had been a long wait and the conditions foul, and had probably taken their toll. (14 14 10 11) and one from last. I’m not sure what was going on but I’ve heard them better and with more ‘oomph’. No doubt they will be trying to find that for next time out. 

New Ross, ploughing on but not their day

Manorcunningham also drew Set 1 for those who follow the probabilities of how long a ‘1’ can come out of a bag. John MacDonald of Glencoe again and was nicely done with a very rich sound holding well, if not to the end of the set. Susan McLeod followed and Mrs MacPherson was there in her permanent place of Inveran. In the mix for me, but not a Closkelt or Ravara nailed on top end score today. (4 3 5 4) for 3rd overall and all departments just about equal. They are improving steadily and the set was well delivered. 

Kilchoman, Isle of Islay got up to the line and sadly the local partisan support had all but disappeared with few listening in. As they set off it became obvious that the circle and its approach was a quagmire. Not easy to negotiate with soaking wet feet, slippery ground and a very sensitive instrument attached to you. They had drawn, drum roll, Set 1 too. The Highland Weddjng was a corker and the drumming in Caber Feidh became my focus. The riskiest drum score of the day, but well played and may well have led to their surprising first place. I had them in the mix perhaps but hadn’t thought of a drumming win. Overall (10 9 1 12) not enough to get on the list, but a glimmer for them to build on. I always enjoy their playing as they never leave you wondering. 

After hearing a very strong March Strathspey and Reel at Glasgow Green last August, and a decent run elsewhere, I had high hopes for Worcester Kiltie, who drew Set 2. So it was there all along. I sensed a sag in the shoulders and perhaps not really their ‘number 1’ set as the prospect of Highland Wedding, Dora MacLeod and another John Morrison of Assynt House was passed over for opener Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band which to my ears didn’t seem to ever get going. It was a bit like pulling a weight along and I had expected more freedom from them.

Squelch, squelch, Worcester Kilties at the line

I thought the bass drum tone was a little flat but with weather, moisture and travel it might have been bang on (if you pardon the pun) just minutes before the start. (13 13 6 15). The Ensemble score was an ouch but they also failed to acknowledge the judge and he had to stop them starting. I’m sure we all very much appreciate the WK effort to be in Northern Ireland.

The second of the Royal Burgh’s and Stirling marched up through the mud. I meant to write earlier that the drumming judge had hiking boots on. Quite right too – saved the ‘ghillies’. As I said last week. I like the overall mix of this band and they should be pressing further up the list. Drumming aside for a moment, where they took fourth, the sound isn’t locked in and there are transition challenges here and there plus a bit of freelancing. (12 15 4 10). 10th. 

With a dozen down and three to play, Oliver Brownlow led a more confident looking Scottish Fire & Rescue Services in as players watched their step on the glaur. This was good stuff and much more upbeat from the blue lighters, really going for it in tempo terms in Links of Forth. Not without issues but a much more commanding presence than I’ve seen from them. More of the same please and the standings will improve further. The finished 11th (10 11 15 8), rewarded with a very good mid table Ensemble score. 

Oban cracked on too, no messing around and maybe a ferry to catch. Numbers were consistent although drumming will have given them pause for thought, (7 7 13 6) for eighth on Ensemble Preference and not a kick in the pants off 7th. They are within striking range of silverware.

Closing out the grade with the longest wait of the day, Uddingston Strathclyde. On a good day the late draw is often a tremendous advantage, whereas here, it was a significant challenge for the sound. The tone was better than at Paisley, those short weeks away. More to come from them as the repertoire builds and they begin to play like a more oiled machine. 6, 8, 8, 9 for seventh and hitting the bar of what would have been first silver for them in the grade post promotion. 

In summary, I was agreeable to the outcomes as announced, albeit only Islay looked more surprised at winning drumming than I did. But win it they did and elsewhere it was good to see the piping scores fairly well matched, with only one or two minor placings differences. 

Observations:

  1. A gazebo moving across the field of its own accord as if by magic.
  2. The dumper truck delivering mulch to stop drownings. 
  3. A nice touch to acknowledge North Stratton and Worcester with a presentation. 
  4. A stage more akin to a heavy metal concert than the deadpan tone of Ian Embleton. 
  5. Stephen McWhirter lifting the Novice Juvenile A trophy for his Dollar charges. 
  6. The ducks left at 10.30am – too wet. 

Over and out.



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3 thoughts on “Grade 2 UK Pipe Band Championship Review

  1. Totally agree with MacStig but I feel that we have to be fair to the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council who staged the event.
    They won the bid for the event fair and square – others I assume got the same chance and didn’t come up to the mark for whatever reason.
    Lurgan Park is a super venue and it or the majority of others are not as good as Stormont and never will be because it is in a unique category as it combines sporting, leisure and office space car parking spaces [which are for the 1000s of civil servants who work there].
    The weather on the day, and sadly in the days leading up to it, was horrendous leaving the council and the RSPBA in a situation that they could only make the best of a bad situation – which in fairness they did.
    Something worth noting about Stormont – while I don’t know what the conditions were like there on the day I do know that when it rained there a few days before the area normally used for the contests was flooded indeed as someone who worked there for many years I actually saw that area become a lake after half an hours heavy rain. There was no guarantee Stormont would have been any better on the day although being level it probably would have been to some degree.
    Glasgow Green is a great venue but days of constant rain don’t exactly help it either.
    Sadly pipe band contest,s and indeed many others, as outdoor events are subject to the vagaries of the weather and unfortunately whether it is climate change related or not there will be many more similar days ahead.
    Congratulations to all the bands who struggled through the day and lets hope that there are not too many more ahead of us.

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