By the Editor
To the capital of the Highlands for the European Pipe Band Championships, the third ‘major’ of the season. The Friday was a blistering, boiling day. We pulled off the A9 for refreshment. Into the Carrbridge Hotel to find, serendipitously, adjudicator Robert Mathieson and, eventually, his colleagues Bob Worrall and John Wilson.
They were all looking forward to the Championship, talking excitedly about the prospect of hearing some good playing. I say this to those social media voices ever ready to stick daggers and other things into your judges: don’t kill their enthusiasm. These are experts in the field. Be glad that you have them officiating. Measure your comments accordingly.
We left the three worthies and in cooling temperatures hit the Sneck. Out for dinner and there was Kenny MacLeod with the boys from Annan all set for a good run in G2. They weren’t all called Cowan – thankfully – but who can discount the contribution that that clan has made, and continues make, in the land ‘tween Solway and Sawney Bean?
Inverness: south to north, walk across the main bridge of Ness of an evening and cast your eyes up right and left. Legoland in a grey coat. A beautiful river, a mock-passable castle, trees and vernacular architecture to lean on yet this was the best the town planners could come up with?
The morrow and the G1 contest at vast Bught Park. I was back after 53 years and the Worlds 1966. That year we slept in Cameron Barracks and won the Juvenile; Muirheads won Grade 1, the second of their five in a row and wearing their new Inverness tartan, or was that ’67? The old Bught stand was the same. G2 and G1 played in front maybe 30 yards distant and only yards apart.
Now, when doing these reports I usually add the caveat about my not being as close to the action as the judges etc, etc. Well the caveat this time is huge. I couldn’t get near.
The sun shone for the start of the grade. Picnickers were ten deep at the G1 arena perimeter. I opted for the stand – a mistake. I simply could not hear the detail from there. It poured from half way through the contest; the sandwich brigade fled. The way to the barrier was clear but should I move? To be fair to all bands, early ons and late, I had to stay where I was.
As the afternoon wore on it was clear G1 and G2 arenas were far too close together. The aural overspill made a stand seat a waste of time for the serious listener. Not that there were many around me. They talked incessantly. Cup the ears and you got something, but not a lot. My usual focus is the piping. This time it had to be the overall effect, the ensemble. I got a superabundance of drumming.
Boghall should have won it. I said after Paisley that there was no limit to what they could achieve this season. It was no surprise to me that they made second at Inverness. They were the only band that came close to an acoustic balance, the Boggies.
SLOT, FMM not far behind. But Steven’s drums? – more snare please! Gordon [Brown] on the other had has that mellow skin resonance which works so well with the drones. Not only that but Ross Harvey’s really worked this band into a cohesive unit, confident in its delivery and fearing no one. Nor should they. This band could easily win the Worlds they are that good. Who would deserve it more? They just have to clamp up the noisy PR guy and the road to the top is clear!
Yes SLOT were good but those drums did for me. Field Marshal? Two firsts for piping. I can’t comment; I wasn’t close enough, but from those stats Richard’s band is coming good at the right time. I did hear that much. They got hammered on drumming unfortunately but remember Glasgow Green last year when from nowhere they took the big one? Their result will once more ignite the debate: how can a band win piping twice and lose a pipe band contest?
Inveraray. Goodness me they won the competition and I haven’t even mentioned them yet. Again I would have to say that the crashing drums and booming bass took the edge off their musical impact – from where I was sitting.
I heard them in the tuning park beforehand. Those doublings in Argyllshire Gathering were a peach and I was impressed with the way Stuart Liddell let his top players fiddle about with tape and tuning. There are so many accomplished players in his outfit that the P/M can relax, can think about the tempos and breaks. Smooth playing? It slipped past like half a dozen Loch Fyne oysters. A second Worlds beckoning? Stuart is pictured (top) proudly holding the Euros trophy.
The Power? Too much power in their ‘mid section’ and snare line overemphasis. I did hear enough from the piping to be assured that this was a full-on MSR. No easing off as there was at Paisley. Discount this band for the Scottish and Worlds at your peril. Impressive sound from the pipes.
Lower end: Fife Police did not have a tone – chanters sounded sharp on F, high A and B. Shotts a shade fortunate getting sixth but well done to Emmet Conway on his first G1 prize in charge of this iconic band. More work needed getting pipes and drums on the same beat.
Lomond and Clyde were again in my list. Professional tempos; slick breaks; concentration. Don Bradford has whipped this band into shape in jig time. I was surprised at their lowly showing, but then I couldn’t hear the detail could I? No MSR improvement since Paisley from PSNI, Glasgow Police, Glasgow Skye or Johnstone, but remember that caveat.
Judges? Plaudits for Jennifer Hutcheon on Ensemble. She held her ground throughout and, I’m told, even chastised a few spectators behind her for talking! Well done Jen! Piping judges Donald MacPhee and Tony Sloane moved about, side to side, front to back, Tony slowly, Donald rapid. Sometimes they were packed left, other times right.
Can someone explain the rationale behind this random parading of the clipboard? Didn’t the brass band lady think this strange? But these are experienced men; they have their own way of doing things and at least Tony and Donald talked, conferred. The results reflected this and I haven’t heard one whisper of dissent at their placings.
2 equal (what happens when you can’t hear properly) FMM, Inveraray, Scottish Power, SLOT,
6 Lomond & Clyde
The list that matters:
4 Scottish Power
Major rethink needed by the promoters.
1 Don’t sell stand seating and then baffle the audience eardrums with a G2/G1 mix.
2 Get the bands as close to the stand barrier as possible; block off the running track.
3 Keep one side of the arena only for picnickers. Designate, and police, standing space on the other.
4 Queues at entry points and long walks to get to the action – see comments on our results article.
- Would you like to say something on the success or otherwise of the Bught Park set up? Please do so below. Stay tuned to PP for MacStig’s take on Grade 2 and other things.