By Alistair Aitken OBE, former RSPBA adjudicator
The first SPBA Scottish Pipe Band Championships were held in Blairgowrie on 12 June 1948. As I have mentioned previously on Piping Press, the venue during the 1960s and 1970s was Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh but for the past 20 years the venue has been Levengrove Park in Dumbarton, the event organised by West Dunbartonshire Council and West Dunbartonshire Leisure Trust Events Team in conjunction with the RSPBA.
Since 2003 Field Marshal Montgomery have won these Championships on 10 occasions, St Laurence O’Toole on three occasions, Inveraray and District twice and Strathclyde Police once.
I was able to attend the Scottish Championships and fully expected a warm and sunny day as until last Friday central Scotland had been experiencing record high temperatures. Unfortunately we experienced a sudden change with rain to varying degrees all day and a drop in temperature, with some torrential spells during the afternoon in particular which affected many of the different contests including Grades 2 and 1.
I have actually experienced a worse day at the same contest during my time as an RSPBA adjudicator, but not much worse!! Welcome back to a normal Scottish summer! It is a massive tribute to all the band players for their dedication and commitment in achieving such high standards of performance in these conditions.
I must also pay tribute to the RSPBA officials and stewards who kept the different competitions running to time; and to the adjudicators for their efforts of concentration and critique writing in really challenging circumstances. I wonder how some of their critics would cope in such conditions? From a spectator perspective it was no different. I suspect that those who did brave the heavy rain were mainly pipe band followers but their dedication is commendable.
From a personal perspective I developed a hate for umbrellas, which I think should be banned by the RSPBA!! Not only do they block the view of those standing behind them but they also drip even more water onto anyone in close proximity whilst keeping their owners dry.
My day out became even worse on the drive home when I discovered that the M8 motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh was completely closed due to a serious multiple car accident. Unfortunately this necessitated a long detour which added almost another hour to the journey.
As a result of the poor conditions it was difficult to hear many band performances during the day as it was often necessary to seek cover from the rain. I did manage to listen to a good performance by the Strathendrick Pipe Band (pictured below) which took second place in Grade 4B, and Dollar Academy which won Novice Juvenile A. I was also able to listen to Closkelt, the third band to play in Grade 2.
From where I was standing the band’s piping sound was exceptional, and the whole band performance was excellent in terms of clarity of playing and musical effect (and a performance which in my view would not have been out of place in the top grade). I then braved the conditions to hear the whole of Grade 1.
Winners were again Inveraray and District, so congratulations once again to Stuart, Steven and their players. Scottish Power won the drumming so congratulations must also go to Jake Jorgensen in achieving this award for his first time as Leading Drummer.
It was difficult to hear all the Grade 1 performances properly in view of the competing sounds around me, including the rain battering on umbrellas in front of me. In their order of play, the bands which impressed me most for musical effect and clarity of playing were Inveraray, Scottish Power, St Laurence O’Toole, Boghall & Bathgate, and Field Marshal Montgomery.
For me the best tonal balance between pipes and drums was Boghall & Bathgate. From where I was standing the St Laurence O’Toole playing as a band was excellent but the drumming projected through rather forced and dominant, affecting the band balance That may not have been so apparent to the adjudicators as they were much closer.
I also thought that Police Scotland Fife had a very strong performance but in the latter stages the long transition to the Jigs with gradually increasing tempo for me resulted in a loss of momentum and rhythmic flow, which also affecting the musical impact.
I was also impressed by the sound balance and musical interpretation of the Shotts & Dykehead performance but the latter part of the medley unfortunately was blocked out when the loudspeaker system seemed to short circuit causing a lengthy roaring blast of sound (like multiple double-toning drones!!).
This must have gone on for at least a couple of minutes while a chap in a yellow jacket scratched his head trying to work out a way of stopping the noise!! Another band which I think is gradually working its way towards the top six is Lomond and Clyde, which arguably was perhaps harshly treated with a lowly placing in drumming.
The worst of the rain was probably during the performances of the Glasgow Skye Association and Field Marshal Montgomery. ‘Drookit’ was not even the correct word for these conditions.