By Robert Wallace
Consistency was always going to be the key to winning this year’s World Championship. Over four performances Inveraray were the only band not to drop out of the top three, placing 2,1,2,3.
Two points behind were Field Marshal whose fourth in the Medley on Saturday was to prove very costly to them. It was the weaker of the two they offered and I wonder if they should have kept the best till last? Inveraray did.
After day one and listening to both disciplines in their entirety I wrote that I had scrived the ultimate winner on a piece of paper on Friday night. Here it is, time line upside:
Make of that what you will but it was clear to me that the champions had something of the champion about them. The flawless technique, that special sound and a super (and quieter!) drum corps.
Now what are we to make of this chap Liddell? Has there ever been in the history of the great Highland bagpipe such a true master? Last week he blitzes Lorient taking second to Fred Morrison with all that Breton music none of us understand.
Travelling home he picks up the piobaireachd at that solo contest in the Piping Centre against the top players in the world. And within five days he is leading his band to his second World Championship. He covers every genre, every discipline, gorging himself on silverware wherever he travels and all with a seemingly effortless glide.
But hold on a minute. I suspect that beneath that mild mannered mien there lurks a grafter. Someone who puts in the hours; who thinks deeply about what he does and is meticulous in his preparation.
And when it comes to the big day he will not be suffering fools. Having listened to the first three legs in Grade 1, 45 performances in all, I passed on the last and took myself off to the final tuning area, the space that precedes the walk of death or glory to the G1 arena.
There was Stuart directing operations in true military fashion: tune that drone; let me check the tape on the C; aside to his pipers ‘make sure you hold that note’, ‘watch your blowing’, ‘keep your eyes on me’. And he was even tuning drones himself.
Watching a master at work is always rewarding be it pipe band preparation or pottery and this victory was as much about Stuart Liddell as it was about his band. But he commands a terrific team of helpers, particularly P/Sgt Alasdair Henderson. He has a pipe corps riddled with champions. Three out of five majors this year; don’t think for a minute the Men of Argyll are done yet.
One had to feel for Field Marshal and Richard Parkes. So close yet again to achieving that record of 13 Worlds wins. The consolation is that his band played beautifully, the MSR on Saturday just about as good as it gets. From my notebook: ‘Sound projecting slightly more than Inveraray [who were on before them]; rock solid; brilliant; are they going to do it again?; medium beat on the B perfectly weighted in Shepherd’s Crook; best setting of Charlie’s Welcome; superb. Just ahead of I’ray?’
Will Richard keep going? I hope so. He has given us so much pleasure over the years that I think we can just about stand listening to his band at the top of their game in 2020. Agree?
Another great day for P/M Alan Bevan and SFU winning the Saturday Medley and placing third in the MSR; Friday was their nemesis; they just didn’t get the sound going in the miserable weather.
I was struck by Reid Maxwell’s cultured corps. Now I don’t often listen to the drummers but occasionally your ear is attracted to the nether regions of a band, by what I don’t know. Will it be the tone of the drums, a particularly sympathetic beating? Anyway yesterday the SFU snares purred to the melodies articulated by another pipe corps loaded with champions, Jack Lee et al.
Talking of drum sound I remain convinced that SLOT have to do something about the harsh crash of those skins they are using. I have said before that I know little about drumming but in my view Stephen Creighton’s sound does not work well with the pipes. Is this costing them ensemble points? Of course they are a brilliant corps. All my drumming chums tell me so; and they won the red sash on Saturday. But as the late Alex Connell used to say it’s about the band, the band.
Drumming again. Fife Police were knocking on the door. P/M Dougie Murray and L/D Mick O’Neill need to get together on that beating for Tulloch Castle. Rounding off like this just kills the lift. A fine band mark you, and once the new pipers are bedded in they can look forward to a more consistent 2020.
Playing over the two days was a huge test for all the bands, unnecessary in my view. The Championship could have been decided no bother on the Saturday. As I say, the extended event called for consistency, but not just consistency in performance, consistency in content. Boghall had one Medley that caught the ear (Fri) and another that didn’t. Same for FMM. Same for Scottish Power.
The Power is another band packed with champions. The concert on Wednesday must have taken its toll on them however. Any other year bar this it would not have done so to such an extent. They would have been able to relax through the Friday qualifier, a shoe-in for the Sat. This year was different. Thirty six hours after their concert success there they were at the line in the pouring rain trying hard to put an edge on their performance, every point counting. They almost did it. Next year will be better for them.
A word now for Emmett Conway and his Shotts band. This young man is only 28 yet he carries the weight of this iconic band’s reputation on his shoulders with some aplomb. In only a year he has brought them to the Worlds Grade 1 arena in fine shape – four times over two days. A mid table outcome is no disgrace at all. Time and patience and the prizelist beckons.
I call again for a Grade 1A and 1B. Same judges, same arena, four prizes in each. It would mean that Johnstone, L&C, PSNI, Canterbury Caledonia all the way from NZ, Glasgow Skye, Glasgow Police and the 78th Frasers would have been vying for a trophy. No disrespect to these bands. They are all far too good for Grade 2 but they are all a work in progress as regards the top six in G1 as it stands. The present set up will lead to disillusionment, discouragement and every other ‘dis’ you can think of. Come on RSPBA let’s have some out of the box thinking here.
Some thinking needed too on the placing of the G1 circle. It was miles away from the front-on stand. People there paid a pretty price for entry yet would have heard very little. Ideally the bands should be playing in concert formation facing the big screen at the apex of the two stands, judges wandering or sitting as they choose.
The Worlds promoters need to consider all of this when they have their shake down meeting. Don’t take the public for granted. The livestream makes the armchair very attractive on a bad day.
Finally a word for drumming judge Mark Wilson. He was the only one who ventured up to the front of the band to check all corps as they sounded through the pipers, presumably assessing tone and beating compatibility with the pipes uppermost in the sound spectrum. Isn’t this the way all drum corps should be assessed?
There is a view that the drumming prize should be done away with altogether. I am not sure about that. But I am sure that drummers are there to accompany the pipes and no matter how brilliant the stick work and crisp unison, it should count for less if it doesn’t do just that.
- Stay tuned to Piping Press for more exclusive commentary on the 2019 Worlds.