The Mighty Creighton: The Making of a World Champion, in His Own Words

The current World Champion leading drummer is Stephen Creighton of the St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. Earlier this year he was the drum instructor at the Florida Pipe & Drum Academy and the editor took the opportunity of interviewing him for Piping Press about his rise to fame. It is a remarkable story of talent, determination and hard graft and as such is a lesson for any young piper or drummer who wants to get to the top. Read our first excerpt today…..

I started drumming as a young boy of eight years of age, the son of a man who was the bus driver for a girls’ pipe band called St Louise’s Pipe Band and that was where my four sisters played the drum. Because I was the second youngest, me and my two small brothers were taken on all the trips with the band and eventually they decided that, as the girls were getting a little bit older, they should have a junior band for boys and girls.

We started then at eight when the sticks were put in our hands by a man called Gerry Mahady from Ballyfermot who was a tenor drummer believe it or not with the St Joseph’s Pipe Band, Clondalkin. His son was a drummer in that band as well and he eventually taught me for the first three or four years when I joined St Joseph’s.

What happened was the junior band got very good and we competed at Grade 5 level – back then it was Grade 4. I was eleven or twelve. We entered a few competitions. Then a few guys in the band the same age as my older brother realised that wearing a kilt wasn’t so cool and they decided to leave.

Stephen aged 11 and on the drum

In Ballyfermot, a pretty tough area, wearing a kilt wasn’t a cool thing to do. We lost a lot of members and we couldn’t compete and the man who taught me, Gerry, took me up to his band in Clondalkin which was only a thirty minute bus ride away. I started my career then playing with St Joseph’s when I was 13. They were a Grade 3 band, not doing very well but they had a lot of potential. I was with the band from 1984 until 1999. 

Around the late 80s the band started to get really good. Terry Tully was teaching the piping at this time and the guys who were teaching me were Martin Gallagher and, as I’ve mentioned, Gerry’s son – they were the two senior drummers in the band. One night they took me to one side and asked if wanted to give this a go and I said yes, absolutely, and I ended up being part of the drum corps.

But they struggled to teach me because I didn’t read music and all that kind of stuff and they were very much into written scores, especially in the beginning. But for the first year I just played 4/4s and 6/8s on general practice nights and it was the following season I started learning their competition stuff.

Stephen’s first teacher, Gerry Mahady

I just became obsessed then. They brought me to a local solo contest once and I ended up coming last. I went home with a little tear in my eye, feeling rejected and I just started doing more practice and eventually with the better players around me I got a bit of a bug for it. I practised and practised and started playing with the band in Grade 3.

In the All Ireland Championships in ’86 or ’87 we took third place as a band and third in drumming that day. We just kept it going for another two years. Meanwhile I became a cabinet maker and I cut my wrist one evening in class two days before St Patrick’s Day and I ended up in plaster and was off work for about three months.

After six weeks, as soon as I got the bandages off, I decided to get the drum sticks into my hand. I started really drilling myself into doing five and six hour a day practices. As I say, I became obsessed with the whole thing and that following February, which was when the World Solos used to be, I decided to enter in the Under 18s and I ended up winning the World Solos Under 18 in 1989 in Govan High School in Glasgow.

Early band days….Stephen with an admirer. With that haircut it must have been the drumming that was the attraction!

The following year I had to go up to Senior level but I qualified to play in the final at the first go, something that an Irish drummer had never done before as far as I knew. I played really well and got a great applause. That was when my solo career really kicked off. But what happened was that I was so successful that year, in ’89, that the band wanted to promote me to Leading Drummer.

I was on a run. I was getting recognised in Scotland and they felt that the best opportunity for the band was for me to take over and start leading by example on the world circuit. The thought was that we could compete at majors and the band would be recognised.

In 1990 we went to the Worlds with me as Leading Drummer and the band won in Grade 2 having been recently promoted out of Grade 3. We were also best overseas band, best piping, best drumming. The next day was the Diamond Jubilee contest and we won that as well. What a feeling….and I wanted more.

  • Read part two of this interview with the Admirable Creighton here.

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