The Mighty Creighton: The Making of a World Champion Part 2

In the first excerpt of his interview Stephen Creighton, Leading Drummer of the World Championship winning St Laurence O’Toole corps, talked of sweeping the boards in Grade 2 at the 1990 Worlds with the St Joseph’s band. But now he wanted more……

We were asked to go to Grade 1 the following season by our own association [the Irish Pipe Band Association] but we chose not to because we didn’t feel that we were ready, even though there had been a lot of work done; we were practising four and five nights a week.

Terry [Tully] was driving the pipe corps on and he was getting worried that the St Joseph’s pipers were getting every bit as good as his own St Laurence O’Toole band! So a bit of local rivalry started between ourselves and the O’Tooles.

There was one time at Arkle when we beat them in the drumming; they were a Grade 1 band and we were Grade 2! Johnny Keogh was the leading drummer of the SLOT. After that I said to myself this could go somewhere because I was a big admirer of Johnny’s. He had a unique style of drumming but he just couldn’t quite push it across the line in terms of the top end of Grade 1.

During all this time I was clever enough to take all my criticisms on board – and there were plenty. But I listened. Everywhere I travelled as a player I was soaking up everybody’s ideas. I was always trying to follow the correct path, do the right thing. 

About this time I was given a tape cassette by Gerry [Mahady, Stephen’s first teacher]. He’d been at some competition and brought it back. It was of the Vale of Atholl and it made a big impression on me. I started taking some ideas from it: how they played traditional round hornpipes, jigs and reels.

Driving from the back…Stephen on parade with St Joseph’s

I listened to the bass and tenors and how they used them with different notes which Johnny was already doing with the O’Tooles with John Dunn on bass. But SLOT were doing it with two drums and Paul Turner was doing it with three and four.

Listening to the tape there were a couple of tunes in there I particularly enjoyed. The Links of Forth was one of them. I really liked the setting they had for that and mimicked it a little bit and to this day there is still a lot of Paul Turner in the Links of Forth that we are currently playing in SLOT.

But all their reels and hornpipes were played with a drive and a musicality. They also had a great variety of two-bar phrases; this was was exciting stuff.

‘I had the bite; I wanted to go and take the big one……’

So I took that to the table at St Joseph’s and we also started bringing in a couple of new, local players and training them up. We didn’t have the best players in the world but we had good corps players who came to the practice four nights a week, five nights sometimes. 

As I said, we decided to stay in Grade 2 in 1990 after winning the Worlds. The following year in G2, Ravara had a good band when Sam Connolly was there as Pipe Major with Bobby Rea as the leading drummer at the time, yes the great Bobby Rea, and a bit of competition developed between us and Ravara.

Also Gavin Baillie was the L/D of Monkstown Moseley, another outstanding band. We travelled north to play in the Ulster Championships in G2 that year and we won a lot of competitions as a band. And there were times when Bobby’s corps beat us, then we would beat him.

Then we won the All Irelands in G2 again for the second year running and we also won it as a band so the RSPBA had to put us up and we went to Grade 1. That was probably the beginning of the end for St Joseph’s because the players just weren’t there. At the front end it wasn’t quite cutting it but my tummy was bubbling; I had the bite; I wanted to go and take the big one.

Check out our picture gallery……

Where I was going to do it? I didn’t know. There was an opportunity because one of our pipers, Tremaine Murphy, a young boy, moved to Scotland and he ended up playing in the Victoria Police in Australia. Nat Russell was very encouraging to him as a great little player coming through.

They were looking for a drumming instructor down there too and I got a letter asking me if I would be interested in taking on one of the Grade 2 bands.

I was about 18 and a half at the time and I was going out with Amanda, who is now my wife. We ended up having a child when she was only 18 and it was just impossible to up and go. But things were moving quite quickly, probably very quickly……

  • Read the first excerpt in this series here. Stay tuned for part 3.

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