The fifth and concluding part of our interview with Stephen Creighton, leading drummer of St Laurance O’Toole Pipe Band and the current World Drum Corps Champions. Stephen talks of how he tranformed his corps into world champions and what the future might hold….
Suddenly the mobile phone appeared and we were able to send videos, music, chat and form groups within certain apps to keep everyone updated. That made things a little bit easier; you could take in a couple of fly-in guest players – something I never really believed in but when it’s quality like Paul Brown, Chris Johnston, Emily MacLeod, Grant Cassidy, Andrew Miller and Craig Lawrie, you can’t say no.
The pipe corps were starting to venture out to strengthen, but the drum corps always had eight or nine home players, and a full, locally-based bass and tenor section which we still hold today. The average age of the tenor section at the moment is 18 or 19 and that’s with a 62-year-old on the bass.
So although we do have several fly-ins, all great players, our secret is to keep things as home-grown as possible. That is our formula. But whether local or not everyone in my corps deserves a pat on the back. Every sash and every trophy that’s in my house, everything I’ve ever won, they’ve won equally as much as I have. I just drove the bus.
I think we’ve won 22 major championships as a drum corps and six of those are Worlds titles – should have been seven – but definitely six! I think we’ve won ten or 11 band majors and that includes the Worlds in 2010.
Working with Terry [Tully] we were going to lift the big one one of those days. The writing was definitely on the wall. Terry is probably the most influential piper in the south of Ireland. You have Richard Parkes in the north. But Terry for his music and his style and the way he composes music, well…..
And now we have Alen, his son taking over for the last three years and Terry is still in the band so that influence is still there even though Alen is looking at other stuff that Terry’s sort of cringing a little at; but he has to let it happen. However, as he’s advising him its probably not as extreme as Alen would probably like it to be. I think that’s a good thing.
Working with Terry was difficult, there’s no two ways about it. Was he demanding? No. That was probably what the difficulty was. He just let me at it. I think he maybe got some slight pressure then because the drum corps was doing well. It was always about the music in SLOT and how good the piping was.
When I took over I became as obsessed about the band as he was and that stressed him a little because now he had to keep up with us as we took off and got recognised for what we were doing. It put some pressure on him but also helped him develop an even greater hunger for success. I think he was afraid then to let the drummers down!
Both of us were striving for the same thing and that helped us, but then we were playing against the best band in the world locally in Field Marshal Montgomery, a band who have dominated really for the last two decades. Whether people like it or not, that’s fact.
And we got to play against them at every local contest in the north outside of the five majors, Banbridge, Cookstown, sometimes Newcastle and then the All Irelands. All good opportunities to compare yourself to them before you got to the majors.
And I think Field Marshal’s drum corps were driven too by trying to beat us because they knew that given the placing situation that even when there were only two bands, we could beat them and their great pipe corps if we took the ensemble prize and the drumming. That’s not to say that our pipers were always second – they weren’t – but that was our best chance playing against that pipe corps.
How long will I go on? We are the current World Drum Corps champions and I said that if I won five World titles I would retire – and I tried to but they wouldn’t let me. That’s the only answer I can give; but I did say, don’t tip me on the shoulder and tell me to go. The next time I say I’m going I have to go because there would be nothing more embarrassing for me than to be told that I was not good enough any more.
So I’m going to get out at the top and that could maybe be in a year or two years. If the band has a good season next year, when I’ll be 50, I might just seriously consider walking away.
I think driving the drum corps to success stopped me from doing lots of other stuff. I’m in Jacksonville today doing this school [the interview took place at the Florida Pipe and Drum Academy in February], something I don’t normally do because I’m so focussed from mid-January right to the end of the season with the band, so it is very difficult to do this kind of work.
But it is something I am going to have to start branching into, not for anything else other than spreading the word: why and how our drum corps at St Laurence O’Toole became so successful. Some corps need to learn that it is not all about the talent, it is about the hard work and that if you put certain things in place you can be very successful. You just have to be consistent with it and follow through.
I’ve got six Worlds. If I can get to eight I’d be happy and if I feel there’s another year in me I might consider it but I do have to start thinking about the future. There are enough people who are good enough to lead the O’Toole’s corps. The difficulty is finding the time to do it. It is a full time job that’s the problem.
- Start reading the full interview here.