We take another look at the Worlds held at Glasgow Green in August 2011 with photographs and excerpts from reports from our Editor Robert Wallace. Here he concentrates on the Grade 1 March Strathspey and Reel.
Gradually you came to the realisation that there was not one person present who did not believe they were listening to the 2011 World Pipe Band Champions. For Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, from Lisburn, Northern Ireland, were giving the performance of their lives. It was as near pipe band perfection as I think I have ever heard.
Immaculate tuning, chanters with projection and volume, crisp, precise technique, clinical progression from tune to tune, exact tempi, and, as important as all of this: melody. Yes folks, I take no credit for it, but after years of ranting about the non-tunes bands are peddling it seems the penny has finally dropped.
Only one band in the prizelist had a medley whose content was questionable – Scottish Power. They placed third and who knows how far this quality band can go if they can just get the tunes right. But back to Field Marshal. If their medley was good, their march strathspey and reel wasn’t far behind. Here’s what I jotted down: ‘Exceptional sound; march very well played; strathspey and reel near perfection; easily best so far; John Roy Stewart refreshing choice; lovely drum effects.’
In the end, with these two performances, P/M Richard Parkes’s band won by a huge margin, 18 points. It gave him his seventh title in 30 years at the helm. Afterwards he said: ‘We had been second three years in a row and were determined to regain the title this year. We have a good few young members in the band and they were fired up for it and maybe they got more out if me too.’
Indeed the bad news for FM’s rivals is that there are so many young members in this band that they will be around at the top for many more years to come. Richard has no thoughts of retiring either. He’ll lead the band in 2012.
So what of the day itself? Well the weather was kind and bands only had a few showers to worry about. The forecast had not been good however and this had the effect of cutting the crowd down to an estimated 30,000 rather than the predicted 40,000. It also meant that some pipe majors set their chanters high (anticipating cold). When it turned out not to be – it was actually quite warm and humid – a lot of high As were too sharp. This, at least, is my reading of the situation. It was certainly a problem during the MSR though most had rectified it by the Medley.
First on were the above mentioned Scottish Power. The chanters were not balanced with a strange sounding high A. All tunes were beautifully fingered with good pointing; the overlong log G to the reel was not attractive. LA Scots’ Cowal Gathering lacked phrasing and the chanters were pitched too high; good tempi throughout but they need to be able to point and phrase at this tempo. St Laurence O’Toole had a bright march but the level of phrasing and accuracy was not as good as last year and I didn’t feel the pipes were always with the drums in the reel.
Triumph Street from Canada, proved to be worthy qualifiers and started well with the Argyllshire Gathering, though the runs at the end of each part – double D to double low G – were not always clear. Very difficult for a band to achieve this. There was noticeable input from the sprightly bass drummer, who, given the way she gave point and drag to her brogues, must have been a Highland dancer in an earlier life.
Culleybackey too were deserved qualifiers. Their sound was a little thin but the playing nicely controlled. I thought the break to the reel overlong. Boghall had a terrific drone and chanter sound complemented by Gordon Brown’s cultured drum tone. All tunes were well played and they were ahead in the contest at this point to my mind. Strathclyde Police played very well but the sound was high and got higher as they progressed. One couldn’t concentrate on the playing for worrying about the pitch.
Contrary to last year, Simon Fraser University, under P/M Terry Lee, really went for it tempo wise. Their sound was not as bold as I have heard it in previous years and it seemed high with an overcooked high A. Despite all of this the fingering was electric, high quality, as was the phrasing.
Shotts started off with a cracking tempo in Mrs John MacColl but unfortunately some pipers couldn’t cope with a resultant lack of unison. This was a problem throughout. Oran Mor from upstate New York had a big sound and were in no way overawed by the occasion. P/M Andrew Douglas is a fine piper and he has drilled all the principles of technique and phrasing into his charges. The judges probably picked up on a lack of integration with the percussion at times.
Fife Constabulary were another band who seemed to have lost their high A. They had tight playing in the march, Highland Wedding, but the strathspey, Atholl Cummers, did not come across clearly especially on the doublings on F and E. Tempi need too be up a bit and fingering just a little more precise.
New Zealand’s Manawatu flew the flag bravely and well for the southern hemisphere. Their Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France was one of the best played marches of the day and the strathspey and reel not far behind in phrasing and lift. Compared to the bigger bands they lack power but those wishing to hear good quality music will not be disappointed if they take time to seek out P/M Stewart MacKenzie’s band.
What can we say about Inveraray & District? Who would have believed that only a few years in and here they were contending for prizes in the Grade 1 final. I did think that their chanters were shrill in the MSR and like so many other bands this detracted from the high standard of their playing in this section of the competition.
Judges Gordon Lawrie, Nat Russell, Alistair Aitken, and Gordon Parkes awarded the following prizes in the MSR: 1 FMM 2 SFU 3 Boghall 4 Scottish Power 5 St Laurence O’Toole 6 Inveraray; Drumming: Boghall.
- To be concluded with a look at the Grade 1 Medley from 2011.