Big Two Solo Contests at the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering Looking Less Likely

Not much has changed since we last spoke about this, but with each day that passes the odds against there being 2021 Gold and Silver Medal competitions at Oban and Inverness lengthen.

I say this because neither the competing pipers themselves nor the sponsors want them to happen without the presence of overseas competitors.

By Robert Wallace

These top players have already entered for the Northern Meeting and the Argyllshire Gathering. Six are in for the Gold. But they face difficult challenges in getting here. Currently travel from New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada is either banned or requires significant periods of UK quarantine.

Regulations may change, but will they do so in time? This is aside from the cost. Moreover I suspect these pipers’ preparation will have been affected adversely by the uncertainty.

Take a look at the picture above from the 2019 games at Oban. From the left we have Andrew Hayes, Sean McKeown and Ian K MacDonald all from Canada. P/Sgt is Ben McClamrock from the US. None of these expert pipers is likely to be able to make it over this summer.

The official position of the promoters of the Argyllshire Gathering (AG) and the Northern Meeting (NM) is that their competitions, on August 25/26 and September 2/3 respectively, will go ahead as normal and all planning has been carried out with this in mind. A month hence and they will be closer to a final decision.

However they are sensitive to the wishes of their client group, the pipers. They know they are concerned that any success this year would be tainted if good players are missing.

Crucially they are also aware that the Highland Society of London is not keen on presenting their Gold Medals for reduced events.

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Alan Forbes, Piping Convenor at the NM: ‘We  have still not made a final decision but our position at present is unchanged, ie we still hope to go ahead if at all possible.

‘Although theatres are expected to open again it isn’t clear what restrictions may be placed upon them so we have to await clarification on that. 

‘We do, of course, appreciate the difficulties this uncertainty causes, to overseas competitors in particular, and this is one of the factors that we are keeping under review. I’m afraid there isn’t much else we can add at this point.’

Torquil Telfer, of the AG: ‘This is our 150th Aniversary year and we are determined to hold our contests if we can. It really is too early to make a definitive decision.’

One northern newspaper reported yesterday that a scaled down games may be an option for Oban this year and it is known that a piobaireachd contest of some sort could be held on the eve of such a games. The Argyllshire Gathering Ball has been cancelled and this frees up their hall for such an eventuality.

This would lead to a contest at the games the following day, though neither competition would carry the imprimatur or prestige of the usual AG piping events.

It will be many months if not years before we recover from this pandemic. Covid Anxiety Syndrone (CAS) runs very deep. It is affecting physical and mental behaviour. Coming out of lockdown will be harder than getting in to it. Don’t be sure that next year we will be back to normal either.

Virus variants, a harsh winter and vaccine loopholes, and we could be having this discussion 12 month hence, God forbid.

The 2017 Northern Meeting Clasp winner Iain Speirs, with the Rothiemurchus Trophy and Glenmorangie Trophy for overall champion

I feel for the pipers. Two life-changing Gold Medals have gone a-begging and this year’s look like hitting the skids too. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

Piobaireachd knowledge may have suffered. A whole swathe of pipers will not have bothered learning tunes that otherwise they would have been forced to study.

Standards overall are falling. My evidence is the tranche of online stuff I’ve listened to – at all levels. This is inevitable.

The biggest error solo piping in Scotland has made is in not having outdoor contests this summer independent of Highland games. I can only put it down to CAS. What a scourge.

Still, Lochaber Gathering goes ahead on August 27.

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