Legendary pipe major Richard Parkes concludes this series of articles to mark 40 years of success with FMM, 40 years that has seen him capture an incredible array of trophies and awards both for the band and himself.
Recognised by royalty and academia, Richard has, through his achievements, written himself into the history books. In this final section he answers a few more questions from our Editor Robert Wallace.
Which bands did you admire, and how much of an influence did they have on what you did at FM?
The main influence on me from a sound perspective was Strathclyde Police under Ian McLellan. I studied Ian’s method of setting up very closely and developed my own tuning process from that.
The Police were a band who fully optimised their tuning time. I watched them on many wet days and they had it down to a fine art. You would never find the Strathclyde pipers on a wet day until about 20 minutes prior to them competing.
Then they all came together, did a bit of one on one tuning and on they went, sounding immaculate. So the lesson I learned from that was that you need to sound good when you strike up on a competition day.
In those early days for me we didn’t have high quality players like them so I had to develop my own methods of ensuring we would have a good quality sound right out of the box.
This was developed through our tuning system at the band hall in the weeks before the relevant competition and is a system which we still use today.
I also admired and looked up to many other bands for different reasons. In the earlier years Dysart and Dundonald under Bob Shepherd, Boghall under Bob Martin, Shotts under Tom MacAllister, Polkemmet under Johnny Barnes, Edinburgh Police under Iain McLeod.
I was also excited by what I heard from the British Columbia bands City of Victoria under James Troy and Triumph Street under Hal Senyk in the late 70s early 80s.
Following on from that, in the 80s the 78th Frasers under Bill Livingstone and SFU under Terry Lee made a big impression on me.
Locally in Northern Ireland as a young player I was excited by the Robert Armstrong Memorial led by Tommy Geddis, who were the top band in the 60s/70s also St Patrick’s, Donaghmore, under Sean Faloon.
Later, in my early years as Field Marshal pipe major, The Pipes and Drums of the RUC under Nat Russell and McNeillstown led by Frank Andrews were excellent bands and proved that it was possible for bands from Northern Ireland to consistently place in the top six at the majors. I learned a lot tonally and musically from watching and listening to these bands and these P/Ms.
Who were the prominent pipers and drummers who were with you in the early days?
There are so many people who have helped me throughout the years and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out, so I will stick to those who taught me, former P/Ms who I played under and my pipe sergeants and lead drummers throughout my forty years as P/M.
If I have not mentioned anyone then I’m sorry, it’s not intentional, but there have been so many who have helped me. [See the first part of this series for a fulsome answer to this question.]
Are you a tolerant P/M? Easy to get on with?
I would say I am tolerant, but there is a line which cannot be crossed. With the pipe corps at the moment being spread across Northern Ireland and Scotland (and a few further travellers), everyone must prepare themselves to a high level before they come to practice. I am not tolerant if that has not happened.
Currently our practices are quite strategic and everyone knows what stage to be at for each practice date. If things go well then I am tolerant, if not…….
I feel I am easy to get on with away from practice on a social basis, but I am quite strict in the practice situation. I think players know me well enough to know that everything is for the benefit of the band and accept some of my outbursts on that basis.
What was it like when you won your first Worlds?
As you would expect it was a dream come true to win the band’s first Worlds in 1992. It was quite a rapid rise to the top with promotion to Grade 1 in 1985, first major win at Cowal in 1990 and win the first Worlds in 1992 and then a ‘grand slam’ in 1993.
One of the most satisfying things was to see our founder member Billy Maxwell with the Worlds trophy and tears in his eyes on that occasion. It was unforgettable but the feeling never gets old, it was equally unforgettable to win it for the 12th time in 2018.