Argyllshire and Lochaber Gatherings Prove There is No Substitute for Live Piping

Under the canopy…..Finlay Cameron plays for judges Archie Maclean and Ian Duncan

Three days of ‘live’ piping. Yes, you read that correctly. You don’t know what you have until it is gone and this week’s gatherings reminded us all of what we have been missing. There was a genuine sense of relief, freedom, exuberance among the pipers at Oban and Fort William. And we listeners were able to enjoy our favourite music without transmission technology and its homogenising barrier.

By Robert Wallace

All pipers were keen to stretch themseves in the crucible of competition. Some were affected by the lay off more than others; some handled the pressure poorly, but I think it fair to say that at both venues there were excellent tunes to be heard.

We must pay tribute to the promoters who made these competitions happen. The committees at the Argyllshire Gathering 150th and at Lochaber Piping Society were determined. They saw the need.

The easiest thing would have been for them to cancel the lot citing the covid catch all as their excuse with a ‘let’s wait for 2022’. But no. The show must go on was their mantra and resounding success their reward.

I have already covered Oban extensively so will continue now with a more detailed look at Lochaber.

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The contest was held in the Highland Cinema in the centre of Fort William. It proved an ideal venue, size limitiation the only issue.

Stuart Samson and I judged the P/A Piobaireachd. First piper on was Ben Duncan. The dry acoustic enhanced his sweet pipe. It didn’t quite hold until the end of MacDougall’s Gathering but this did not detract from his well structured approach. Perhaps a slightly longer pulse on some phrases would have helped but this difficult piece was handled well by a rapidly maturing piobaireachd player. One wobbly high G was of little consequence.

The only way is up….Calum Watson, winner of the P/A MSR and Hornpipe & Jig

Sandy Cameron played End of the High Bridge on a lovely instrument. Our only cavil was his overstretching of the landing notes in the T&C ‘singlings’. The progression approach in the crunluath a mach gave Sandy a strong finish. Third was young Cameron Macdougall whose pipe did not last through the Old Men of the Shells. Variation 2 was over pointed, but otherwise this was very good piobaireachd playing, perfectly executed.

Fourth prize went to Gordon McCready with Lament for the Earl of Antrim. He could have done more to mark out the the phrases in the urlar. Variation 2 held things up rather than progressing Var.1, and there was a lack of focus in the T&Cs.

Stuart and I also judged the B/C MSR. Here a crop of rising stars dominated the list: Ross Miller, John Dew, Jonathon Simpson and Calum Wynd. Sandy Cameron was just nudged out.

Winner of both B/C events, Ross Miller

Our duties over, we repaired to Cameron Square outside the cinema where under a stylish canopy the 6/8 March and Hornpipe and Jig had just been held. Now it was the turn of the P/A MSR.

It was a masterstroke by the organisers to move this contest out into the fresh air. The tourists loved it. It proved a terrific advert for piping. The pipers, playing before Alan Forbes and Iain MacFadyen , responded well with super performances from Calum Watson (the only way is up for this piper) and Gordon McCready. The others on the list played well too giving us a resounding end to the day. Have a listen to Calum’s winning MSR:

Presenting the prizes Councillor Allan Henderson, a great supporter of the Gathering, praised the work of the Society and the previous organiser of the competition, the late Allan MacColl. Allan and his family had worked and worked for 25 years to ensure that top class piping remained and prospered in the Highland town.

Another who had done so much for Lochaber piping was P/M Evan Macrae, and it was fitting that Evan’s recently published memoir was on sale at the ticket desk.

P/A Piobaireachd and 6/8 March winner, P/M Ben Duncan, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

Lochaber Gathering can only grow in strength from here. Chairman Ken Cameron’s big worry will be in how to handle the numbers of pipers who will want to play at future competitions. For now, though, he can rest contented on a job well done.

  • Full results from Lochaber here.

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