A Short Review from the Atholl Gathering 2022

This year’s Atholl Gathering piping was run very efficiently with something for solo pipers at every level. The day started brightly but conditions deteriorated as the day went on with cloud, cold winds and rain showers.

Nevertheless, everyone was glad to be back out at the Games again, though the weather quickly reminded us that a certain level of stoicism is required where the Scottish Highlands are concerned.

By Robert Wallace

But braving the snell wind was well worth it to see so many piping friends and acquaintances again, some for the first time in three years. We were all certainly a bit older and perhaps a bit wiser too.

Everything began very promptly at 10.30am. We ran until 1 o’clock when there was a parade by the Atholl Highlanders and their Pipes & Drums.

They sounded well and looked very smart as they entered the arena under new P/M Gary West (pictured above right with his brother Niall, the Atholls’ new Drum Major). I caught a snatch of their setting of the Lament for Mary MacLeod played in unison. This was haunting, proving once more that piobaireachd can be played to good effect by a pipe band.

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I judged the ‘B’ Grade piobaireachd with John Wilson. Tucked tightly into our small wooden hutch, we were protected to a degree from the elements, though the bound volumes got showered on. Conditions naturally affected many pipers, particularly the less experienced. Fourteen played. Each was given a crit sheet which we wrote turn about.

The winner was John MacDonald, Aberdeen. He had the instrument of the day and, significantly, spent no time at all tuning. The rain came down and big John got on with it with scarce a minute of drone twisting, if that. His tune, Tulloch Ard, was a cogent exposition of good phrasing and forward progression, the technique unaffected by the cold. The only timing issue was in the doubling of the taorluath where he drifted into giving the first pulse the beat rather than the second – a common fault. This notwithstanding, he was a very worthy winner.

John MacDonald…best bagpipe of the day

Second prize went to Callum Wynd. Callum had the best pipe we had ever heard from him. Gone was that brash band sound of yesteryear, a sweet chanter and balanced drone tone now to the fore. His End of the High Bridge was competently handled throughout though lacking in phrasing from the dithis onwards.

Andrew Hall gave us the Earl of Ross’s March on another well set up instrument. This was safe playing, just lacking a little bit of pzazz to elevate him up the list. The 60 crunluaths at the end were rattled out in fine style.

Eddie Gaul had a minor fumble (indecision over a closed or open B taorluath) and some tight fingering (B echo, few grips) in Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute. However, he pushed the tune along with the required drive, the pipe holding and his fourth prize the result.

The final prize went to James Feeney just off the plane from the US. His Patrick Og was good listening – with the exception of Variation 1. Here he just did not seem to know how to handle the contrasting time signature. Still, the pipe was in order, the fingering good (though watch the embari James) and he stuck to his task to finish well.

Calum Wynd at Blair with the castle in the background

Of the others, many tuned far too long given the conditions and suffered damp pipes, chokes and squeaks. Jamie Elder was the best of the rest but he really showed very little change in tempo or emphasis as he progressed through the Old Men of the Shells. A pity because the pipe and finger were of high order.

Gordon Barclay was too short with the short notes in Donald Duaghal MacKay – and Variation 1 needs a rethink. Dan Nevans was erratic in the King’s Taxes; Brodie Watson Massey could study the Pass of Crieff in more detail to bring out the best in its melody; Ben Mulhearn was rather square in the Massacre of Glencoe; Angus MacPhee started well in MacLeod’s Salute but went off and stopped; Eireann Ianetta-MacKay also started well but her Viscount of Dundee got bogged down in overlong cadences in the T&C – then came the cold and the squeaks and chokes; Anna Smart played a good ground of MacDougall’s Gathering on a very high pitched bagpipe – but the cold and damp … you know the rest; Fraser Allison tended to play to his feet in MacNeill of Barra with a consequent lessening of musical impact.

John and I were unanimous in our list, and overall, given the conditions and the fact that this was a covid comeback day, agreed we had heard an enjoyable competition; there was some merit in all the performances. Before closing a word for our steward Christopher and the other lads from the Army School. Smart, courteous and super-efficient, they were a credit to the School and their regiments.

  • Full results from the gathering here.

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