I spent a pleasant and interesting day at the Scottish Championships held in Levengrove Park, Dumbarton in the west of Scotland last Saturday. Despite encountering heavy rain on the M8 motorway during my journey early morning, it turned out to be a fine day, dull and hazy but warm in the morning, and then sunny in the afternoon.
That was a total contrast to the last time the Championships were held in 2019 at the same venue before the COVID pandemic. Then we encountered much more traditional Scottish weather.
By Alistair Aitken OBE, former RSPBA Adjudicator
Another surprise was the total restructuring of Levengrove Park to the extent that the pipe band competition rings were unrecognisable from those previously. Gone was the red blaze car park where on many occasions you almost needed wellies to struggle through the mud in inclement weather. That area has now been redeveloped and the new layout had everything needed for a family day out, ranging from a Fun Fair, Bar and BBQ area in addition to a totally different layout for the pipe band competitions.
The pipe band competition arena in fact had been moved to a grassy area surrounded by trees on two sides, significantly further across the park. It contained four separate competition rings, all of which were well separated thus avoiding the overlapping sounds which often occur at other events.
It also contained a Drum Major Dress and Practice area. Ring 1, where the Grade 1 competition was held in the afternoon, was separate from the others and was situated in a slightly sunken grass area adjacent to a pavilion (part of which was used by the RSPBA compilers and office staff).
On first sight I thought the arena might be too tight for the Grade 1 bands due to their size, but RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton assured me that it had been carefully laid out to the official measurements and that proved to be correct in practice. I was a little concerned about spectators cramming in behind the snare drummers (and the drumming adjudicator) at the starting line but that was avoided with a rope barrier put in place after each band entered the arena.
My only other slight concern would have been to have a bit more space for the adjudicators to stand back far enough from the competing bands, as the Grade 1 bands often have to form up beyond the outer competition ring due to the number of players. In general, however, the arena worked well and the spectators also had a good view of the bands. Overall the whole Championships seemed to go like clockwork as usual due to the efforts of all the RSPBA officials and adjudicators as well as staff of West Dunbartonshire Council.
I know that many people are concerned about the reduced number of entries at pipe band competition as a result of the pandemic. It seems to me that the situation is gradually improving however. I was surprised that the number of performances at the 2022 event was not significantly different from the last Scottish Championships in 2019. By my calculations there were 104 separate pipe band performances on Saturday compared with 112 in 2019.
I am sure the RSPBA will be pleased with that for a variety of reasons, including the revenue it needs from the Major Championships as one of the Association’s main funding streams. For the historians, as I have mentioned previously on Piping Press, the first Scottish Championships were held in Blairgowrie in 1948.
During the 1960s and 1970s the venue was Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, when the bands also had the opportunity to play along Princes Street if they wished. Levengrove Park, however, has now been the venue for around 20 years and it looks like that will continue.
Another pleasing aspect was the number young people I saw playing in probably the majority of the bands, which of course is essential to providing the foundation for the future. While chatting with various people close to Ring 1, I was impressed with the quality sounds of a number of Novice Juvenile B bands as they marched past to enter the competing arena, examples being St Columba’s School, North Lanarkshire Schools and High School of Dundee.
I also heard the full performance of Dollar Academy in the Juvenile Grade which was very impressive. Many school pipe bands in Scotland are now benefiting from full-time or at least significant tuition and the results of that are clearly evident. It was also good to see the St Thomas Episcopal School band all the way from the USA. I am sure they enjoyed competing against the Juvenile pipe bands of Scotland and I hope they are also enjoying their visit to our country generally.
Due to my ageing limbs I decided not to wander too far around the different arenas, so I confined myself to listening intently to the Grade 1 competition, taking up a position close to the spectator barrier where I could hear the drumming projecting through the pipes. All 10 bands performed very well. Those which impressed me most, in the order they played, were:
Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia: I liked the piping which came across very precise and musical with a sweet and harmonious tone. For me the snare drum sound was a little flat in terms of sound balance from where I was standing. The bass was also a little dominant at times.
Police Scotland Fife: Unfortunately an early chanter spoiled the introduction but the band settled to an impressive performance with good balance between pipes and drums. I liked the dance rhythm of the strathspey, ably assisted by the drummers.
St Laurence O’Toole: I have in the past had negative comments about the snare drum sound in terms of the balance of the band. Not this time. The combined band sound balance was very impressive and the whole performance was lively and rhythmic. The musical interpretation of the drum corps was very effective and the strathspey playing of the band was for me possibly the best demonstration of the day of the traditional ‘scotch snap’ dance rhythm.
Inveraray and District: This was another hallmark performance from the band in terms of sound balance, fluency, rhythmic flow and musical effect. The whole presentation was excellent, ably assisted by subtle execution from the drum corps. The tenor drummers also produced an impressive display of flourishing in addition to their musical contribution.
Boghall and Bathgate: The band in my view always produces a very pleasant balance of sound with great assistance from the subtle interpretation of the drummers. Generally the playing came across as very precise although I thought I heard a minor piping error towards the end of the march, although I am probably wrong about that.
Scottish Power: A powerful overall band sound with excellent band balance and musical assistance from the drummers. I had the impression though that the performance became just a shade over-controlled towards the end.
Field Marshal Montgomery: A lively, rhythmic and fluent performance throughout. The band was last to play – a draw most bands would prefer in order to impress the adjudicators if they play well. FMM did not disappoint. The sound balance was excellent and the whole performance, as we have come to expect, came across as relaxed, confident and musical.
The first two places in the official results continued the keen competition this year between Inveraray and FMM. It sets things up nicely for the World Pipe Band Championships on 12 and 13 August. Nonetheless there are still obvious contenders among the other bands who played on Saturday.
Add in four bands from the USA and Canada and the outcome could well prove to be very interesting. The Worlds this year is likely to present a major challenge for all the Grade 1 bands as I understand that the results of the four separate competitions across the Friday and Saturday will all count towards the final results. Something to look forward to! Hopefully our unusually good weather will also continue until then.
- Grade 1 result: 1 FMM 2 Inveraray 3 Boghall 4 Shotts 5 S Power 6 Fife Pol.
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