The View from the Bench: A Review of the Northern Meeting Gold Clasp 2022

At just after 08.30 on day two of the Northern Meeting, Greg Wilson stepped on to the stage of the Eden Court Theatre, tuned calmly and played the ‘Big Nameless tune’ – Cherede Darievea smoothly and softly on a sweet pipe with just minor technical imperfections. The judges settled, ears agog. The audience sank into their seats, eyes half-closing already. Business as usual.

Then Roderick MacLeod gave us Donald Ban. He started confidently but seemed to tire from mid-tune. The drones drifted and slightly open taorluath and crunluath movements marred the rythmic certainty of these variations.

By Dr Jack Taylor

Judge Murray Henderson won one of his six Clasps with Lament for the Harp Tree – cane reeds and all.  Was four-time winner Callum Beaumont intimidated? Not at all. He set about that longest lament with customary focus, precision and briskness, whilst maintaining subtlety of expression. There were some tiny chanter chips, and the drones did not stay fully locked.

William MacCallum’s drones were rock-steady and blended well with the lower pitch of his chanter throughout Mrs MacLeod of Tallisker’s Salute.  The interpretation was more lament than salute, effectively so, the phrases quietly balancing each other.  There might have been more flow through the second half of the bars in the ground, and some crunluath movements were uncertain.


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Iain Speirs started the Unjust Incarceration well, the ground fluent, the tempo pleasing, the ‘extra’ line incorporated seamlessly. Mild tenor waver soon settled. He over-extended the third pulse in the dithis slightly, and showed little if any increase of tempo in the doubling. There were some D misses in the long sequences of taorluath and crunluath movements.

Patrick Og is the lament written for the man who hadn’t died after all. Fred Morrison must have thought of that when planning his interpretation.  The groundwork whispered pathos, pushing expressive boundaries with variably long Es, contrasting with variably shorter themal Gs and As.  Donald MacDonald’s variation was fluid and sensitive, those difficult D adedas effortless. The weighting of the three note groups and the passing notes in the next variation were just on the right side of the edge.  The tune then brightened with a brisk but unrushed finish, including an a mach. The pipe was sweet, the high G almost disappearing into the drones. 

Time for the Laird of Anapool’s Lament. Stuart Easton treated it as the saddest of laments, perhaps too much so.  It seemed clearly to be what he meant to do, but a little more expressive colour and a marginally faster tempo might have brightened the mood. He missed a B passing note.

Back to the Big Nameless.  Angus MacColl gave an immaculate performance on a clear, true pipe. He played the entire tune with crispness and onward drive, never allowing it to sag, yet showing due musical nuance. Some taorluaths were tight, but this was more than redeemed by the firm even ripple of every crunluath. Captivating. Angus is pictured at the head of this article. He has now won the Clasp five times.

King George III’s Lament is one of the harder tunes on the list in which to maintain musical interest.  Bruce Gandy kept it moving well, with sensitive pulsing and approach to phrase endings. His C grips were heavyish, the F was unsettled, and the drones did not completely lock in at the start. He might have risked being more adventurous with timing in places to give more feeling.

MacLeod of Colbeck’ Lament oozes music, and Jack Lee had clearly thought deeply how to bring this out. He took it just a shade slowly and carefully.  The ground and V1 are were rather measured, even over-expressed in places, and looked perhaps for more onward movement. 

Peter McCalister had sticky rodins as he began Lament for the Harp Tree. He played the groundwork sensitively, keeping the tempo up well. The drones wavered, there were some C to E catches, and although the tempo did not flag, Peter’s hands maybe did. 

Craig Sutherland stepped firmly into the top rank with an upbeat and empathetic interpretation of the Laird of Anapool. The ground was sensitive, although V1 was maybe too near a 6/8 rhythm for comfort. The Taorluath and Crunluath variations were bright and sure-fingered.  A missed high G strike and a small B fumble did nothing to derail him.

Craig Sutherland….firmly in the top rank

Andrew Hayes started Mrs MacLeod of Tallisker slowly, and might have shown more light and shade and cutting of short notes in the ground.  Variation 1 seemed equally cautious. The subsequent variations were more up-tempo, but marred by an inconsistant crunluath movement.

Were the judges tiring, or was Ian K. MacDonald’s groundwork and suibhal in Donald Ban slow too? Was there a need for more variation in the length of the short notes in the ground, and more onward drive in the suibhal?  Some crunluaths were just out of balance. 

Stuart Liddell was unsettled from the start. He worked hard to maintain tone, and stopped early in Colbeck, suspicious of a leak somewhere.

Could Glenn Brown use playing last to his advantage? Maybe so in the ground and early variations of the Unjust Incarceration, but technical imperfections in taorluath and crunluath counted against him.

Result:

  1. Angus MacColl
  2. Fred Morrison
  3. Craig Sutherland
  4. Callum Beaumont
  5. Greg Wilson

Judges: M Henderson, J Taylor, W Wotherspoon


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1 thought on “The View from the Bench: A Review of the Northern Meeting Gold Clasp 2022

  1. It’s always so nice to read these reviews. It lets us mortals know the piping gods make mistakes too. Thanks for letting us know what makes for a top performance at one of the most prestigious solo events in piping

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