NI News: Gareth Appointed FMM Leading Tip as Keith Retires/ Matt a Hit at Blackthorn/ Stormont Certificates

At a celebratory function in the Dunadry Inn last weekend, Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band announced that leading drummer Keith Orr had decided to stand down and that his replacement would be drum corps member Gareth McLees.

This brings to an end one of the most successful partnerships in pipe band history. Keith and P/M Richard Parkes have shared in around fifty RSPBA Major Championship successes.

By Gilbert Cromie, Northern Ireland Correspondent

This includes 11 World, 12 Champion of Champion and two Grand Slam titles – going unbeaten in all five RSPBA Majors. They also won 12 All-Ireland and Ulster titles whilst Keith’s corps was crowned World Drumming Champions in 2013 (see picture above). 

Keith’s drumming career started out at Faughan Valley before he went on to play with the Pipes and Drums of the RUC during which time he won the All-Ireland Solo Drumming title. He then led the Graham Memorial drummers to win the MSR section at the 1992 Worlds and then lead the McNeillstown drum corps to a European title in 1993. Thankfully Keith’s experience will not be lost to the pipe band world as I understand that he is to join the RSPBA Adjudicators Panel.

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New leading drummer Gareth McLees has strong family connections to the band. His grandfather the late Jackie Gregory and uncle Bill Gregory were both pipers in the band. The All-Ireland Solo Champion in 2019, Gareth was runner–up to World Drumming Champion Stephen McWhirter in 2019 and 2022. He played in FMM from 2007 – 2012 after which he played with Shotts & Dykehead and also had several years as lead drummer of the West Australia Police winning several Australian Championships.

Gareth McLees

He returned to the Field Marshal Montgomery in 2016 and his first engagement as leading drummer is expected to be the Frank Andrews tribute concert promoted by the McNeillstown Pipe Band and headlined by the World Champions. It will take place on Friday April 28th at the Tullyglass House Hotel, Ballymena. Tickets are expected to be available soon and I would expect them to sell very quickly.

Matt Wilson Success at Blackthorn

I was fortunate to be part of the full house at the recital given by Matt Wilson, the P/Sgt of FMM, at the Blackthorn Piper’s Society meeting on Friday December 9th. On what was an extremely cold evening it was wonderful to get indoors out of the frozen and busy Belfast streets to be treated to an outstanding display of piping.

Graham Harris welcomed everyone and then, along with teenager Shawn Townsley, played a selection of traditional marches on the Scottish smallpipes. He then introduced Matt who started off with the classic 6/8 march John D. Burgess and followed it up with a wide range of tunes which were well received by what was a fairly knowledgeable audience.

Matt Wilson

Following a short interval when those present were able to enjoy a range of both liquid and edible treats Matt returned to engage in a Q&A session. The session covered a wide range of piping related issues as well as some interesting facts about his own piping career such as starting out as a drummer, playing with Drambuie Kirkliston, arranging his university subject choices to get to Queens University, Belfast, to join the Field Marshal and then fearing that he might not make the playing standard.

Matt then closed the evening with a set of competition hornpipes sending the audience home in the knowledge that they had got real value for money. Congratulations to Graham Harris and the Blackthorn Pipers team for putting on this very well supported event.

Foundation Certificates at Stormont

The Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, was the setting for an event which saw more than 70 pupils from all over Northern Ireland receiving certificates awarded by the Ulster-Scots Agency and the RSPBA (NI). 

Each of the young people was attending as part of a tuition programme developed as a joint initiative by the two bodies. Initially it was to recognise progression in the bagpipes, but then extended to include the full range of drumming disciplines and drum major skills. RSPBA (NI) President, Winston Pinkerton, who spoke of how encouraging it was to see so many new, young musicians coming through so quickly after covid. 

Down Academy students and officials at the ceremony

The graduates were drawn from a number of schools and organisations across Northern Ireland. The event was hosted by former Education Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA, a long-time supporter of Ulster-Scots, the main funding body. She said: ‘It’s fantastic to see so many young people getting actively involved in piping and drumming. It is an integral part of their Ulster-Scots identity and something that enriches all of our lives. I congratulate everyone – students, tutors and parents – for the hard work and commitment that these foundation certificates represent.’ 

Ulster-Scots Agency Chief Executive Ian Crozier encouraged the young learners saying, ‘This music presents young people with the opportunity for a lifetime of participation, enjoyment and friendship through our vibrant bands scene. 

‘There are well over 100 pipe bands in Northern Ireland, so I would say to every young person there is a band out there waiting for every one of you.’ 

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