The ever-popular amateur piobaireachd contest for the Archie Kenneth Quaich and Piobaireachd Society Banner was held on 25th February. This was our 31st contest – and in honour of that anniversary a list of the last 30 years winners, their tunes, and the judges for each year, was posted in every room.
For 28 of those 30 years we have been the fortunate guests of the Royal Scottish Pipers Society (RSPS) in Edinburgh. In 2021 there was an online contest and last year (2022) the RSPS was being refurbished and so we went to the Scots Guards Club. Although that was a fine venue, it did feel like ‘coming home’ when climbing the (many) stairs to the RSPS rooms in Rose Street Lane.
By Dr Peter McCalister
If you haven’t been there, you may not know that they have excellent acoustics (especially in the bar which is the final tuning room). The impressive collection of vintage piping photos on all the walls is surely one of the finest in the world – noting that it can distract the piper trying to finish a long tune. We are deeply indebted to the Jolly Boys for all their years of hospitality.
This year for the first time we had so many entrants (33) that we had to hold a draw to see who could play. At the last minute there were a couple of call-offs so 23 pipers played. The judges were Ronnie McShannon and Finlay Johnston. It was Finlay’s first stint at this event though Ronnie recalled being a judge back in 2010 & 2011 (it is normally a two-year commitment). As ever the atmosphere was congenial and friendly, with players travelling from far afield – two from Ireland and one from North Carolina.
In the final tuning room were two experienced ‘sound men’, namely Logan Tannock and Andrew Frater, who would offer to adjust chanter and drones if the piper wished. Stewarding up and down the stairs was assisted by Tom Lewin, who has helped out in this fashion for a number of years. Many thanks to them.
I did not hear all the performances but did hear everyone briefly in the final tuning room – and heard four out of the five prize-winning tunes. Fifth was Tom Peterkin who played a musical and very well-fingered Viscount of Dundee on a lovely bagpipe. To everyone’s astonishment Tom omitted to play the last half-bar of the tune. He must have had the finishing post firmly in his sights.
Fourth was John Forbes who played the Lament for Sir James MacDonald of the Isles. John also plays the french horn and his natural musicality shone through this performance. It isn’t the first time he’s been in the prizes and it won’t be the last.
I didn’t hear Rev. Leslie Barrett play Clan Campbell’s Gathering to gain third place, but I recall him winning second prize back in 2000, so he has been a faithful competitor for a generation.
Ben Hall from Aberdeenshire, a pupil of Jack Taylor, was second with the Garden of Roses by P/M Donald MacLeod. He was the youngest competitor and had a powerful pipe and cracking technique. Perhaps the tune was a bit slow for the judges? Anyway, Ben will be back.
The winner – who played early in the day – was Matthew Kirkwood. His tune was the Battle of Auldearn (No. 1 setting) and held his composure throughout the numerous variations. His bagpipe was steady and as he walked off the platform his band of supporters arrived just too late to hear his tune. It was suggested that he play it again … ! This year the rooms were full of supporters, which is another feature of this contest. Well done to Matthew.
After the contest Ronnie McShannon made a short speech advising the competitors that they had put on a superb day of entertainment for the audience and judges and (cliché but absolutely true) it was very hard to pick out a prize-list. He also advised pipers to look at their bagpipe – a few went astray, which could have settled with some tuning on the boards. A second bit of advice was to keep plugging away at the practice chanter for the piobaireachd technique, without which it is hard to get the music across. Without the ground-work on the bagpipe and technique it is hard to make the prize-list.
The Piobaireachd Society plans to hold this contest next year as usual – probably on the last Saturday in February 2024 – and welcomes amateur players and their supporters to come along once again.