Scottish Pipe Band Championships 2023 Review

On their way to yet another victory….FMM

I had long advocated for a change in the siting of the competition arenas at Dumbarton, so there was some satisfaction in discovering just that. No longer are the bands exposed to the full, raw blast from the Clyde estuary. Now they are snuggled away in Levengrove Park’s pleasant greenery, well protected from the elements. 

The only disadvantage to the new Grade 1 circle is that the final tuning area is too close. It is on raised ground overlooking the competition arena and there is noticeable sound spillage. A 100 yard move north west should solve the problem.

By The Editor

Dumbarton attracted 115 bands for their Scottish Pipe Band Championship. The town is a proud host of this important cultural event and recognise its significance. To emphasise my point, local West Dunbartonshire councillors and national politicians Jackie Bailie and Lord McFall were out in force. 

Entry was free; there was a large crowd. The weather remained threatening but mostly stayed dry with occasional warm sunshine.

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I arrived in time to hear part of the Juvenile grade. I thought winners Dollar Academy played exceptionally well for youngsters, but that the bass drum and sides could have been tuned better. I enjoyed listening to Stirlingshire Militia, the difficult 2/4 I played as a boy with the 214 BB. Very ably handled by Preston Lodge. I thought George Watson’s sounded well but tired during the lengthy reel Brown Haired Maid. A good four-parter might suit the youngsters better.

Preston Lodge made a good fist of Stirlingshire Militia

At 2pm sharp the Grade 1 contest began……

It was clear to all followers that Field Marshal Montgomery were under considerable pressure. Without a major this season, they needed a big performance if they were to build some momentum for the Worlds. Star players Sean McKeown and Ian K MacDonald had flown in that Thursday to bolster the ranks. (They told me they were heading home to Canada the following day; there’s dedication for you.)
Last on, FMM did not disappoint. A huge band with a huge sound, perfectly drilled. I couldn’t find fault with the presentation. Yet musically….…. does Lady Madeline work as a jig? Does Mrs MacPherson deserve to be bowdlerised like this? At the top end such matters of personal taste matter.

Peoples Ford Boghall in the circle last Saturday

So I have to be honest dear reader, I had FMM second, second to Boghall. Ross Harvey’s band were thrilling from start to finish. They really grabbed the attention with their opening cut and pointed hornpipe. There was melody everywhere in this medley and all performed on the front foot. How could the judges (one gave them a 5!) not be impressed with the fingering in Inspector Campbell, Ness?, and the tone the band held throughout Seonaidh’s Lullaby. What a reception from the crowd when they finished.

Also on the front foot were Emmett Conway’s Shotts & Dykehead. This was a band playing themselves into the list, demanding to be heard. The P/M produced as good a sound as any on the day and it sustained to the end. Listening in detail to the technique it was clear there had been a lot of practice chanter work. The result was impressive unison even in the difficult passages. This is work that will pay more dividend when they come to the technically demanding MSRs at the Worlds.

Inveraray…. set spoiled by seconds

I had Inveraray fourth. I have seldom heard a pipe band medley so annoyingly traduced by ill-sounding seconds. Every time they broke into harmonies there seemed a clash of tone or the subversion of the main tune. Perhaps it was something to do with where I was standing but I’ve checked online and they sound just as bad. These seconds lacked subtlety and proper tuning and ruined, for me, an otherwise superb band performance. I liked the deliberate chanter cut between the reels but it needs to be a shade longer. At the moment it sounds too much like a well executed choke.

St Laurence O’Toole are never anything other than musical – but the green machine needs to get mean. Their strathspeys lacked zip – point and cut – and the reels that followed were noticeably easier paced than other bands. Bhoys, when the Mighty Creighton has your back and maestro Dunne is on the bass, it’s time to cut loose, to unleash a Wicklow whirlwind. Do that and you become the darkest of dark green horses at the Green.

Stephen ‘Mighty’ Creighton and the green machine

Scottish Power can do better than Amazing Grace as their slow air and some of their other tunes were weak too. Great players in this band for sure, and very well controlled by Chris Armstrong. They were the only band to wear capes and I wondered if their well-set chanters were muffled as a result. There certainly was a chanter/ drone imbalance to my ear, and I was standing downwind. They had what looked like bako-foil coverings on the front of their bags and on the drone stocks. Not sure what the purpose of this innovation is. 

Scottish Power front rank at Dumbarton

Of the others, there was not much between Fife Police and Johnstone, good, solid mid-table outfits. There was a lack of unison in places with Fife, and perhaps a keen edge to the high A. Johnstone’s tunes need a look. This setting of Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia just does not work on the pipes, and that ’tune’ with all the strikes went on forever. What both displayed, however, was considerable potential to climb the grade.

A bowdlerised Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay was the centrepiece of Police Scotland’s medley. I had to guard against my in-built prejudice here. How dare they take liberties with one of our great classic pieces of ceòl mor! But guess what, the slow passage actually worked quite well, with tasteful harmonies particularly effective. So that shut me up good and proper. Elsewhere, work in progress – which was also the case for Grade 1 newbies Closkelt.


My result:
1 Boghall
3 Shotts
4 Inveraray
6 Scot. Power

Actual result:
2 Inveraray
4 Boghall
5 Shotts
6 Scot. Power

  • Scottish Pipe Band Championships, July 29, 2023, Dumbarton. Full summaries here.

The Bagpiper’s Handbook…a must have for all pipers


6 thoughts on “Scottish Pipe Band Championships 2023 Review

  1. I’m so delighted to see your comments because they back up everything I said on a YouTube video of the championships, where it was clear that a lot of people were unhappy with me expressing my views. Either Boghall or Shotts for me on the day.

  2. Think a lot of people were with you people were telling me it was going to between fmm and boghall but the result didn’t show that boghall were really good only grade one I listened to so can’t say they deserve to win but musical it was effortless.

  3. I for one really enjoyed the Amazing Grace, really tasteful. I guess that is music for you, it’s all personal.

      1. Sorry didn’t realise you weren’t there last year, but it was a better day weatherwise and the sound was contained well because of the closed in arena. I didn’t actually notice any infringement of sound from final tuning, but maybe because my viewpoint was different from yours.

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