Review: Argyllshire Gathering 2023

Gold Medallist Alasdair Henderson (l) is joined by MacGregor winner Alastair Bevan and Silver Medallist Jamie Elder

The unique atmosphere of the Argyllshire Gathering was very much to the fore this year but we could have done without the torrential rain on the afternoon of the games. We now need covered platforms for the pipers to play on. Those caught in the deluge struggled on manfully and all credit to them, particularly the prizewinners.

Day one began with the piobaireachd competitions. The winner of the Gold Medal was Alasdair Henderson, Dunoon. He joins the select band of ‘double gold’ winners having secured the Inverness counterpart in 2017. Alasdair’s tune was Menzies’ Salute and the judges remarked that his was the first good tune of the day and no one superseded it.

By Robert Wallace

The Silver Medal went to Jamie Elder from Auchtermuchty who played the Nameless tune ‘One of the Cragich’. ‘I thought I had played well,’ said Jamie to me later, ‘but had no idea that it was good enough for a prize never mind winning the thing!’ 

What was also notable about their prizewinning was that both Alasdair and Jamie play in Inveraray Pipe Band. They had been at the Worlds, up to their necks in three-paced rolls and ‘by the rights’, only three days prior to travelling to Oban for the solos. Quite a mind shift needed and it makes their success all the more praiseworthy.

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I was on the bench for the Senior Piobaireachd. Twenty-five pipers had entered but thankfully there were five withdrawals. We (fellow judges Malcolm McRae and Jack Taylor) started at 9am sharp and finished at 5.45pm. We would have had another two hours on to that had all entrants played, making for an 11 hour shift, an unacceptable length of time to be judging.

Part of the problem is the size of tunes on the prescribed long list. If that is indeed to be continued for five years as advertised, something needs to be done to curtail numbers. I would suggest an invite system whereby only Gold Medallists who are currently successfully competing are offered a place.

The 2023 Senior Piobaireachd was won by Angus MacColl, his magnificent bagpipe effortlessly filling Corran Halls with its rich harmonic. Angus could have perhaps phrased Variation 3 a bit more but overall the Earl of Antrim has seldom been given such a masterly treatment.

Angus MacColl with a well deserved Kilberry Cup presented by the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders for Senior Piobaireachd

Not far behind Angus came Callum Beaumont with MacLeod of Colbeck. Like Angus, Callum is one of those naturally gifted musicians who can make any melody sing. That’s just what he did here, a slight rushing in the T&C doublings and a more subdued pipe than Angus making the difference. 

Third prize went to that excellent piper from New Zealand Stuart Easton. Stuart was right up there with In Praise of Morag, a technically superb tune on a bright, steady pipe. Did he need a little more phrasing in the ground and pulsing in Variation 1 doubling? 

The Unjust Incarceration was Connor Sinclair’s tune and it earned him fourth. Another fine pipe and finger – with the notable exception of the a mach which was rushed and crushed. Otherwise a mature performance from this young piper. 

Young winners at the AG….Cameron Bonar with the RG Hardie Memorial Trophy for Intermediate MSR, His Grace the Duke of Argyll presents his medal to Junior MSR winner Arran Brown, and Emma Hill Local Champion

Fifth went to Jamie Forrester who might have done better had he not added a beat to the end of the crunluaths in the ground instead of getting down to the two low Gs at the end of the phrase. Another lovely bagpipe however, and the rest of the tune was well set out.

Spare a thought for Alan Bevan who just missed out with a Patrick Og that was a shade over pushed, Iain Speirs, cruising in IPM when the drones drifted and a small choke appeared as he nursed the instrument, and Finlay Johnston similarly affected in MacLeod of MacLeod. 

Weatherise Day 2 started promisingly with the march to the games suffering only a short shower. After, the flood.

It was satisfying to see 60 pipers out piping P/M Henderson on his victory march. A shame some notables did not see fit to add their support: 

A dram with the Duke and the light music began with most of the senior events in the field adjacent to Mossfield Park, the jigs and junior piping retained in the main arena.

Callum Beaumont was the outstanding piper with a first and second in the ‘A’ grade. Callum now qualifies to play for the 2024 Former Winners’ MSR title. Also moving up the professional piping ladder were ‘B’ winners Sandy Cameron and Andrew Donlon, USA, who can now compete in the ‘A’ grade. Fifty two jigs played and Lewisman James MacKenzie emerged on top in that category.

Outstanding in the Intermediate MSR for the RG Hardie Memorial Trophy was teenager Cameron Bonar from British Columbia. Musical and neatly fingered, he was the unanimous winner among the judges, myself, Derek Fraser and Ian Duncan. He also made the final of the MacGregor Piobaireachd the previous day. One to watch I would say. 

Hector Finlayson, a pupil of Niall Stewart, Kyle, is another with a promising future. A stoical Highland lad, he pressed on for second place, amazingly finger perfect as the heavens opened and the rain ran from his chanter.

* Argyllshire Gathering full results here.

3 thoughts on “Review: Argyllshire Gathering 2023

  1. I found it delightful to read of your gathering. Is Alastair Henderson’s
    piping available online?

  2. What a repertoire these pipers must have memorized. I find it outstanding.

    And what a SOUND, first-rate pipers every one of them.

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