Review: The Northern Meeting 2023

Prizewinners and officials at the 2023 Northern Meeting. Photo courtesy Northern Meeting

All the excitement of top class piping competition was contained neatly in Eden Court Theatre and its environs for the 2023 Northern Meeting. The NM committee and staff could not have been more welcoming, putting nervous pipers, inquisitive visitors, doddery judges at their ease the moment they stepped through the theatre’s glass doored maw.

The bar prices were reasonable too so people were more inclined to hang around chatting in the foyer even if there was only limited catering for solids. Door takings on the first day were reportedly healthy, and the informative programme well worth £5.

By Robert Wallace

There is concern over the ongoing cost of running this showpiece event. Sensibly, very expensive live-streaming has been scrapped so saving a large wodge of cash. If you wanted to hear the best pipers in the world you had to make some effort to do so. Those who did were not disappointed and we’ll get to the music shortly.

If the rumours are correct, Eden Court management are bumping up their hire charges for 2024 – and not by a modest amount. They say they no longer receive any direct support from the Scottish Government and therefore have to survive on what they earn. As a consequence, prices will have to rise.

Will the Theatre of Piping Dreams price itself out of the market? Who knows, but there is a limit to what can be raised in sponsorship. There is talk of moving the NM to the University of the Highlands and Islands further from Inverness town centre. It has even been suggested that the light music should be taken outside to the Northern Meeting Park.

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That is not going to fly, yet think of the income stream from tourists still around in the Highland capital in their droves in late August, early September. Tented boards à la Braemar and voilà, all your cash worries disappear. So here’s the Wallace recommendation: Day 1 at UHI for the ceòl mòr and Day 2 in the NM Park for some character building piping en plein aire. Whatever transpires, a sustainable solution will be found by Piping Convenor Derek Fraser and his astute committee, of that I am certain.

To the music…We must acknowledge here the outstanding achievement of Callum Beaumont in winning the two blue ribbon events of the Meeting, the Gold Clasp and the Silver Star for Former Winners’ MSR. To take one of these events is a huge testimony to your piping ability. To take two in the same year places you in very rare company indeed.

What was Callum’s reaction? ‘Delight mixed with shock,’ said he. ‘It will certainly take a long while to sink in. Like all of my fellow competitors, I feel honoured and privileged to participate in these events and to be given the nod twice is something that I would never expect.’ 

This column is not too bothered about records, ours is a musical pursuit not a sport. However, Callum now has five Clasps putting him only (only!) four behind the legendary Donald MacPherson with nine. Callum is in his 30s. You don’t need me to work out the possibilities for you.

Turning now to the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal, let us cheer Dr Innes Smith this year’s recipient at Inverness. His was one of the few GM tunes I managed to hear and he gave a controlled, well expressed reading of Sobieski’s Salute, a dull composition which needs skill to bring to life never mind to win a Gold Medal with. The bagpipe, which I believe once belonged to P/M Donald MacLeod, was impeccable, full sounding, rich.

Late afternoon on Day 1 there was a hush as Convenor Fraser took to the stage in the main auditorium to deliver the result. Fifth to second, then a pause…and Innes’s name. I am sure I heard muffled cheers from the crowd for this was a very popular win by an unassuming man who somehow manages to find time to fit in pipe practice between his duties as an orthopaedic surgeon at a Glasgow children’s hospital.

Dr Jack Taylor presents the Gold Medal to Dr Innes Smith. It was pleasing touch by the organisers to invite Dr Taylor to make the presentation 50 years after he achieved the same feat himself. Picture courtesy the Northern Meeting

If Innes’s performance was the high point of the gold medal competition there were several lows, at least according to my correspondent. Whilst I was busy judging the ‘A’ Grade MSR, he kept a weather ear on proceedings in the main auditorium. It seemed to him that few competitors had taken advantage of the ‘Talk Piobaireachd’ instruction on the Piobaireachd Society’s website where many of the set tunes were examined in detail. Had pipers looked to that, he said, multiple timing errors could have been avoided.

Another popular winner at the Meetings was Silver Medallist Matt Pantaleoni from St Louis, Missouri. Matt has travelled thousands of miles over many years in his pursuit of bagpipe silverware and it all came good for him this year. The audience in the SM room knew this was a potential winner from the sweet sound of his pipe and the smooth flow of the urlar. But would he keep control to the end of Fair Honey? Of course he would, and the judges were swift and unanimous in their decision.

There were two outstanding performances in the ‘A’ MSR, those of Craig Sutherland and Angus J MacColl. A superior pipe gave Craig the edge. The other prizewinners all played well too but had minor indiscretions which had to be considered. Yet these were as nothing compared to the basic faults in many of the other pipers’ playing: the birl in early in march endings, two bar phrases ignored, suspect doublings on E from F at tempo, well tuned pipes progressively de-tuned during the four minute tuning lights countdown.

Seonaidh Forrest winner of the U-15 Piobaireachd

On Day 2 I had the pleasant task of taking the bench for the juniors. Some promising young players here, particularly Seonaidh Forrest who took the U-15 Piobaireachd (his dad is Decker of that ilk) and Gregor Grierson from Dumfries who secured the U-18 MSR with clean, mature playing on a well set instrument.

That brought my judging duties to a close but before departing for the hills and Braemar, I had a coffee and reflected on what a warm, fulfilling two days of world class piping we had been privileged to experience. Even pipers not in the lists must have enjoyed Inverness 2023. All credit to those charged with the responsibility of staging this five star gathering.

  • Full results from Inverness here.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Northern Meeting 2023

  1. A brilliant two days. Some top performances. Well done to all the competitors and those who organised this wonderful event.

  2. Well worth the effort and time taken to get there and listen to some outstanding piping.

    I think that Angus MacColl Jnr deserves a mention for not allowing the commotion that occurred due to a medical emergency to affect his concentration. Even if the judges took the time to try and see what was happening.

    I hope the gentleman concerned is ok, and well done to all competitors.

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