Ceres Games Results and Comment

Champion Piper Ben Duncan

A snell wind greeted us as we arrived in the Howe of Fife for the annual Ceres Highland Games, purportedly the oldest in Scotland, dating from 1314, and a year my rabid nationalist pal tells me coincides with some minor altercation at Bannockburn.

By Robert Wallace

It’s just over a year since the old grappler and piper Willie Baxter left us and there he was on the front of the Ceres programme resplendent in his signature Culloden tartan.

You cannot keep a good man down. Willie did so much for wrestling, piping and the Highland games in general. He was a regular official at Ceres.

Some readers will remember his elite Scotway competition held in Glasgow City Chambers in the 1980s. Despite opposition from Seumas MacNeill who saw it as a threat to Glenfiddich, Willie ploughed on undaunted and attracted all the top pipers of the time – including Donald MacPherson who never went near the great hall at Blair Atholl. Willie Baxter, fondly remembered and greatly missed…..

Helen and Claire organised the draws as I made my way to the judge’s bench. The piping began at 11.15am and finished at 5.45pm with no break.

There were eight juniors and 12 seniors. A large crowd watched and listened on the other side of the small stream that separates the piping from the games proper.

Some of the juniors played tunes that were far above their level. Why is it that instructors continue to foist Dora MacLeod, Donald Duaghal MacKay and Maggie Cameron on boys who would be better with Loch Loskin, the Wee Spree and Captain Colin Campbell? It does the pupil no favours.

Arran Green played well on a sweet instrument to win the light music, though I worry that his fingerwork is too clipped for a young lad. Douglas Baird had a nicely set up pipe for Cabar Feidh Gu Brath.
Jnr. Piob: 1 Douglas Baird 2 Arran Green 3 Chris Drummond 4 Callan Erskine
Jnr. March: 1 Arran Green 2 Douglas Baird 3 Chris Drummond 4 William Muirhead
Jnr. S&R: 1 Arran Green 2 Douglas Baird 3 Chris Drummond 4 Euan McAree

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It was 2.15pm before we began the seniors. The winner of the ceòl mòr was Darach Urquhart with Farewell to the Laird of Islay. Var 1 could have been expressed better and there were some misses in the D Ts and Cs, but a clear winner nevertheless. Ben Duncan was second with Black Donald’s March. Ben had a fine, if high pitched, pipe but tended to bring the gracenote in a bit too quickly after the grip in the Ground and Thumb. One or two crunluaths were tight, the cold wind having an effect no doubt.

Callum Wynd came third with MacNeill of Barra. Callum might have done better if he had fingered the fosgailte properly. The short theme notes are too long and the long anchor notes too short. To this we can add a lack of clarity in the E and F gracenotes of the dre. Otherwise a good tune.

The final prize went to James MacPetrie. His ground of Melbank’s was perfectly phrased but then he spoiled things by ferociously cutting the short notes in Var 1, holding back the tempo in the crunluath doubling, and adding a small choke for good measure.

Of the others, Andrew Hall may enjoy the first phrase of Var 2 in Old Men of the Shells but that is no good reason for playing it twice! Pity. Cameron MacLeod started well in Flame of Wrath before falling away; Ben Mulhearn’s pipe was lost in the wind and the general games park noise; Walter Glendinning’s high A and F were sharp but elsewhere showed promise with Too Long in this Condition; Hector Munro rushed his way through Hector MacLean’s Warning. A bold tune yes, but not this bold.

Piobaireachd, three tunes; 12 played.
1 Darach Urquhart
2 Ben Duncan
3 Callum Wynd
4 James MacPetrie

Darach Urquhart, winning the piobaireachd at Ceres

To the light music; 11 played. Again, three tunes asked for. Lording it over everyone was Ben Duncan. The pipe definitely came across as lower pitched here and this helped the projection of his fingering and his professional, musical, delivery of the Duchess of Edinburgh, John Roy Stewart and Jacky Latin.

A good Mrs Duncan MacFadyen earned some petrol money for Angus MacPhee, down from Inverness. Callum Wynd was close behind but clipped B tachums at the end of the parts in Miss Elspeth Campbell cost him dear. A steady Young MacGregor from young Andrew Hall earned fourth. Hector Munro was musical with Jeannie Carruthers but rushed through once more.

Callum Wynd gained second in the S&R, Stac Pollaidh and DJS Murray the tunes, with the phrasing in the strath needing more attention. Third was David Stulpner from Australia: musical playing with an absence of the carelessness that can often creep in to this piper’s playing when under pressure. Fourth prize: Darach Urquhart; a little uninspiring but clean.

Callum Wynd placed in every competition

1 Ben Duncan
2 Angus MacPhee
3 Callum Wynd
4 Andrew Hall

1 Ben Duncan
2 Callum Wynd
3 David Stulpner
4 Darach Urquhart

Ceres Highland Games, June 29, 2024. Judge for all piping events: R Wallace; Champion Piper: Ben Duncan.

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