Argyllshire Gathering – Review of the 2015 Gold Medal

John Angus Smith and chief piping steward Torquil Telfer were having a refreshment together when the judges handed Torquil the result.  Torquil glanced at it, looked up at the victor and stretched out his hand, writes Dr Jack Taylor.

No words were necessary.  John Angus seemed not to believe it for a moment, then the tears flowed. The 10pm sessions at the London rehearsal room, and everything before, had paid off.  Never let it be said that the Gold Medal is not important.

His winning tune was Donald Duaghal Mackay’s Lament, Iain Dall MacKay’s masterpiece to the Baronet of Nova Scotia, born 1590, who fought as a mercenary for the Kings of Denmark and Sweden.  John Angus’s pipe was deep, full and balanced, with the F blending strikingly with the drones.  As the groundwork sang there was the feeling of ‘this is going well’.  The interpretation was fluid and sensitive, and the variations blended seamlessly. The pipe was as good as ever as he hit the last low A.

Jamie Troy had decided to put in big tunes, and none is more demanding than The Laird of Anapool’s Lament, another Iain Dall masterpiece. The pipe was bold and clear, and those tricky musical passages in the grounds were expressed fluently.  All the difficult high G work was nigh on perfect and the taorluaths and crunluaths rippled consistently to complete what was for me an inspired performance, gaining him 2nd place.  Was the high G a touch strident?  Were the middle variations as fully expressed as the remaining tune?  Maybe, maybe not.

MacNeill of Barra’s March was drawn for James McHattie who was 3rd.  He knows this tune well and his handling of it was assured. The interpretation was thoughtful, the tempos just right, the technique well controlled and strong, never more so than in the tripling.  Minor tenor waver at times was a small distraction.

Andrew Carlisle was 4th. His pipe was smooth and true, ideal for the long Lament for the Earl of Antrim.  He gave full expressive reign to the groundwork. There was slight loss of onward movement in the 3rd ground, and the overall effect was marred only slightly by his rather careful taorluath and crunluath movements.

Fifth was Alasdair Henderson with the Big Spree.  The judges had an intake of breath as he inserted a grip before the C approaching the end of the first line, substituting hi o dro din for hi o din.  He seemed not to notice, and later confirmed this to be true, perhaps just as well.  Otherwise, the tune was strong – duly forceful, good lights and shades, excellent technique and a true, balanced pipe.

Sixteen names were considered for the prize list, indicating the closeness of the competition. Some extracts from my notes on the other performances, in order of play:

Alastair Lee – His Father’s Lament for Donald MacKenzie – very sound, could perhaps have drawn out the expression more in the ground, possibly anticipating taorluath movements in the Taorluath doubling with the following connecting notes a shade sharply cut.

William Geddes – Patrick Og – some B grips and embaris not too clear, not quite catching V1, some passages rushed, a mach irregular.

Decker Forrest – MacDougall’s Gathering – E echos a bit crushed together, could have given more space to 4 note passages line 2 of ground, variation singlings very effective, taorluath doubling rushed.

Jonathan Greenlees – Old Men of the Shells – drones coming and going, bass very dominant.  A little lacking in fluency and light and shade.

Derek Midgley – Princes Salute – well balanced and expressed generally, mild drone drift, off in line three V1 doubling.

Gordon McCready – Pass of Crieff – drones never fully locked, hiharins and darados sometimes unclear; seemed generally unsettled and variation doublings just a touch forced.

Jenny Hazzard – Earl of Ross’s March – most expressive ground and early variations, drones slightly out from tripling. Triplings and edres lacking clarity.

Cameron Drummond – Ronald MacDonald of Morar – strong musically and technically; errors in T and C singling, wrong at start of a mach and stopped.

Craig Sutherland – End of the Great Bridge – Excellent pipe and technique but tempo almost constant throughout; looking for some tempo variation and more expressive nuance.

Glenn Brown – Big Nameless, Cherede Darievea – Excellent tune, kept it moving, pipe good. Chips high A – low A and some D movements not 100% clear.

Allan Russell – MacSwan of Roaig – looking for more delineation of phrases – doublings on the fast side – high G variable.

Jori Chisholm – I got a Kiss of the King’s Hand – Ground unsettled, some unsteady blowing.  Could shape variations more. Drones not entirely steady.

Donald MacPhee – Battle of Auldearn 1 – poised and expressive, doublings a shade careful, mild drone drift.

Andrew Lee – Hector MacLean’s Warning (MacArthur MacGregor) – Good tune, cautious throughout, but thoughtful and consistent.  Small technical issues in Taorluath. Tenor waver from early on. Drones not fully blending.

Fiona Manson – Lament for the Dead – a beautiful tune on a beautiful pipe.  Note error in thumb variation. Sensitive and thoughtful. Variation doublings cautious. Mach movements not 100% clear.

Andrea Boyd – My King has Landed in Moidart – nice tune but not making impact due to indistinct phrasing at times.  Could have been more flexible with low G link notes.  Drone drift mid tune which corrected itself.

Angus J McColl – MacFarlanes’ Gathering – fluid, expressive, forward-moving, good gathering feel.  Natural use of lights and shades.  Drones drifted, F went sharp.

Chris Armstrong – Rory MacLeod’s Lament – musical, drawing out expression well.  Stopped due to drone drift.

Peter McCallister – Lament for Viscount Dundee – seemed over-controlled in places.  Some exaggeration of expressive points. Low G flat, nursing the D.

John Mulhearn – Vaunting – stopped line 1 due to tenor double-toning.

Jamie Forrester – Lament for the Children – Very good tune, pipe excellent.  Room for more light and shade in groundwork, some questions about timing V2, Taorluath and Crunlauth doublings rushed.

Andrew Hayes – Lachlan MacNeill Kintarbert’s Fancy – didn’t catch fire for me – generally cautious, some unclear taorluath technique, drones didn’t hold.

Innes Smith – Earl of Seaforth – gritty high A intrusive, anticipating cadence at end of phrase 2 in the ground.  Cautious from V1 doubling onward.