Category Archives: Features

Preview of the Grade 2 European Pipe Band Championship

The major pipe band championship wagon will again roll into the Highland town of Forres this Saturday for the Europeans, writes our Special Correspondent.  Past events have been blessed with improving weather, big crowds and excellent facilities in and around Grant Park.

The local organisers really pull out the stops and bands have been welcomed into the bus park with hampers of goodies, visitors have enjoyed the food festival and craft beer in adjoining areas of the field, with many a side show going on to keep all ages occupied. In spite of that sterling effort, a number of bands tend to choose to opt out of this one and, in Grade 2, there are no Irish bands listed to play at all. Interestingly, last year saw bands from Australia and South Africa in other grades.

For those who don’t know, Forres, it is a former Royal Burgh in Morayshire, and a short stop from the upper extremities of the North Sea, accessed via Inverness or, to the east, Aberdeen. It is the site of Duncan’s Castle in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, and those three witches were on a moor, toiling and bubbling not far away. Talking of which, 13 bands are listed for the Grade 2 medley contest – assuming all play.  See the draw here. Judges at the ready will be the experienced quartet of Messrs. Semple, Hunt, Mordaunt and Noble.

In the very first major of the season at Paisley, also a medley contest, we reported on the winning performance of Lomond & Clyde, and the close runner up, Glasgow Skye Association.  Perhaps that one gives us the best steer of what to expect – they repeat their medley sets up north. However, as you all know, it is about delivery on the day and this is another day. We do expect those two to be the first names read out in the early evening. With no Manorcunningham present, winners of the drumming at Paisley, the rest of the slots will be filled by Scots bands and possibly one hailing from Denmark. We may even see City of London in the mix.

The Danes

So on to the specific prospects: The vikings of Balagan, Denmark, get the grade started at 2.30pm, having missed the March Strathspey & Reel contest at Belfast. They will repeat their ‘Gathering’ medley and if you are watching and listening the grade, pay attention to their Mist Covered Mountains and transition to MacBeth’s Strathspey. If they can lock in and avoid any freelance piping, their drums should hold the ensemble together. They will be looking for a placing for sure.

City of Discovery, from Dundee, placed 6th in Belfast in their second year in the grade and demonstrated some good MSR discipline. In this Medley competition the band will have to crack on from the off. A musical medley including Bronnie’s Blue Brozzi usually gets feet tapping. The build from the Easy Club Reel, the Ale is Dear to the favourite the Highlandman Kissed His Mother will be the crux of the matter, and a decent execution there will assist for sure.

A tale of two cities indeed as the running order flits from Dundee to London, with the new kids on the block (albeit many in the band have been around it a few times), City of London up next. Paisley was a long time ago and they will take this one on afresh. Maybe less nerves than at their first outing, and an assured start and overall performance might well be the eyebrow raiser of the grade on Saturday.  There were enough glimpses of something good to suggest this collective has it, so long as it all clicks into place on the day. No pressure then! From the off, their version of Lord Alexander Kennedy will perhaps be a bit ‘marmite’ – it has the ability to split views down the middle. One thing for sure though, it has to be perfectly executed. After Maguire’s Jig they will head into the slow air The Rose which has served other bands well in past years. One to watch.

Lomond & Clyde are two from two in the baseball vernacular of our American cousins. The band will be delighted with that, but also aware of the growing expectation and the pressure that leading the pack brings with it. The very best are the ones able to deal with that and use it positively to improve incrementally each time rather than rest on laurels. The leadership of this band will know what to do and not let the cart get ahead of the horses.

Mental attitude and concentration are key. They had the most musical of medleys at the first outing of the season with real Grade 1 style ‘transitions’ and reprises. From the Hole in the Soul start, which is a great tune, the musicality flows as the tempo ebbs and flows through the set. The haunting Chi Mi’n Gearmaradh is worth listening to alone, yet the set builds to a destination with cleverly joined up thinking, rather than just a few tunes hand knitted together. The drumming score differentials might just hold the balance in this contest.

If the Oban band shows, it will be the first of the year, so there may be a pause as the clock runs down. We hope they are in the circle though. MacKenzie Caledonian plays next, two third places showing their consistency so far this season. They appeared more at home in the March Strathspey and Reel contest in Belfast, with the ‘2’ scored in ensemble underscoring that. Their’s is a well put together set, with stand outs being the intro tune The Day the Co-op Flooded and the Video Kid. Steady as she goes will see them in the mix, risk taking would give them a shot to the top, but the downside of missing the mark completely. That isn’t the MacCals style. It’s one to enjoy.

Glasgow City was a no show in Belfast and should be up next in the Forres running order. Their medley showed solid composition in Paisley. We liked the Rory MacLeod jig then, but it wasn’t their day. They will be looking to crank it up this time out.

Dumbarton and District played Paisley but skipped Belfast. This reinstated band had a relatively assured performance of a very traditional medley last time out, and the shortest of the day. Immediate thoughts were that a higher risk rating would see them up the ranks but, the experienced pipe major knows what his band is capable of.  It’s easy for commentators to suggest trying this or that of course. In any event, the grade has benefitted with the return of this band.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Services will undoubtedly get a strong welcome as most looking on will be grateful for the very services they represent. The band will be looking to improve again as they take to the field in this medley contest. I’m looking forward to hear the Sparky Cherry and Jamphlar’s Jig. This senior band will be watching their young Novice Juvenile B band, kicking off the whole day in that Grade at 10am.

Championship challengers, Glasgow Skye Association (pictured top), should start with Murdo Nicholson of Camusluinnie and into Gary Cheddy’s Jig. Also look out for Tommy Tully’s Air as a feature point in the set. Can the Skye go one better and take first place to add to this season’s two seconds? If you think the pressure is on Lomond & Clyde, just pause for thought for Skye. They have to break the pattern, otherwise it will be clear where the forward momentum resides. Make no mistake; this is a solid band with a good sound and high expectations. If their drumming kicks on, with no Manorcunningham present, the import of that score and probably the ensemble will make this a fascinating table to look at after the results.

Near locals from Aberdeenshire, Grampian Police,  will make a welcome return to the contest, having missed Belfast. Their medley  (Uphold the Right) was well received last time out and has the toe tapping Mrs MacLeod of Raasay, Dancing Feet and concluding with Bungee Jumper. We suspect they are aiming for a top 6, after their 10th at the British. Bucksburn & District will be back in the circle, also having missed Belfast. In Paisley they had a 6th and 1st in piping, so there is something to listen to here. It is a tight pipe corp and should not be overlooked. They might think the 12th in ensemble was harsh and this is the chance to open up and aim higher.

Isle of Islay will close out the grade at around 4.20pm, albeit the stewards will have it exactly right at 4.18pm.  The sun shone for them at Paisley, skipped Belfast, and this is the second major run out of their medley which includes the Welsh Dragon, the Kesh Jig and The Fuddler.  Any set with the Devil in the Kitchen is good for me.

That will be the grade and, we very much look forward to a great competition. The very best of fortune to each and every band playing on Saturday. The weather looks to be overcast and cloudy in the few days leading up to Saturday and the area looks prone to early morning showers on the day itself. Have capes at the ready and umbrella volunteers may be required alongside the growing tented village appearing contest by contest. That was the forecast on BBC TV ‘Countryfile’, which a farming friend swears by – often in a bad way. However, bring the sun cream, as what’s now known as ‘a Belfast’ (being sunburnt) is possible.

The RSPBA video camera team will be out in force again and the whole grade will be on YouTube fairly soon after. Watch out for updates on the @rspbahq Twitter feed during the day too – short clips of each band as they strike up. This has been a great service for those interested in the grade and, for those unable to be there on the day. The Grade 1 contest is well served with coverage by ‘Big Rab’ broadcasting live (the prize giving is always a good watch), DroneChorus adding his considerable expertise and excellent filming, and UlsterScot with his unique behind the scenes looks at tuning. As an aside, wasn’t the film footage of Inveraray and District’s chanter practice at Belfast simply fascinating?

So, for those of you traveling to Forres we wish you a safe journey. Stopping points in Pitlochry, Aviemore and elsewhere will be busy on the Saturday morning for those going early. Others may well be in the vicinity the night before for practice and some social time. Remember the average speed cameras on the main route from Dunblane roundabout. Drive safe, be careful and, have a great time at Grant Park in Forres.  It’s a short drive to fish and chips in Aviemore on the way home! Along with several thousand others doing the same thing……

For those of you reading overseas and not attending this contest, we will have a report during next week and well before the mid season break and breather, ahead of that gap to the Scottish Championship on 29th July. From there it will crank up with contests piling in, including North Berwick (closing date for entries 2nd July, draw on 6th July) and, Bridge of Allan (closing date 23rd July – draw on 24th).  Note that North Berwick has a Grade 2 Medley and combined Grade 1 & 2 March, Strathspey and Reel contest. Bridge of Allan is a Grade 2 Medley. Of course, playing up to Grade 1 (2x MSR with draw at line) is also an option. Over and out.

Shotts Concert – An Interview with Leading Drummer Andrew Lawson

August 9 will see a packed house at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall for the annual Worlds Week pipe band concert sponsored by Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band. Providing the music this year are the legendary Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band under P/M Ryan Canning and Leading Drummer Andrew Lawson. Andrew has given a short interview to Piping Press about the concert, his corps and working with Ryan…..

How is the drum corps shaping up?
The corps is looking very good this season. There was some turnover at the end of last season. It’ll always be tough to see players go but we added some new players and have been putting in a lot of work for the concert and the competition season. There’s still plenty to do before August 9th but everyone’s very excited to be performing on the Concert Hall stage. Only six weeks away!

Shotts drum corps at the British Championships at Paisley earlier this year

Where do you think you are when compared to Shotts corps of the past?
Shotts is a band with a long history of excellence in drumming. It’s a big thing to live up to and it’s difficult to quantify where we are now in comparison.  We finished our first season very well and we’re working to build on that. The attitude of all the members is very much in line with what I’ve been a part of previously in this corps. Everyone works very hard and challenges themselves to always improve and bring their best to the corps.

What would you consider a successful 2017 season to be?
I think putting our best possible performance down in the arena and improving each time we compete is what I would consider a success. As far as results are concerned we want to keep the band as close to the top as possible and challenge for the win. There’s a lot of belief within the band and with all the extra work for the concert we’ll be very well prepared for all of the competitions.

Shotts’ bass and tenor section

Will you be doing anything to make sure there is a good balance between drums and pipes at the ‘Rise’ concert?
We’ll play a limited number of snare drummers per set and we also have a percussion section to give variation to the rhythm side of the show.

Have you been working on new scores for this year?
It’s been a very big year for scores. Everything for the concert is new as well as a competition medley. I’m really enjoying the creative side of the lead drummer role but I can say I am looking forward to a quieter season next year as far as writing scores is concerned.

What do you think of the standard of pipe band drumming in Grade 1 at the moment.
I think Grade 1 has a lot of depth. There are a lot of corps playing very well and I expect that it will be tight.

P/M Ryan Canning on the big screen after the band’s success at the 2015 Worlds

How do you and Ryan go about selecting tunes and working out beatings/ settings/ ensemble effects?
Ryan will start off with an idea or a tune to get things started. He opens up musical ideas to everyone in the band and then fits things together. He’ll send the pipe sergeants and me recordings for opinions and we discuss ideas from there. When things are finalised I start writing scores. Sometimes Ryan has an idea of a rhythmical effect for a part or a break and other times I take it away and see what I come up with. We have a good understanding of each other and naturally play well together, so we are usually on the same page when arranging music.

Get your tickets for the Shotts concert here

History: P/M William Fergusson, Dornie Ferry and Loch Duich – Part 2

John Don MacKenzie

Solo adjudicator John Don MacKenzie concludes his interesting feature on the great composer Willie Fergusson and some of his tunes…….

There were a number of pipers from Dornie who joined the Scots Guards under P/M Willie Ross – one being my granny’s brother Christopher MacRae, Lag.

Another was Kenny MacKay, who after the war became keeper at Pait Lodge in the remote Loch Monar area north of Strathfarrar. He had a brother Farquhar (‘Fachie’) who in those days was thought of as ‘simple’ and remained at home in Dornie. They were both accomplished pipers and composers, Kenny of Gaelic song as well. I have a number of their hand-written compositions which were  given to me by Kenny’s son Iain – and they are musical indeed.

Kenny MacKay, Dornie and Pait

My grandmother said that the brothers would compose tunes and send them of to Glasgow for, on occasion, a fee of up to ten shillings (50p  in today’s money). Specific details are not known. It has been told to me by older folk from the area, pipers among them, that Fachie MacKay was the composer of Dornie Ferry! None of these people had any knowledge of P/M Willie Fergusson or his book.

Christopher MacRae, Lag

The slow air Loch Duich has been around in Kintail for many years and a Murdo MacRae, who lived in a hamlet known as Carn at the end of Loch Duich all his life, informed me it was a melody his mother sung in her younger days i.e. the turn of the last century. Murdie Carn  as he was known locally was an accomplished accordion player and played his box well into his late 80s. He died three years ago at the age of 92.

It may have been Willie Fergusson who gave Loch Duich its name for  inclusion in his book, but as I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, he doesn’t accredit a composer to Loch Duich or to Dornie Ferry or indeed any of the tunes in it. It is taken for granted that he composed them because they appear in his book alongside his other acknowledged compositions.

I’d like to emphasis at this point that this piece is in no way an attempt to take anything away from Willie Fergusson’s reputation or ability as a player or composer. As previously stated he was by all accounts a top class gentleman with an impeccable character .

The tune Loch Duich is in fact a much, much older melody than we realise having been composed in 1804 either as a pipe lament or song melody. Here is its story  from the now rare 1899 book ‘History of the Clan MacRae’: There was a Christopher MacRae, whose father lived in Torlishy [about two miles from Shiel Bridge]. He was a Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the 78th Highlanders which was raised in 1804. 

‘He quickly came through the ranks and he returned to Kintail as a recruiting officer. Lieutenant MacRae, using his local knowledge and influence, brought 22 young men back to his battalion all from Kintail. In recognition of this feat he obtained an Ensign’s Commission for his younger brother Farquhar.

‘The departure of these men was commemorated (or mourned) by the air Loch Duich. The haunting melody expresses the sadness felt by the Kintail people as the Memory of Sherriffmuir and Culloden and its aftermath were still in their memory. The sadness was indeed well founded as Lieutenant MacRae and seven of the Kintail boys were killed at the Battle of El Hamet in 1807.’

Here follows an account of the battle from the memoirs of a General Stewart, CO of the 78th Highlanders: ‘Sergeant John MacRae, a young man about 22 years of age but of great size and strength of arm, showed that the Highland Broadsword, in a firm hand, is as good a weapon in close combat as the bayonet. MacRae, killing six men, cutting them down with his broadsword (of the kind usually worn by Sergeants of Highland Corps.), when at last made a dash out of the Ranks at a Turk whom he cut down; but as he was returning to the square he was killed by a blow from behind, his head being nearly split in two by the stroke of a Sabre.

‘Lieutenant Christopher MacRae, whom I have already mentioned as having brought 18 men of his own name to the Regiment as part of his quota for as Ensigncy, was killed in this affair with six of his followers and namesakes, besides the Sergeant.

‘On the passage to Lisbon in 1805, the same Sergeant came to me one evening crying like a child and complaining that the ship’s Cook had called him English names which he did not understand and thrown some fat in his face. Thus, a Lad who in 1805 was so soft and childish, displayed in 1807 a courage and vigour worthy of Ossian.’

I’m sure these words were poor comfort to the families of the soldiers killed and the pipe tune composed for their departure would then have taken on an even more poignant role .

There are two graveyards in Kintail, Clachan Duich at the Glenshiel end of Loch Duich and Ard Dearg on Loch Duich’s south shore. The normal practice is at funerals for the piper to play ‘Theid mi Dhachaidh Crodh Kintail’ (loosely translated as ‘I will go home to Kintail’ at Clachan Duich and Loch Duich at Ard Dearg. Why? I don’t really know.

History: P/M William Fergusson, Dornie Ferry and Loch Duich – Part 1

John Don MacKenzie, Dornie

We are grateful to piping adjudicator John Don MacKenzie for this feature on one of the great pipers and composers of yesteryear, P/M William Fergusson. The above picture is of Loch Duich and Glen Shiel and is dated 1907.

Willie Fergusson (1885 – 1949) was born in Arbroath. As a youth, and now living in Glasgow, he became a pupil of Farquhar MacRae. He firstly was in a Boys’ Brigade band but ran away from home and tried to join the Scots Guards. Being under age his father was sent for and he was taken home. 

But as soon as his age permitted he joined the 7th Battalion Highland Light Infantry the Pipe Major where MacRae was P/M. This was most probably the reason for his choosing that regiment. In 1914 P/M MacRae resigned from the HLI and formed the City of Glasgow Pipe Band and later in the same year WW1 was declared. Willie was made P/M of the 7th Battalion  HLI at the age of 29.

He served in Flanders, Gallipoli and Palestine, then, following the Armistice in 1918, he restarted the City of Glasgow band Farquhar MacRae having died in 1916. The band included five ex-Army pipe majors. His  skill in setting chanters and drones, along with his teaching ability, was rewarded when they won the coveted World Championship title at Cowal in 1919.

Clan MacRae Pipe Band in 1932 three years after Willie Fergusson resigned

Confusion reigned however because newspaper reports incorrectly attributed the winning title to the City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band. Fergusson decided to rename the band in order to avoid further confusion. In honour of his friend and teacher Farquhar MacRae, and with the grateful support of the Clan MacRae Society, the band became The Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band. The date was 1st May 1920 and Major MacRae–Gillstrap, the MacRae Clan Chief and owner of Eilean Donan, the famous castle on Loch Duich, agreed to be their patron.

Eilean Donan Castle

Under Willie Fergusson’s leadership the Clan MacRae band went on to win the World Championship four times and become runners-up three times between 1921 and 1927. Another honour was that the  band were the first  ever to do a radio broadcast.

In 1929 Willie, a carpenter to trade, had a serious accident at work falling thirty feet down a stairwell. He gave up the leadership of the band and went of to convalesce in Canada. He later returned to Scotland and died in 1949 at the age of only 64. He had been predeceased by his wife Catherine nine years earlier. She was a native of Edinbane in Skye and there they spent many holidays, Willie learning to speak Gaelic.

P/M Willie Fergusson, brilliant composer and pipe major of Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band

Willie Ferguson was one of the great pipe band leaders but his other major legacy to piping were his compositions. He made many superb tunes. These included the 2/4 marches Kantara to El Arish, the Australian Ladies, and the Atholl and Breadalbane Gathering and the strathspey Dornie Ferry to name just a few.

In 1939 he compiled a collection of music entitled ‘Fergusson’s Bagpipe Melodies’. It contained 55 tunes mostly of his own composition. For some reason he chose not to attribute composers’ names to any of the tunes, so it is difficult to ascertain which were in actual fact his own works, or merely his own settings or indeed tunes by other composers .

As mentioned, it was in this book that  the strathspey Dornie Ferry first came to light, and also saw the first publishing of the famous slow air Loch Duich.

• To be continued.

Piobaireachd by the Sea/ New England Pipe & Drum Academy Workshop

The organisers of the ‘Pibroch by the Sea’ event have announced a masterclass by Jimmy McIntosh and Herve Le Floc’h.

Other details: This will be the 13th year of the popular event held at the Breton seaside. Dates are September 16 and 17. The Saturday Masterclass begins at 9.30 and costs €30. Venue is the Ecole de mer Hériot – Port-Mer (direction camping municipal). Lunch included in fee. Cheques to Christian VILLEJIQUEL – 4, rue jean Savéant 35400 SAINT-MALO.

The picture above shows Breton piper Patrick Molard playing whilst afloat off St Malo. Check out this video of the 2016 gathering to get a flavour of the weekend:

On the Sunday the tunes begin at 9.30 and run to 6pm with a break for lunch. Email  for more info.

Pipers who took part in the 2015 ‘Piobaireachd by the Sea’ event

The New England Pipe & Drum Academy begins on Friday but Tommy and I have flown in a couple of days early to acclimatise and are enjoying the country and the weather down in Cape Cod.

Yesterday we took in the special John F Kennedy Centennial Exhibition in Hyannis near the family compound and summer retreat. No references to the bagpipe to report nor does the exhibition give the full Camelot story but worthwhile nevertheless. Our feature on the Black Watch playing on the White House lawn only days before tragedy in Dallas and subsequently at the great president’s funeral still draws a lot of readers. Check it out here.  

If you are in the area don’t forget Tommy’s workshop on Sunday. Details in this blurb: ‘Your pipe reeds should enhance your confidence and playing – not be a source of frustration.  It’s time to get this sorted! Come out to Adelynrood Retreat and Conference Center in Newbury, MA (30 minutes north of Boston) for a 90-minute Pipe Reed Workshop for 7-9 p.m. on Sunday June 18 led by Tommy Johnston of Pipe Dreams Reeds (makers of Ezeedrone and Ezeepc reeds).’


Review – Grade 2 at the 2017 UK Pipe Band Championships, Belfast

There may have been some turbulent arrivals into both Belfast airports early on, and the young stars of the future in the novice grades probably faced the cloudiest and most inclement elements of the day, writes our Special Correspondent. A brightening sky and warming breeze blew the clouds out of Stormont and the cricket field was at its best as lunchtime arrived.

Grade 2 started at 2.30pm in Arena 2, a full one hour after the Grade 1 contest was underway in Arena 1. First, a few words about layout and aspect; this is a great surface, a cricket pitch rather than a park. Manicured, with the wicket being protected and off-limits to the many enjoying the spectacle for free. Protected all around by a perimeter of hedging, this venue is rather bowl like and has ideal topography.

The locals did turn out in good numbers and the support network of vendors was excellent. They were doing brisk trade, and speaking with a few, they confirmed it was a commercially viable day for them. Frothy coffee and crepes – changed days from a couple of decades ago. The ice cream vendors were busy in the afternoon, indicating the temperature.

With that improving Belfast weather which truly defied both the long and short-term forecasts, the Grade 2 bands were preparing in the area close to the bus park. It was a short march through to the final tuning zone and spacing was just right. Proximity produced no issues – unlike at Paisley. The weather is a key factor though, and there must be a more accurate forecast available ahead of such competitions. If any reader has a reliable source we would be happy to spread the word.

A judge’s eye view of the Grade 2 arena

On to the contest, a March, Strathspey and Reel, two sets submitted and one drawn at the line. Oh yes, a bit of jeopardy to add to the nerves as the bands march up to the line. Which will it be? As we said in the Preview piece last week, there is always a preferred choice, regardless of what band members might say – there is always a favourite.

Most common tunes of the day included the march, Clan MacRae Society,  the strathspey Susan MacLeod and the reel Lt Col DJS Murray, but it was also good to hear some less popular tunes in the mix, as described later.  There were two ‘no shows’, Glasgow City and Aughintober, cutting the running order to 10. With seven other bands absent from the Paisley list, albeit Oban didn’t play that day, a fair old number of the grade were not in the field.

The first seven bands drew Set 2 and only by the eighth did we know there was a ‘one’ in the bag.

With Messrs Campbell, McCarlie, Steele and Mathieson on duty with the clipboard, on came Closkelt drawing Set 2 (Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France, Shepherd’s Crook and Lt Col DJS Murray).  A compact band, confident enough from the off and the sum of the parts in ensemble was possibly better than the piping and drumming elements in isolation. A long way adrift in points terms from the top of the Grade but a commendable 5th place finish. (6 6 5 4)

City of Discovery, Dundee, in their second year in the Grade also looked confident and purposeful as they drew Set 2 (P/M Willie Gray’s Farewell to the Glasgow Police, Bob o’ Fettercairn, and McAllister’s Dirk). The artwork on the bass drumhead (below) has been commented upon and the band is also being talked about as a solid Grade 2 player working their way up the table. There was perhaps a slightly slower start and the march might have been a lick quicker, but they soon settled and the P/M was marching at the halt for a fair time. I’ve pointed to their drum corps before and, whilst not challenging for the top prize (8th in drumming), the strathspey playing was worth listening to. Clearly in contention for a top six finish and, in due course, this was confirmed when the results were announced. Sixth overall (5 5 6 8). The piping was equally scored and buries the ghost of the 14 and 7 at Paisley.

Scottish Fire & Rescue Services stepped off next and, as said after Paisley, a band of experienced players with some young faces too. Their novice band did not travel (there were only two bands in Novice Juvenile B) this time. They drew Set 2 and Clan MacRae Society had its first airing of the day. Maybe a better day at the office than Paisley, with drumming and ensemble improving against this field. The tempo was up and dynamics better from Paisley’s Medley: (8 9 7 6) to finish seventh.

As I said, Aughintober from County Tyrone were a ‘no show’ and disappointing not to see the newly promoted 3A and 2016 Worlds Grade 3A runners-up (second to Worcester Kilties) make their debut in a major this season.

MacKenzie Caledonian, the third place band at the British, were next. The sun shone but a slight wind picked up as they drew Set 2 (Links of Forth, Shepherd’s Crook and Cecily Ross). We said in our Grade 2 review last week that the March, Strathspey & Reel discipline is a different kettle of fish to the Medley and this suits the MacCals. The 2 in Ensemble speaks volumes about the performance and, the hugely improved drumming score. Finishing 3rd (again) with (4 3 4 2). This took them to within four points of second placed Glasgow Skye. A good day for them, the only band in the Mackenzie Caledonian family travelling over the sea.

Manorcunningham’s drum corps looked spritely in final tuning with the British title under their belts. What they do they do well and their dynamics show good light and shade. They drew Set 2 (Lord Alexander Kennedy, Ewe wi’ the Crookit’ Horn and Lt Col DJS Murray). Blasting off with good tempo, I particularly liked the snare pullbacks in LAK, it was a vaguely familiar Grade 1 type score. A good, full, sound from 10 pipers and they finished 4th overall (3 4 3 5). That ensemble score might point to 9 snares with 10 pipers and balance. The piping scores of 15 and 1 in Paisley were forgotten – 3rd and 4th in Belfast.

Thiepval Memorial’s first ‘major’ appearance of the season drew set 1 (The Conundrum, Susan MacLeod and the popular Lt Col DJS Murray). Prior to their arrival at the line, I could see over to the final tuning and there was some busy activity going on just as the sun waned a little and the light wind picked up. I reckon this band got the worst combination of weather in the transition from tuning over in the bus park, to final tuning and thence to the line, and this may well have impacted on the overall tone. Eleven pipers, four snares and four tenors and bass made this one of the smaller bands on the day. They finished next to bottom (10 8 9 9) – good to hear the Conundrum though.

Glasgow City were a ‘no-show’ on the day but we are pleased to see the name on the roster for Forres.

The newly minted British Champions of three weeks ago, Lomond & Clyde, stepped up next and here we had a night and day comparison with some of the smaller bands. This is a big outfit with a big sound and they are certainly aiming high. Admittedly, they are now out of the shadows of three names going up to Grade 1 in 2016, but there is a marked step forward in standard from L&C this year. Knowing that Glasgow Skye was only one point behind in Paisley and had a better drumming score clearly spurred preparations on and this performance gave them two majors from two. As we prompted last week, the drumming would have to crack on a notch and the MSR lock in on the day. Both were delivered at Stormont and they won the drumming with a clean sweep across the table. The played Set 2 – a very traditional Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod and lesser-played Arnish Light. Four 1s and the UK Championship. A special well done to the youngsters in the ranks.

Annsborough from County Down were up next. You wouldn’t have thought they had had a gap year from winning Grade 3 in 2015. However, the much used ‘water is wide’ phrase applies between these two grades. Despite the last place in drumming, the three sevens might give heart. The band is not rostered for the Europeans at Forres so it might be Dumbarton before we see them out again. (7 7 10 7)

Second placed Glasgow Skye

Predictably, there was a buzz around as Glasgow Skye, one of the big guns in the grade, arrived at the line. They pulled Set 2 from the bag and set off with another airing of Clan MacRae, then Ewe Wi’ the Crookit Horn and a very nice version of the Brown Haired Maid. But for the third place in Ensemble it was 2s all the way. Second overall, second in drumming – a modest improvement from the Paisley score of 10, with 9 on the day. Still contenders for a big one (2 2 2 3).

Colmcille had the pleasure of closing the grade. As mentioned in previous reports, this is a smaller band, but with two tenors this time out. With their newly promoted status Grade 2 is a big ask and whilst their John McDonald of Glencoe was musical, Maggie Cameron and Major David Manson followed (9 10 8 10) in less inspiring fashion. They aren’t listed for Forres but may be back for the Scottish in July.

So farewell to Belfast where, rather than rain lashed, some went home sun burnt. There were 10 bands in Grade 2 with one clear winner, and both Glasgow Skye and MacCals have some work to do to catch up with them. Lomond & Clyde picked up drumming too after a fifth at Paisley. As such they were ahead of Skye here too and it should be noted that the latter won two drumming titles last year in the face of tougher opposition from the now promoted PSNI, Buchan Peterson and Johnstone.

At Forres in less than two weeks time we revert to a Medley competition and we will have names like Balagan, City of London and Grampian Police back in the G2 fray, albeit with no Irish bands at all. A preview of this championships will appear in these pages in the run up to that competition on Saturday 24th June.

• Have a listen to the Grade 2 contest courtesy the RSPBA here.