Category Archives: Reviews

Northern Winter School in Germany Comes to a Successful Conclusion

So that is the third annual Northern Winter School over and we are now travelling home, writes the Editor. I think it would be fair to say it has been a success and Principal Ronnie Bromhead has already booked his premises for the next few years ahead. The picture above shows students and instructors.

Many of the students have expressed a wish to have a weekend refresher course a few months hence and that is something Ronnie says he will consider seriously.

The school is on the north German plain and only a few miles from the Bergen-Belsen camp memorial which unfortunately we had no time to see this time round.

The handsome attendance certificate presented to each student

We had a couple of successful students sitting PDQB exams and next year the NWS will be introducing its own series of small exam certificates.

There were a lot of views of instructor Brian Lamont’s playing at the ceilidh the other night (along with the other instructors) so this time we have Brian on his own playing his signature 2/4 march Bonnie Ann:Brian Lamont from Robert Wallace on Vimeo.

Barry lectures on setting up chanters

It was great to see Barry [Donaldson] back in action teaching once more in Germany. He was, as ever, an immediate hit with his students many of whom had been taught by him at various schools over the past ten years. His contribution to piping education in Germany is significant. Of that there is no doubt

Barry adjusts tape

Another instructor colleague was Craig Munro. Craig is a busy man. He heads to Chile on Tuesday for the South American Pipe Band Championships in Santiago, Chile. Amazing, isn’t it? Pipe bands are everywhere these days. Drumming judge is the well-known tenor maestro Tyler Fry.

Craig’s stories about the incredible success of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers left us all very impressed. He is a regular performer with them though due to business and family commitments he no longer takes part in the big eight-week long international tours (who can blame him). The band must have introduced thousands of people to the bagpipe even if you think their music is too pop scene. They sell out major concert halls wherever they go and have a fully professional team of management and light and sound engineers to back them up. The only time the ‘After the Worlds’ concert has been sold out is when the Chillis have taken the stage at the Fruitmarket in 2011 and the Glasgow ABC in 2016.

Before going I want to mention instructor Jim Semple, a six time Worlds winner with Strathclyde Police and now a respected adjudicator for the RSPBA. Jim was great company on the outward and inward journeys and such was the gratitude of his class that they presented him with a lovely glass covered group photograph. Thanks for making the travel arrangements Jim.

Anyway, that’s it from Germany and thanks to the students and teaching comrades for making it such an enjoyable week.

A Look Back at the London Championship 2017 and a Review of the B Grade Piobaireachd

By Robert Wallace

I read the comment on yesterday’s results post  with a little concern. Organisers and stewards giving of their free time and effort can take these things cruelly. However I do feel the London contest needs a bit of pruning if it is to maintain its mojo.

Prizemoney looked modest and the number of prizes could do with an increase. Any more than 12 entrants and there needs to be a minimum of four places. Is there really room here for a full set of ‘C’ Grade contests and all the amateur events?

I don’t know;  the organisers will want to let as many as possible play at what is a high point in the piping calendar. But it may a be a case of less is more and certainly a cap of 25 on all piobaireachd events is an urgent necessity. Having said all that, the SPSL and their stewards (and the judges!) coped brilliantly with the exigencies of the day: 100+ pipers an a’ an a’.

Alison receives a well deserved bouquet of flowers

Everything concluded at a reasonable time circa 7pm, with President Andrew Hall efficiently getting through the prizes and raffle with a minimum of fuss. It was a pity some of the prizewinners had to leave early to catch flights. Andrew was right to praise the work of London committee member Alison Gilmour. Talk about efficiency. If anyone kept the day rolling along it was this tireless lady. Alison is also helping out with the Shotts Juniors later this month so no problems there despite their record entry.

But back to London. My weekend began with the Train Journey South in the company of many of my fellow judges. The patter was epic. Here was true fellowship, comradely banter, piping history from those who knew it first hand. Five hours to Euston never raced by so quickly. Those colleagues with a tendency to mire the judging cadre in a slough of controversy should have been with us – they’d have learned a thing or two.

To the hotel where luckily I was sharing with my ex-214 BB mucker Archie Maclean. Apart from being a respected piping adjudicator, Archie is an expert on Renaissance art (he was married in Florence) and has a keen interest in military history, particularly that of WW2, his father John surviving battle after battle from Normandy to Lüneburg Heath. So you see there was never a lack of stimulating conversation to add to the piping discussion.

Friday evening and a judges’ meeting where we were allocated our duties for the following day, myself and Logan Tannock to the B Piobaireachd. Readers will know of my distaste for any impediment, direct or indirect, which is placed in the way of teaching. Into this latter category comes last year’s draconian ruling by the Solo Piping Adjudicators’ Association to apply the jackboot to any member caught presiding over a contest in which a ‘pupil’ was playing.

I looked around the London meeting room to gauge the number of regularly active teachers – dashed few and even fewer at the very highest level. This SPJA ruling is already paying a negative dividend and the longer it is allowed to continue the more piping will suffer, mark my words. Had anyone sat through the marathon eight and a half hour ‘B’ Piobaireachd they would know what I am talking about. There is a distinct lack of knowledge at this Silver Medal level. You can tell when someone knows how to present their music but is having an off day – and you can tell when they, well, just don’t know what they are doing.

‘A’ Piobaireachd winner Peter McCalister receives his trophy from Chelsea pensioner Davy MacIntyre. Picture courtesy Billy Wardrope

Not in this category was the winner Edward Gaul. His Groat was subtly nuanced, well fingered and thus musically presented. Also ticking these boxes, but less so, was second placed Ben McClamrock from the US with his Red Speckled Bull. My main grouse with Ben was his continual cutting of the B third beat in the ground and early variations. Another good Groat from Gavin Ferguson (rich-toned pipe and clear finger) earned him his third prize, though he was behind Edward in expressive finesse.

Fourth was Steven Leask with the Battle of Bealach nam Brog. Some erratic rhythms in the second line of the urlar doubling, clipped low Gs in the T singling and an out of kilter doubling shoved this fine young player down the reckoning. Sarah Muir was fifth with one of this year’s Silver Medal offerings, Rev Norman MacLeod’s Lament, from Book 16 in the PS collection. Sarah is too good a piper to keep out of any list but here her adherence to the PS’s edited score, rather than to the original as the composer gave us it, meant a loss of melodic impact.

Mentions in dispatches for the following: Peter Skae for bravely submitting Donald MacPhee’s Salute to P/M Richard Parkes MBE, or the ‘Salute to Dickie P’ as Peter called it. This is a melodic new piece in the mould of P/M Donald MacLeod’s ceol mor. It is a fine tribute to the legendary pipe major and maybe we’ll hear his band play part of it in the next FMM concert. Steven Gray had a manful King’s Taxes but the high G was a tad flat and I think he knew it; consequently the concentration seemed wandered at times.

Jig winner Andrew Donlon entertaining at the informal ceilidh

Alistair Murray had the music and pipe for Captain MacDougall but left dare and his crunluath back in Pittsburgh. Matt Pantaleoni had the right idea with Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute but the pipe was the poorest we’d heard it for some time. Ross Cowan started well in Hail to My Country but slowed in the taorluath and then the crunluath let him down.

Thirty-two entered and 30 played. The result:
1 Edward Gaul
2 Ben McClamrock
3 Gavin Ferguson
4 Steven Leask
5 Sarah Muir

After the prizes and some pictures it was out into the busy streets and some refreshment. I’m told there was a ceilidh in the hotel bar sustained mainly by the overseas visitors so well done to them for that.

Sunday and the Train Journey North from Hell. Twelve and a half hours door to door standing all the way from King’s Cross to Newcastle. Ah, the joys of judging.

The Scottish Piping Society of London’s annual competition was held on November 4 at the Kensington Conference Centre. Get full results here and CLASP amateur results here.

PP Ed’s Blog: London/ Critiques/Bellows Collogue/SPA/ Florida

To London today for the annual solo championships. A huge number of events with around 100 pipers taking part. The judges will have their work cut out for sure. Kensington Conference Centre is the place to be from 8.30am tomorrow and I’ll have results here as soon as I get them.

‘Charlie’ comments again on Glenfiddich asking if I could review the performances via the videos. Not something I do Charlie. You do not get the full story of a performance unless you are actually there so it would be unfair on the pipers to do a critique based on something second hand.

It is the same at the Worlds. Microphone positioning, compression, engineer’s mix both alter, to a greater or lesser degree, what the audience in the arena, and more so the judges, actually hear, so again it is not right to base a valuation on that. However thanks for your encouragement and I will do my best to put together something from London and will be there front and centre, barring unforeseen circumstances, at as many contests as I can manage next season beginning with the Uist and Barra in March.

Those interested in bellows piping should head along to the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society Rooms in Rose Street Land South in Edinburgh tomorrow where the Lowland and Borders Pipers’ Society are having their annual gathering, or collogue as they call it.  There are pipe makers stalls and a forum for instrument discussion.  They also have something called ‘Glasgow small pipers performance’. Well those of us from the west have always been malnourished and as a result vertically challenged when compared to Edinburgh types. However can I suggest a better title would have been ‘wee weegie workshop’. Everyone’s welcome to the Collogue and it costs £12 with the fun beginning at 9.30am.

Tom Johnstone, President of the Scottish Pipers Association writes: ‘Our November meeting is tonight – Friday 3rd November. Thereafter, as usual our meetings are the first Friday of each month at 7.30pm at the College of Piping. All welcome to play, listen or just chat. No dates have been decided as yet but we would hope to do that soon and advise everyone in due course. Look forward to seeing you all at the club nights and the contests.’

Check out the picture up top. It is of Donald MacPherson at an SPA  junior competition in Glasgow in what must have been the 1990s. Over Donald’s right shoulder can be seen leading piper Darach Urquhart and to Darach’s right John Mulhearn, a good piper who has not been competing these past few years. To Donald’s left we have one of the top pipers of today, double Gold Medallist Finlay Johnston. Others in the picture are Strath and Conon Urquhart, Darach’s brothers, and Alasdair Brown. The Urquhart brothers and Alasdair were all pupils of Iain MacFadyen. All of the young pipers in the picture must have been thrilled to have their photograph taken with the maestro. If anyone can give me the full left to right I’d be happy to publish.

Noah Morrisette of the South Florida Pipe & Drum Academy has sent this: ‘We have already had multiple students sign up for the Academy, and we would like to thank those of you who have. We have plenty of spots remaining, but please don’t wait until last minute to sign up. This year is looking like its going to be the best yet.

‘At the South Florida Pipe and Drum Academy we strive to bring our students only the best instruction. I believe we have done that in the past. We would like to thank our bass and tenor instructor for the last two years, Andrew Adams. He truly has a talent for teaching percussion. Unfortunately he will not be joining us this year. However, we are continuing to bring you the best instruction possible with our newest instructor, Andrew Elliot. Andrew is a multiple time Canadian, U.S., and North American solo tenor and bass drumming champion, a five-time MHAF Gold Medal winner, and the only person to have won the Gold Medal in both tenor and bass drumming.

‘As a bandsman, Andrew is a three-time World Champion as a member of the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band. Along with having major success in both bands and solos, he is also a certified bass and tenor judge with the PPBSO. Andrew is one of the most sought after tenor and bass drum instructors in the world, conducting workshops across North America, the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Andrew is also the owner of Ace Percussion, the world leader in custom tenor drum mallets.

‘The first year we held this Academy we had three classes of pipers, and one drum (all drummers) class. Two of the piping classes were mostly chanter only students, and a few students just learning the bagpipes. Many of these students have returned. Many are now on the pipes and playing many more tunes. To get everyone on the same page musically, Mr. Wallace has asked that everyone coming to the school take a look at some common parade tunes, and tunes we have worked on at the academy in the past. The PDF file is on the website, here, and some of the tunes you might find us playing.’

PP Ed’s Blog: Glenfiddich/ B Cal Airways Band/ Harry McNulty/ Joe Wilson

Thanks for all the comments regarding the Glenfiddich competition. I hear that the tuning wasn’t too bad this year and that may have been something to do with the positioning of a clock by which the competitors could perhaps gauge the time spent adjusting the drones.

Only one small step now and we could have lights and a huge improvement in listeners’ enjoyment. In particular, think how the livestream experience would be enhanced if we knew in advance the approximate time of performances.

I’m also told there was a slightly better mix of tunes at Blair; all positive and progressive which is how my comments should always be taken even if it suits some to portray them otherwise. Anyway, here is a fine study of the winner, Jack Lee, issued by the organisers: And here is a submission about the playing from one of our readers who has asked to remain anonymous but who is a very knowledgeable piper and a highly respected man in his professional life:

‘I sat through the entire contest – the chair I chose looked a bit thinner than others. I managed to last till the end but it could have been better. Some competitors tuned for too long. It was less noticeable in the MSR – where most competitors played a slow air to settle the pipes (which I quite liked) – although one managed a fair amount of three separate slow airs!

‘A noticeable feature of the day was that no tune was played by more than one contestant in the MSR and there were a few seldom heard tunes. Iain K MacDonald played two Donald MacLeod tunes he’d played in Stornoway earlier in the year, neither of which are often heard, The Hills of Kintail and Neil Angus MacDonald (your pupil’s grandfather of course); Callum Beaumont played The Top of Craigvenow and Jack Lee played Drum Major John Seaton. Jack was a deserved winner, his piobaireachd was the outstanding tune in that discipline and he could easily have won the MSR.’

To the bands now. The picture up top is from the PP archives and goes back over 30 years. It is of the British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band playing at (I think) the Worlds in 1986. The pipe major is Harry McNulty who was formerly P/M at Lothian and Borders Police. Harry had a huge influence on all the pipers in his bands and is very much an unsung hero of the pipe band world – though not to those who know him.

Behind Harry in the picture is P/M Angus MacDonald, Scots Guards, and in the front rank we see Tom Johnstone, President of the Scottish Pipers’ Association and the Scottish Organiser for the Lorient Festival in Brittany. Next to Tom we have Ronnie MacShannon, solo and band judge and Pipe Dreams gaffer, and in the P/Sgt’s position we have Joe Wilson.

Sadly Joe is no longer with us. He worked with me at the College of Piping for ten years and was one of the finest teachers of piping I have ever encountered. He had been taught by James Robertson, Banff (Farewell to the Creeks), a devotee and student of GS McLennan and during Army service Joe had extensive tuition from P/M Donald MacLeod. Joe allied that teaching to his own natural musicality and forensically detailed musical knowledge – to the College’s and everyone else’s benefit. Joe travelled with us on many occasions to our schools in Germany and is still fondly remembered there for his dedication and patience. I am sure there will be students at next month’s Northern Winter School who will remember him.

Fortunately Joe managed to complete his collection of pipe music before he died (left). It really is worth having and I think it is one of the few bagpipe music collections that accurately displays the tunes as we actually play them. Joe uses double dots and demi-semi quavers (32nd notes) where we use (incorrectly) semiquavers. For example here’s how he portrays the first part of William Rose’s Atholl Highlanders March to Loch Katrine:The book has many fine tunes and different settings which are worth exploring. Buy it here.

PP Ed’s Blog: Glenfiddich/ Strachur/ Bobby MacLeod/ Scots Guards KO

‘Charlie’ posted a comment on the Glenfiddich results report asking if I will be doing a critique on this year’s performances. The answer is no Charlie. They don’t invite me I’m afraid. The last time I was there, in 2014, I had to ask for a press pass. People might not realise it but behind all the smiles and bonhomie on display …..

My report that year mentioned that the audience seating was sore on the backside and that it was time they had tuning lights, and on another occasion I reported that it was time they stopped allowing the competitors to submit the same ‘pot boiler’ tunes year after year. None of that went down too well. You would have thought that after forty odd years they would be mature enough to accept fair comment.

2017 Glenfiddich Champion Jack Lee

Anyway, my situation is unimportant and I would like join with all our readers in offering congratulations to Jack Lee on his success.  Some good news too for the Canadian west coast still in grief after the tragic loss of Andrew Bonar. After winning the Former Winners’ MSR at Oban Jack hinted that he might only be competing for one more year ‘to see how that goes’. Clearly there’s a lot of good playing left in the man so let’s hope he keeps at it for a few years more and I should imagine he’ll be back to defend his G’fidd title next year.

Congratulations are also in order for Sandy Jones on winning the Balvenie Medal for Services to Piping. Sandy has done an inordinate amount of work spreading the piping word throughout North America with his academy of piping and drumming. Forty-five years and still going strong.

Talking of the Balvenie Medal, I was up in Strachur at the weekend for a benefit gig for the village’s Old Smiddy Museum. Members of the audience spoke of the good work being done by Balvenie recipient and piping instructor Kate Paton. One of her pupils, young Jamie Campbell, was there for a listen. Jamie is the grandson of Niall Campbell (Mr Niall) the first schools piping instructor in the area who I knew well. Good to see Jamie continuing his family’s piping tradition.

One of the tunes we played during the concert was the 6/8 MacLeod of Mull written by P/M Donald MacLeod for that doyen of accordion players, Bobby MacLeod. By coincidence Bobby’s son, ‘young’ Bobby, was doing the Take the Floor session this weekend on BBC Radio Scotland. Good to hear so many pipe tunes played so well on the box. Bobby regularly keeps us well looked after, musically and otherwise, at the Tobermory après games activities.

Talking of Tobermory, Mull’s school’s piping tutor Calum MacLean was the star man on a recent BBC documentary ‘The County Council’ featuring Argyll & Bute. Calum was filmed getting on and off boats on his way to various schools. These included the one on the island of Iona where he has only one student but who looks forward to her lessons just like all the other kids in his catchment area. I liked Calum’s description of the west coast rain as ‘liquid sunshine’! Calum is pictured below and up top with his kids in the Tobermory Schools Pipe Band as shown on the tv show.

Calum on the telly

P/M Jimmy Banks MBE on yesterday’s Scots Guards KO: ‘The heat on Sunday 29 October saw Ben  Duncan winning through in our KO  against John Dew in front of an audience 60+. What a good day; very good piping; great crowd; both played extremely well; a close result.’

Sixty plus crowd! Well done to all concerned and to Ben and John for putting on such a good show.