Category Archives: Reviews

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.

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.

Preview of Saturday’s Grade 2 UK Championship, Stormont, Belfast

Lomond & Clyde took the British title just a few short weeks ago and here we are on the threshold of the second major championship of the year in the beautiful grounds of Stormont Castle [above], writes our Special Correspondent. Runner-up at Paisley, Glasgow Skye, will be looking to go one better, and drumming winners, Manorcunningham, will be looking to repeat that feat and improve their piping scores.

According to the draw, a bigger Eire and Northern Irish contingent will be present this time round from the British roster. However, looking ahead to the European Championship in Forres, the Grade 2 list has no bands travelling from the Emerald Isle at all. No doubt something organisers will have noted.

Back to the prospects for the UK Championships, here is the run down as we see it: Belfast and, more specifically, the beautiful surroundings of Stormont, provide a great backdrop to this Championship. The cricket field is a perfect surface and, whilst the weather forecast looks wet for the whole of this week, and at best ‘mixed’ for Saturday, it will not dampen spirits at this well attended event. As the Scandinavians say, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. The scent of damp wool, anyone?

Grade 2 summary from the UK’s last year

The Friday and Saturday ferries and early Saturday morning flights to Belfast from Edinburgh and Glasgow will all get a passenger boost for this one. Inside knowledge suggests it has been known for early morning travellers to arrive at either Belfast City or Belfast International airport (make sure you know which is which if you are flying) and scoot in to the nearby Stormont Hotel for a fine ‘Norn Irn’ breakfast before crossing the street to the competition. Last year some unconnected Japanese dignitaries were caught up in the  hurly burly of the hotel – returning to the land of the rising sun assuming all in Belfast adorn kilts on a Saturday. 

Entry to the championship is free, breakfast isn’t. The excursion cost for travelling bands has obviously impacted the entry list, and there will be seven Grade 2 bands absent from the Paisley running order. In saying that, three ‘local’ bands make their first Championship appearances of 2017 to take the draw to 12 bands. The RSPBA will video the entire Grade 2 contest (as it did at Paisley) and the performances will be available for those interested in tier 2.

Grade 2 bands submit two March, Strathspey and Reel sets for this one and a draw is made at the line. This jeopardy adds a bit more tension for the MSR as there will always be a preferred set, regardless of what bands say. It could be linked to which had the best (or poorest) run in the morning or, simply tune preference and complexity. You can practice a Medley exclusively in Grade 2, but you are always hedging the MSR. There is no doubt that this format has the reputation of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

The Adjudicators, barring any late change, will be Messrs Campbell, McCarlie, Steele and Mathieson, for a 2.30pm start.

Absent from the Paisley list: Grampian Police, City of London, Balagan/Denmark, Oban (did not play at Paisley), Dumbarton & District, Isle of Islay, Bucksburn & DistrictLining up for their first Major of this season: Thiepval Memorial, Annsborough, Auchintober.

Closkelt pictured at the Worlds

And so to the competition. We will get a look at the MSR sets on the day and there have been a few public performances at competitions in recent weeks and other days where bands have given them a run out. Closkelt are first off and will be looking at their (5 6 6 8) score from the Medley at the British. The snares were busy that day and the band balance was good. A mid table finish then, and looking to improve.

City of Discovery, from Dundee, might well be smarting at the one painful piping score from Paisley (14 7 4 5). They’ll dust that off though and there is always precision in their MSR. The back end of this band is well led too, and fans of mid sections should take note. On the artistic front, the art work on the bass drum is making news with a great panoramic depiction of the Dundee skyline.

Scottish Fire & Rescue Services step off next and will want to get up the ladder. This band is a mix of experience with fresh faces and is maturing well. Maybe a three to four-year programme in progress as the Novice band start to feed through players to the big band. (7 8 13 11 in Paisley).

Auchintober from County Tyrone, the newly promoted 3A and Worlds Grade 3A runners-up to Worcester Kiltie in 2016, make their first major outing of the season. They obviously have forward momentum from last year and will be one to watch, but, as we’ve said before, the water is indeed wide between Grades 3 and 2.

MacKenzie Caledonian, the third place band at the British is next. They were a fair way back (scoring 8 3 10 3) from the top two bands, but the two 3s should give hope. The Mac Cals will be looking to close the gap and, as this is an MSR contest, it’s a very different kettle of fish.

Manorcunningham on parade at the Worlds

Manorcunningham‘s drum corps came back with a bang, taking the title at Paisley and shading the highly rated Glasgow Skye drum corps. A clear contrast in numbers of players between the two, so maybe, just maybe, the wider dynamics of soft and loud differences gave it to ManorC that day. Despite that drumming win, they came 7th overall (15 5 1 7) and that group of scores will give the P/M some sleepless nights, trying to sort out what the piping judges were hearing.

A famous name, with dignified associations and a famous band, Thiepval Memorial, is no doubt aiming to make it through to the Worlds’ qualifier and make the Final on Glasgow Green in August. The band skipped the British in Paisley and is next on the roster for Belfast, so we wait to see what they come up with this first time out.

Glasgow City makes the short hop to Belfast after a poor day in Paisley, ending bottom of the pile. This is a different day, a different contest and the March, Strathspey and Reel discipline. They will be looking to tighten up and improve.

The newly minted British Champions of three weeks ago, Lomond & Clyde, are up next and might well be considering their win as a good day to win a first time major championship in the grade. Glasgow Skye were just one point behind though. As we said in the season preview, these two are head to head for the big prizes and we remain in that camp. The L&C Medley was cleverly composed and we thought the transitions and build to the end very musical. They scored (1 2 5 1) underscoring the joined up thinking and playing between pipes and drums in the ensemble placing.   Drumming will have to crack on a notch and, so long as the MSR locks in on the day, they will be holding their collective breaths as the RSPBA chief executive starts to read out the Grade 2 results in the evening.

Next brings Annsborough from County Down out. Another newly returning band having won the Grade 3 World Championship in 2015 and then promoted to Grade 2. Taking a year out might prove to be a wise move, to gear up for the challenges of the higher grade. This is the first major outing of the season, having missed Paisley a couple of weeks ago.

The crowd will increase as it has a tendency to ebb and flow with Grade 2 whilst the running order progresses. Up will step Glasgow Skye (pictured), second in drumming and second overall in the British (2 4 2 2), looking to improve tiny margins in this first MSR of the majors’ season. For that reason, it is too close to call it at this stage and we leave it to the experts with the clipboards. Barring a disaster, this band will be named in the top six list come teatime on Saturday.

Colmcille has the pleasure of closing the grade out. A smaller band, with one solo tenor (soon to be famous,  and you should go and say ‘well done’) in Paisley, stepping into their newly promoted status and scoring near the bottom of the order, but drumming 9th of 16.

That’s the list, assuming all play. Will it be another L&C v Glasgow Skye head to head in this first March, Strathspey and Reel contest?

NY Metro

Further afield, the overseas bands limbering up and eying the prize on the Green in August are the names we suggested in the season’s preview. A welcome name, New York Metro, is also throwing its collective glengarry into the circle too. At the last look, we forecast around 20/22 Grade 2 bands are currently on track for August. A medley qualifier, with drawn MSR final later in the day will keep us busy. We expect both preliminary opportunities to hear the bands at North Berwick and Bridge of Allan, the week ahead of the big one, will be ‘murder, polis’ with the high number of Grade 2 combatants who want a run out.

If you are overseas and planning the trip to Scotland let us know, and we’ll be glad to include you in our preview and follow your local progress as the season unfolds. We are hoping that this year will be a cracking Grade 2 season, culminating on the big day in August. Drop a line to the Editor via the link on this page and we’ll create a roll call.

We recognise getting to Glasgow is a significant spend of money, time and sheer effort. Note new flights by Delta to Glasgow from New York, some options with Norwegian (albeit out of smaller city airports), and a couple of Canadian options too (West Jet included). Just watch out for hand luggage regulations and hold baggage costs.

The currency exchange will be helping overseas visitors of course, but tell us your plans, how you are funding the trip, where you are being accommodated and venues for practice rehearsals in Scotland. We’ll cover all the remaining Grade 2 Majors and report from both North Berwick and Bridge of Allan in the week leading up to the big one.

Finally, the very best of fortune to all of you stepping off in Grade 2 at Belfast.

• Click here for news of possible traffic hold-ups near Stormont.

PP Ed’s Blog: Band Formations/ Muirheads Names/ Colin Thomson/ Braemar/Jack Lee

Those of us who have been advocating ‘concert formation’ for pipe band competition for many years were cheered by yesterday’s announcement that the Edinburgh Pipe Band Championship, to be held in Princes Street Gardens on June 18, will adopt just such a format.

All credit to John Hughes the RSPBA Lothian & Borders Branch Chairman, and Vice-Chairman of the Association, for taking this initiative. When I played there in the 70s the band formed up in the circle in front of the stage. Not so a week on Sunday with the pipers and drummers facing their listeners and the judges ranged before them but with the facility of moving about should they so wish.

How bands will form up at Edinburgh

It really is hard to believe that in the 21st century pipe bands remain the only musical grouping in the world – I repeat, in the world – which turns its back on its audience. We want parity of esteem with other musicians, we know we deserve respect for what we do, yet here we are still conforming to a militarily inspired performance model dating back to the founding of the RSPBA in the 1930s.

Old traditions die hard and when I first went on about this some years ago one judge at the time (now thankfully retired) said he disagreed with any change because he wouldn’t be able to hear the drones properly! Since when was the great Highland bagpipe ever listened to ‘drones first’? Can you imagine a solo piper standing on the stage at the Argyllshire Gathering with his kilted backside pointing at his judges and other listeners. Yet that would appear to be a fair extrapolation of this gentleman’s logic if applied outwith pipe bands.

P/M Robert Mathieson bravely helped our cause a few years back when his band, Shotts & Dykehead, performed the ‘big turn out’ at the Worlds. The roar from the crowd in the main arena as the pipers and drummers reversed the inward circle to outward has never been heard before or since. The bands volume change, the freeing up of the sound, will live long in the memory.

For those of us campaigning for this change over many years it has been a long struggle. Edinburgh saw the birth of the Scottish Enlightenment. Let us hope that Mr Hughes and the L&B branch  have ushered in a pipe band equivalent.

Former Muirheads piper Norrie McDonald (left) writes from Canada: ‘Here are the names of the pipers and drummers in the Muirheads band in the photo taken at Princes Street Gardens in 1967. Hope all is well: Front – P/M Bob Hardie, Jim Dow, Davie Hutton, P/Sgt Andrew Dowie; Second – John Finlay, Ronnie Motion, Bob Richardson, Eric Shields; Third – Jimmy Anderson, myself, Derek Boyd, Jim Elmslie; Drum corps – L/D Robert Turner, Peter Anderson, Jim Williamson, Davie Bruce, Dick Hamilton, Jock Waddell, Jim Crawford.’

Thanks Norrie; great days and a great band:

Two new letters today, both concerning Colin Thomson (pictured top). One asserts a connection with James Matheson, Bathgate, and the other that Willie Ross made a mistake in naming the eponymous tune in his Book 3 after CT. Read them both here.

Sold in four days! The power of Piping Press ensured a quick sale of the Peter Henderson silver and ivory bagpipes advertised by Neil Walker a few days ago. And are we surprised to learn that Braemar Gathering’s senior piping events are now oversubscribed? Why they advertise on PP too! And good benches don’t do any harm either. Here’s the intimation from the Gathering:
‘Senior Open Piping – Entry NOW CLOSEDDue to the high demand for places, application for entry for this year’s Senior Open Piping is now closed. We have a great field entered this year with top class competitors from home and abroad taking part. Junior Open Piping – Entry STILL OPEN. Register via our online process – Senior and Junior – Entry on the day.’

Jack Lee from BC: ‘I thought I would let you know what I have been up to as some pipers may find it helpful and interesting.  I just uploaded another 60 tunes to our Lee & Sons Tune Library, which brings the total on our site to 3,500.  Included in the 60 tunes were the last few piobaireachds from the Piobaireachd Society Book 16.  I have now recorded all piobaireachds from the Society’s Books 1-16.

‘I finished recording and uploading the first 15 books two years ago.  No sooner had I recorded the ‘first 15’ and the Society published Book 16.  I really enjoyed studying, playing and recording Book 16.  There are some terrific tunes in there, such as Cave of Gold, Hail to my Country, The Sword’s Lament, etc.  There is also a very nice alternative setting for Glengarry’s Lament.  But there is one piobaireachd, The Piper’s Salute to his Master, which takes piobaireachd complexity to a whole new level.  Previously, I had regarded the Nameless Lament from the MacArthur Manuscripts as the most difficult piece ever played.  The Piper’s Salute to his Master is much more difficult.  The technical and memory requirements are really something.  But the tune is just under 28 minutes in length so the piper’s endurance is tested like no other piobaireachd ever published.

‘In total I have put 3,500 tunes on our site, all recorded by me on the full bagpipe.  That includes 280 piobaireachds.’

Only ten days to go to!!!


PP Ed’s Blog: J Ban MacKenzie/ Weekend contests/ Govan concert/ Donald McBride

A painting of John Ban MacKenzie reputed to be worth £10,000 has been stolen from a house in East Lothian in what police have described as a ‘targeted theft’.

The picture entitled ‘Piper to the 2nd Marquess of Breadalbane’ by JM Barclay, which dates from 1842, was taken from a house near Kippielaw Farm, near East Linton. The BBC reported that four other paintings of black and gold Asian-style design were also taken. Police are appealing for witnesses.

Police inspector Andrew Hill was quoted as saying : ‘Based upon the specific nature of the property taken it is likely that this is a targeted theft. The paintings stolen are all originals and very distinctive. Crimes such as this are fortunately rare. However, apart from the financial loss to the owner, they also involve a loss of history and heritage. If anyone has information about suspicious activity in this area, or knowledge of where these works of art are now located, please get in touch.’

Here’s a full length version of the pic of the painting:

John Ban was born 1796 in Achilty, Ross-shire, and died April 24, 1864 at Munlochy on the Black Isle near Inverness. He was a champion piper and pipe maker and it is believed he made the Prize Pipes for the Northern Meeting from 1846 to 1864 winning an instrument of his own make in 1849. Get more on this in Jeannie Campbell’s ‘Highland Bagpipemakers’ book.

It is clear from the picture that John Ban has excellent posture, no facial grimace, blowstick centred in the mouth, upright bearing. He plays the chanter angled to the right however which may, for some, detract from his generally good stature. He is playing a swan necked bag (probably made by himself) and, even allowing for artistic licence, is fingering an open C. This was pretty common in Scotland well into the 20th century and is believed to have been discouraged once the pitch of the chanter started to rise, the open C producing a false note. (Handy though when making birls from a short C.) More information on this appreciated.

In the background can be seen Taymouth Castle now a hotel and golf resort.

The Scottish Pipers’ Association have their monthly meeting in the College of Piping tonight at 7pm so get along to that if you are in town and want to listen to some piping. Also tonight is the Donald MacDonald Quaich recital/competition in the Clan Donald Centre, Sleat, Skye. 7 for 7.30 start with ticket at £8 and £4 unwaged. The pipers are Callum Beaumont, Finlay Johnston, Stuart Liddell, Iain Speirs and all the way from Canada, last year’s double Gold Medallist, Ian K. MacDonald. Result here later.

Other events this weekend are band contests at Shotts and Cookstown, Northern Ireland, on Saturday and at Girvan and Markinch on Sunday. There are also solos at Markinch. Check here for results.

Top piper Donald McBride has sent this picture from 20 years ago. It’s of himself and myself guesting with the sorely missed Lothian & Borders Police band in 1997 when Donald’s brother Kenny was pipe major:

Donald writes: ‘Thought you’d like to see this. Twenty years ago. Me and thee 4th and 5th from left. That was the last time I wore a number one uniform. Strangely enough, I don’t miss it!’

It was an enjoyable trip. Sharing the bill with the L&Bs were blues legend BB King and Irish group the Corrs and we got to chat to them in the Green Room.

Donald has sent us some recordings of a recital he did in 2010. The playing is of the highest order, as good as anything you will hear. I hope to post it on the PP Audio Archive next week. Donald is one of the tutors at the New England Pipe and Drum Academy in a couple of weeks so if you live locally don’t miss the opportunity of lessons from him.