Highlands & Islands Festival 2015

Once more the Festival attracted a healthy number of pipers to compete in both the junior and senior section, writes Robert Wallace. The difference this time, in the seniors at least, was the very few call offs we had. Last year the lists were considerably depleted by no-shows. So well done to the CPA for putting the word out, and to the pipers themselves for honouring their entries.

I was asked to judge the C grade piobaireachd and A MSR with Neil Mulvie. Our decisions were unanimous, lengthy discussion unnecessary .

We had seventeen tunes to consider in the ceol mor. Way out in front was the performance by Andrew Wright, who I presume is the same young piper from Dundee who made such an impression 15 – 20 years ago, but of whom we subsequently heard very little. If so, it is to piping’s benefit that this young man is making a comeback. His C grading is incorrect. His performance would have placed him in the list for the P&A competition, of that Neil and I had no doubt. His MacNeill of Barra’s March was as good as anything I heard in the Gold Medal competitions where it was set last year. If Andrew applies to play at Oban and Inverness the promoters should ignore his grading, judge the man on his ability, and let him in. My notes read: An outstanding performance; beautiful rich/ solid pipe, exemplary technique, phrasing, timing and control of first order; easily Silver Medal standard.

Second place was another fine player, John MacDonald from Aberdeen. His Massacre of Glencoe was hampered by a rushed crunluath and an overdwelling on the high A in the Thumb variation –  and he was too quick with the gracenote after the double echo on F. That aside, an accomplished performance. Third went to Taylor Townsley who tackled the difficult Lament for Mary MacLeod. She had an impressive bagpipe and tuned it well under pressure. As would be expected in so young a piper, the timing was rather naive in the singlings and Taylor must not let her crunluath become any more crushed than it was here.

Fourth went to Finlay Clark with MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart – nicely phrased but rather rushed here and there in the doublings – and a couple of wrong notes in the crunluath. Still, an enjoyable tune on a mellow and melodious pipe. Callum Wynd managed fifth with the Groat. This was a good tune but the pipe had that rasping raucousness we don’t like to hear in solo competition. A better instrument and Callum could be placed higher up the ladder. Most of the others had difficulty with pipes: the chanter not balanced and the low A not locked, or even nearly locked, onto low A. Sloppy fingering was another noticeable deficit.

After lunch it was on to the A grade MSR. The winner here was Steven Gray with a finger perfect and musically mature rendition of Allan Dodd’s Farewell to Scotland, P/M Hector MacLean and Stornoway Castle. Here’s a recording of Steven’s performance:

Second prize went to Gordon McCready (pictured top) who was a shade careful with Glengarry Gathering but who came onto a game with Tulloch Castle and Donald MacLeod’s Drumlithie. Continuing to make progress up the greasy pole of professional piping is the Army’s Ben Duncan. Smart as paint, Ben’s crisp technique and steady expression saw him safely into the list, though the rather raucous pipe did not suit the classroom venue. Here’s Ben’s Strathspey and reel:

Fourth went to Ashley McMichael from Northern Ireland. Ashley started well but there was a distinct absence of phrasing in the strathspey and the reel was a tad safe; VG instrument and technique. Another good instrument was that of Christopher Armstrong, but in the final assessment we had to consider Chris’s dreich march (Leaving Strathglass? – we neither), missed birls, and a minor chip. Of the others, Gordon Bruce was too safe; Cameron Drummond had the poorest pipe we have heard from him; Bill Geddes lacked impetus; Colin Campbell had the poorest pipe we have heard from him;

Greig Wilson: careless, weak instrument; Jonathan Greenlees was given credit for ‘going for it’ – musical but some technical issues (double B from D) and every birl at the march endings in too early; Allan Russell – off tune when going so well; Darach Urquhart – pipe in; pipe put out; Jenny Hazzard: rushed endings in march, unsettled in strathspey, good reel, pipe wavering; Peter Hunt: started well, lost concentration from third part of march onwards. In all a good standard of play from the prizewinners, and the others can all do much better next time if they work a bit harder on the deficiencies – for we should not forget that they are all top players who on their day could have won the contest. The close proximity of the bench doesn’t help the nerves either.

Before closing a word for my fellow adjudicators. When my duties were over I went to listen to the end of the B Grade Piobaireachd where Iain MacFadyen and Ronnie MacShannon were still working away listening and assessing. They had been in situ from 9am and it was now nearing 6pm. The organisers either need to limit the numbers or introduce tuning lights. I reckon these would have saved over an hour in this contest of 25 plus pipers.

1 thought on “Highlands & Islands Festival 2015

  1. Thanks for your encouraging remarks regarding Andrew.It is the same young man you heard those many years ago.

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