A day of two halves: sunny and warm till mid afternoon, torrential rain thereafter. This led to the cancellation of the massed bands. Such is the exposed nature of Dumbarton’s Levengrove Park that when the heavens open they mean business.
I arrived in time to hear a few of the Grade 2 bands. Dumbarton impressed with their content and musicality but their tone and delivery were wanting. Buchan Peterson were, as they might say in the north-east, gey dreich. Their medley tunes are not the most attractive nor, on this occasion, was their lacklustre delivery. Perhaps it was the long journey down from the barnyards that left this band playing like a curer that had lost his kippers. I wasn’t surprised when last year’s G2 world champions finished in fourth spot. With more get up and go they will regain their former glory. Of others in G2 I heard good tone in the tuning park from the smartly turned out Torphichen and Bathgate, Lomond and Clyde, City of Edinburgh and the neat and tidy (playing and looks) Police Service of Northern Ireland.
On to the hospitality area where it was heartening to see adjudicator John Wilson looking so well after his accident and leg surgery. John is still undergoing physio and hydropool leg strengthening exercises but is now well on the way back and was more than able to complete his day’s duties judging Juvenile and Grade 1. He was particularly impressed with the standard among the juvenile bands – they were a real credit to their teachers and parents said John. Let’s hope that the majority of these well taught boys and girls keep their interest going when they reach adulthood.
I had a good position at the Grade 1 arena and noted the following:
Greater Glasgow Police: Rosshire Volunteers, Blair Drummond, Smith of Chilliechassie
Double E missing at end of parts in march; other technique light but good tempo and expression; top hand work not coming through in strath.; nicely controlled reel; drones maybe shading off in strathspey.
Fife Police: Brigadier Cheape, Susan MacLeod, Mrs MacPherson
Good, driving start to march; well pointed; high A keen; blowing in strathspey suspect with F noticeably wavering; drums and pipes not always working together here; reel well expressed but drones drifting and chanters worsening; march best of three tunes by far.
Inveraray: P/M J McWilliams, Bob o’ Fettercairn, MacAllister’s Dirk
Lovely controlled march; all technical work coming across clear and precise; solid drone tone. Cut and dash in third part strathspey sometimes at odds with drum beating; pipe corps doing well to maintain unison here. Break to reel spot on; drummers hammering strong beats at times and this must affect ensemble mark; reel could have come up in tempo a shade.
SLoT: Highland Wedding, Shepherd’s Crook, Smith of Chilliechassie
Brilliant start; absolutely nailed it. Bass boomy and noticeable, as was a lack of snare sound from drums; very hard tone. Bottom hand technique from pipers better than top especially in strathspey; good lift to the latter, rhythmically the best so far. Reel needs more pointing and phrasing; impression of roundness in delivery. Sparkling sound.
Shotts & Dykehead: Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod, John Morrison, Assynt House
Bright tempo at start but not maintained into circle; pipers finding it hard to phrase march and unison suffering; 5th part strike on E before the beat every time; quality sound from drummers – musical and sympathetic to very sonorous drone tone; chanters true. Strathspey and reel well enough played but some snatching in latter. JMAH very difficult for a band to put across effectively. Band on way back but a way to go.
Field Marshal: Balmoral Highlanders, John Roy Stewart, Charlie’s Welcome
I said after their blips at Forres and at the All-Ireland that it would be a mistake to write this band off so soon as some commentators appear to have done. So it proved. They were a class apart. A perfect start was followed by controlled and pointed playing all at the optimum tempi. The quality of the fingerwork alone set the bar extremely high. The drum section? You hardly know they are there such is the blend they achieve with the pipers. Strong, powerful drone tone that may have shifted a shade half way through reel. What execution here. [The top picture features FMM's P/M Richard Parkes with yet another trophy.] Have a listen here.
Denny: Donald Cameron, Maggie Cameron, MacAllister’s Dirk
Well away with a good tone, if light by comparison with FM. Bass dominating; drummers forcing pace instead of relaxing into tunes; all breaks worked well; technical work not clear in reel; slurred at times; ragged towards end; band tiring?
Scottish Power: Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society, Bob o’ Fettercairn, Lochcarron
Not convinced this is a G1 march or even a tune for a band of this calibre. Bass section intruding. March perfectly fingered; strathspey nicely pointed; this pipe corps has genuine quality – and depth to that quality. Break to reel overlong; not to my taste. Reel really well played if chopped slightly here and there. Accomplished playing throughout, superb sound, steady drones.
Vale of Atholl: Highland Wedding, Cabar Feidh, John Morrison
Good start; high A keen; well played march though some fingering not together in runs; first high G in strathspey brushed aside and this affected overall timing – rhythm lost; solid sound that held (apart from high A); struggled at times with John Morrison, but so do most bands. This band is having a good season consolidating its mid-table status.
Ravara: Lord Alexander Kennedy, Susan MacLeod, MacAllister’s Dirk
Good start; chanters thin on top; good drone tone; march lacked precision in phrasing; drones beginning to go in strath.; good break to reel, though fingering slackening off here. This band produces enjoyable music even if they do not contend for a prize.
Culleybackey: Donald Cameron, Atholl Cummers, John MacKechnie
VG starting E; chanters true throughout register. Playing a tad laboured in march; is the blowing steady in the strathspey? Some loose fingering here. Well into the difficult John MacKechnie. Nicely expressed if some fingering woolly. P/M did a good job of keeping things together; drones firm to end.
Boghall: Abercairney Highlanders, Cal. Soc. of London, Pretty Marion
Fine sound; VG tempi; well phrased; runs in strathspey could be rounded off more and this would help drumming ensemble; smoothly into reel; at no time did the drumming overwhelm, producing a cohesive pipe band sound. Music of a high order even if the technique doesn’t quite match FM and the Power.
Result: 1 FM 2 Power 3 Boghall 4 I’ray 5 SLoT 6 Shotts; Drumming: Boghall No one could disagree with that result and collectively I think the judges got it about right.
Before closing I want to make this point. We should have a new Premier grade for the top bands. It must be soul-destroying for very good outfits like Denny, Ravara, Culleybackey, Vale, Fife Police going out week after week playing for a mid table spot and no recognition. They are too good for G2 but not quite able to challenge the top end yet. An eight band Premier Grade with a Grade 1 consisting of these bands plus the best few from G2 is the answer. Full summaries at www.rspba.org.
* This year's Scottish Championships are at Dumbarton on July 25th.