Let me say right away that this was another logistical success for the RSPBA with 143 bands and many more performances all completed on schedule and in a most efficient manner. The only grumbles I heard were over the splitting of the Highland games away from the band championship (the Highland dancing was on another field) and the the 4b final being held late in the day when most of these bands had been on parade from early on. Warm sunshine was an emollient balm for all fevered brows however, and the day should not been seen as anything other than an outstanding success.
After wandering round the field for an hour or so I was struck by the number of juvenile and novice juvenile bands taking part and also the standard they were playing at. To hear a young band like George Heriot’s making such a good job of a difficult 2/4 march, the Young MacGregor, was uplifting and well done to all the children and their pipe major Willie McIntyre. The same goes for Ross Cowan’s North Lanarkshire Schools and their P/M Willie Gray. Heriot’s made the list. Then we had Preston Lodge under P/M Lee Moore showing wonderful composure in the Novice final to take the title. More on the Juv and Nov Juv in the July PB mag. Before heading for the G1 arena, I was pleased to hear the CoP Pipes and Drums had made it into the final in their grade and I enjoyed the performance of Kenny MacLeod’s Glasgow Skye in G2 and was not surprised when they made the prizes.
3pm arrived and so to the big boys. My notebook shows that when the last band finished yesterday afternoon I wrote down the following result: 1 FMM 2 Glasgow Police 3 Boghall 4 Inveraray 5 Scottish Power 6 SLoT. To be honest, I found it extremely difficult to separate these six bands. The only thing I am sure of is that they were definitely the prizewinners and that FM probably edged it on the quality of their fingering and totally smooth integration of pipes and drums. So high was the standard that the judges had a very difficult job to do. Subjective likes and dislikes must have come into their decision making. There would be no other way of putting the performances in order. The thoughts that follow are from someone sitting in the hospitality area with constant chattering going on all around and should not be seen as in any way at odds with the judges’ decisions. These men were a lot closer to the action than me and would have been able to hear detail that I was not. However, for what it is worth, I plunge in headfirst:
Scottish Power: First on, and had this band played later in the day they could probably have been higher up the list. They had a strong opening tune and good, lively tempi in the jigs; the low G harmony in the slow air intruded; strathspeys well pointed; perhaps drones just shading off a mite; reels at a cracking pace; every break perfection; sound very impressive; terrific performance.
Inveraray: Not taken with the opening setting of Cabar Feidh; jigs really moving – true G1 tempo; enjoyable harmonies in D McKillop; good snare sound from drums; exciting playing; momentum lost towards the end with the return to the slow tune; maybe just shading the Power on ensemble.
Fife Police: Bass and tenor slightly overpowering; tone drifting in straths; not sure about closing tune – difficult to follow the melodic line (I learned later that this band had to compete without their recognised leading tip); promising, well-schooled and good playing, but not always consistent.
Shotts: Off to a good start; jigs too slow this round; solid tone; over regular slow air. (In the context of a band medley I feel the slow air should have some free rhythm about it to contrast with the rest of the on-the-beat music. Ironically it was Shotts who set the benchmark for this ‘free’ style with their Bells of Dunblane a number of years ago.); mono volume from drums; closing reels went along very well but there was something unconvincing in this band’s delivery.
Boghall: Wonderful drone sound; outstanding dynamics from drum corps (contrast with Shotts noticeable); good fingers in strathspey; brilliant accompaniment from drum section; tasteful harmonies in slow air; effortless breaks; right up there with this performance – every year the amazing Ross Walker and Gordon Brown produce the goods.
Denny: Overpowerful drones; balance with chanters lost; lacked precision in fingering; opening jig went on too long; a band deserving of their G1 status but will need to fine tune this medley and their integration, drums to pipes.
Ravara: Struggling with only 13 pipers; light sound gave them little chance; opening tunes all taken at a confident lick however; fingering and blowing in strathspey suffering; six more pipers and this band will impress more; they do not lack confidence or ability; like Inveraray, they too lost momentum towards the end by returning to a slow tune.
Glasgow Police: Cracking sound; really excellent clarity and projection; tramping along in jigs – maybe a shade pushed, but fingering well up to it; ‘counterpoint’ in slow air works well; not many bands could handle the difficult bottom hand opening to the first strathspey this competently; overall a great performance the only question mark over the melodic quality of some of the tunes.
FM: Immaculate as ever but not that far ahead of the chasing pack; attention to detail probably the separator; the fingering was pin sharp; flawless sound; drones to chanters a perfection in balance; only downside: we’ve heard this set before. Such is the ephemeral nature of the pipe band medley it is very easy to lose impact this way. They’ll be hoping for a run at their new medley later on in the season.
Culleybackey: 15 pipers – almost as many sides; suffered by comparison with FM in the tone stakes; pitch not sustaining at times, especially on D in jigs; nor did fingering compare well with FM; better in strathspey where the double Cs came cross positively; same finisher as FM – P/M George Allan.
Vale: Very bright sound (best ever in recent past?) and a good start. Medley tended to be over complex – clever but maybe too clever with the result that, now and then, the melodic line had to be searched for; very good finger work; lovely tone in slow air; uncluttered first strathspey was a refreshing contrast to some of the other tunes.
SLoT: Class drone sound; chanters beautifully set; opener weak melodically as were jigs (maybe they will improve on repeat hearing – always a suspect caveat mind); enjoyable drum effects in slow air; strong finish; poised and professional, this band has lost nothing in the transition to Alen Tully as P/M; very fine playing towards the end; impressive debut championship for the new P/M.