"Tails, it is!" Stuart Liddell wins the toss and elects to play first.
“Tails, it is!” Stuart Liddell wins the toss and elects to play first.

Last night, Stuart Liddell prevailed over Gordon McCready in the first heat of the Scottish Pipers’ Association’s current Knockout series for the silver Piping Times Trophy, writes Stuart Letford, Piping Times editor. With two of the world’s finest pipers giving their all you’d expect a packed house. However, the theatre at The National Piping Centre Otago Street was just over half full. In fairness, there were other things going on yesterday: the Highlands & Islands contest took place in Oban while apparently in Glasgow a football team won a competition. And it was a Bank Holiday weekend. Oh, and there was a march.

Those that couldn’t make it to the west end of Glasgow for whatever reason missed a cracking night of top drawer piping. Indeed, prior to announcing the winner – the audience decides who has won – SPA President, Tom Johnstone said that it was the closest result in the history of the event.

And no wonder. Both pipers played some fantastic and entertaining piping. What struck me was that both Stuart and Gordon structured their recitals around very traditional – but tasteful – tunes for the most part, albeit at times played with a modern twist.

Kyle Shead welcomes the audience.
Kyle Shead welcomes the audience with a few tunes.The silver Piping Times Trophy is in the foreground.

The evening was opened by a young piper slowly making a name for himself around the competition circuit. Kyle Shead (19), now living in Glasgow and serving on the SPA committee, warmed us up – as if we needed warming up in the balmy theatre! – with a 20-minute recital. He played confidently and musically.

Having won the toss, Stuart Liddell, the current holder of the trophy and who has won it on three occasions, played first. Stuart sported a bandage on his right wrist, the result of a recent fall from a mountain bike. His half hour was full of music and innovation – at one point he played an arrangement – Alen Tully’s – of Highland Wedding and the Cameronian Rant that was very entertaining. And clever: although we were listening to one piper, you could almost hear percussion in the arrangement.

Perhaps understandably, pìobaireachd is seldom heard during this competition series, but Stuart confidently threw in a well phrased ground of Lament for the Children. His set concluded with an entertaining rake of jigs with some finger gymnastics. His instrument sounded excellent, with his drones projecting well – particularly the bass drone.

Here is a clip of Stuart in action last night:

After the interval Tom Johnstone then introduced our next piper, Gordon McCready, who, Tom told us, had received tuition as a youngster from fellow southsider, the late Kenny MacDonald. As a member of Field Marshall Montgomery, Gordon has won the Worlds on three occasions and his set featured quite a few tunes popularised by FM in recent years.

Gordon began his half hour with a set of traditional 3/4s, hornpipes and jigs: The Bloody Fields of Flanders, The Water Hole, Skylark’s Ascension, Jimmy MacGregor and Rory MacLeod. His recital was, like Stuart’s, very musical and entertaining … and quite traditional; Gordon even included a tune I hadn’t heard played in recital for about 25 years: the 4/4 Bessie Wetherston, a tune that was once a staple of many pipe bands.

Here is a clip of Gordon’s MSR – Knightswood Ceilidh, Piper’s Bonnet and Willie Murray’s Reel (seemingly, the only tune G. S. MacLennan wished he had written):

Gordon piped himself off the stage to the German folk tune Muss I Denn before we marked our crosses next to our favoured performance. The result was close but it was the Inveraray maestro who prevailed.

What a great night of piping. We now look forward to the second heat on June 8 which sees Callum Beaumont and Cameron McDougall, er, pipe it out. If you’re in Glasgow on that date then do pop along.