By Stuart Letford, Piping Times editor.

Stuart Letford

The Novice Juvenile A grade competition at the 2019 British Pipe Band Championships was competed for by eight bands. With the exception of Boghall & Bathgate, the bands represented Scottish state and private schools.

The overall standard in this contest – like the Grade 1 contest, it was an MSR – was much higher than I expected and a credit to the dedication of the youngsters and to the quality of the teaching they are receiving. The top three could easily compete above this grade.

Like my review of the Grade 1 contest that appeared here yesterday, these notes are my own. Unlike that review, however, I felt able to comment on the overall band sound (ensemble) and not just on the piping; standing that bit closer affords a decent listen. I stood in the same spot throughout. It was around 13.30 when the contest started and it was chilly.

The judges were: Robert Shaw and Barry Donaldson (piping); Bill Black (drumming) and Paul Turner (ensemble).

George Watson’s College. First band on. Drones very well set. Chanters ‘clean’. Nice tempos throughout; steady. Sympathetic beatings from back end. Steady blowing overall.

George Heriot’s School. Drones well set. Well expressed march. Bass section aiding greatly. Bad blowing creeping in, particularly noticeable with D’s. Strathspey pointed well but could ‘let go’ a bit more; Reel good.

Niall stewart's Lochalsh Juniors march into the circle last Saturday.
Niall Stewart’s Lochalsh Juniors march into the circle last Saturday.

Lochalsh Juniors. Well away. Bold sound. Nicely pointed march but some bad blowing starting to creep in. Strathspey well expressed but overblowing obvious on top hand; Good unison playing esp. apparent in birls in 3rd part of Maggie. Some untidy fingering in reel; blowing. Sloppy finish.

Dollar Academy.
Dollar Academy.

Dollar Academy. Great start and march into circle. Drones sounding great; plenty of bass. Chanters well set. Tone sustained throughout. Bass section aiding greatly. Tight playing in strathspey. except in 3rd part. Reel played well. Finish a shade ragged.

West Lothian Schools. Full E! Confident march into circle. March well played. Great clarity. Drones and chanters spot on. Bass section excellent throughout. Strathspey well played (best so far). Musical reel. Sound sustained to end. Untidy finish.

Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia. Another good intro. March well expressed; swinging well. Strathspey expressed well but blowing going a bit. Before end of strath. helicopter now hovering overhead – can imagine the reaction if this had occurred during a Grade 1 band’s performance.

North Lanarkshire Schools.
North Lanarkshire Schools.

North Lanarkshire Schools. Great E! March into circle confident and well played. Tight playing; tempo spot on. Integration sustained into strath. Bass section very good. Nice light and shade from snares; noticeably enhancing each idiom. Neat break into reel; very well played. Best so far; one band to go.

Stirling Schools.
Stirling Schools.

Stirling and District Schools. March played at a nice tempo. Two skirls in third part; a pity. Drones and chanters well set. Tone good but coming after NLS noticeably not as ‘full’. Strath. needs more ‘lift’. Blowing going, obvious in F’s. A couple of mistakes. Break too long from strath. into reel. Good reel: v. musical.

As Ross Cowan’s youngsters left the arena my conclusions were as follows: 1. North Lanarkshire Schools; 2. West Lothian Schools; 3. Dollar Academy; 4. George Heriot’s School; 5. George Watson’s College; 6. Stirling and District Schools.

The result the judges arrived at was: 1. North Lanarkshire Schools (ensemble preference); 2. West Lothian Schools; 3. Dollar Academy; 4. George Watson’s College, Novice; 5. George Heriot’s School; 6. Stirling and District Schools (ensemble preference).

North Lanarkshire Schools also took the drumming prize.