The best of 2021

Finlay MacDonald and Gary West at one of’ highlights of 2021.

Another year draws to a close. Another strange year. Another frustrating year.

Here at we were in two minds, given the fact few piping activities have been able to take place for the second year in succession, whether or not to post an end of the year ‘award’ list. Tonight, none of us will even find ourselves holding hands in a circle and urging each other to tak’ a cup of kindness yet, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne.

However, it is the end of the year and a few of our regular contributors have munched on some shortbread and banged their heads together – online, of course – to bring you our awards for 2021.

Book of the Year – In first place it is Hector Thomson’s entertaining yarn, Hector of the Glens, followed closely by Michael Grey’s collection of essays, Grey’s Notes. Jeannie Campbell’s phenomenal Pipe Bands is third.

In the field of pipe collections, in first place we have James Duncan MacKenzie’s debut publication with Fred Morrison’s second in, er, second place. (We hope to carry a review of MacKenzie’s collection shortly).

An honourable mention goes to the National Piping Centre’s magazine, the Piping Times Annual.

Album of the Year – Fraser Fifield’s Piobaireachd/Pipe Music.

Event of the Year – Piping Live! In the second year without any festivals or large-scale events (for the most part), the easing of lockdown in Scotland this summer coincided perfectly with Piping Live! We can’t describe how good it felt to be arriving at the National Piping Centre for a week of live piping again. The week opened with the Silver Chanter and ended with the LBPS ‘More Power To Your Elbow’ show and included such Piping Live! staples as the Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies Memorial Recital Challenge and the Masters Solo Piping Competition. Well done to all concerned with bringing the event to fruition.

The 150th Argyllshire Gathering, The Glenfiddich, and the New Zealand Pipe Band National Championships receive honourable mentions.

Angus MacColl at this year’s Piping Live! festival where he won the Silver Chanter.

Product of the Year – This one sneaked in as it has only just been produced and indeed we understand it will be January before it is rolled out fully. However, Highland Reeds’ new natural moisture cloth filter completely prevents viruses from leaving our pipe bags. It may well prove to be the boon we are all hoping for with regard to the damn coronavirus. We will carry a report on this product very soon.

Band of the Year – Another year of next-to-no pipe band activity means we cannot announce a Pipe Band of the Year. Our Band of the Year, however, is The Beatles. If you haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s film, Get Back, you really must. We promise you it is the tonic you need right now.

People of the Year. It seems almost frivolous to have a Piper of the Year given the relatively little activity. If 2021 had been a normal year, Jack Lee would probably receive this accolade. Jack’s win of the Glenfiddich means he is the competition’s oldest winner, an incredible achievement. Our People of the Year, however, are all the scientists working on combating this deadly virus and all the health workers at the front line. We salute you all.

When reflecting on this last year, the team at the National Piping Centre have made this video of thanks to all our friends, students and pipers across the world. Have a good Hogmanay wherever you are. We wish you all the best for 2022.

We end the year with a familiar song from Burns, the one mentioned in our second paragraph, above. However, in honouring the culture where the music we play and love came from, on this occasion we will instead adopt the words of a Perthshire divine of the ‘Auld Kirk’ in the late 19th century:

Should Gaelic speech be e’er forgot,
And never brocht to min’,
For she’ll be spoke in Paradise
In the days o’ auld lang syne.

When Eve, all fresh in beauty’s charms,
First met fond Adam’s view,
The first word that he’ll spoke to her
Were “Ciamar a tha thu an duidh?”

And Adam, in his garden fair,
Whene’er the day did close,
The dish that he’ll to supper teuk
Was always Atholl brose.

When Adam from his leafy bower
Cam’ out at break o’ day,
He’ll always for his morning teuk
A quaich of usquebae.

And when wi’ Eve he’ll had a crack,
He’ll teuk his sneeshin’ horn,
And on the tap ye’ll weel micht mark
A braw big Cairngorm.

The sneeshin’ mull is fine, my frien’s,
The sneeshin’ mull is grand;
We’ll teuk a hearty sneesh my frien’s,
And pass’t from hand to hand.

When man first fand the want of claes,
The wind and cauld to fleg,
He twisted round about hims waist
The tartan philabeg.

And music first on earth was heard
In Gaelic accents deep
When Jubal in his oxter squeezed
The blether o’ a sheep.

The braw bagpipes is grand, my frien’s,
The braw bagpipes is fine;
We’ll teuk another pibroch yet,
For the days o’ auld lang syne.