More power to your elbow – and foot!

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REVIEW by PETER McCALISTER

This year, for the first time, the annual competition held by the Lowland & Border Pipers’ Society (LBPS) was held in Linlithgow, at the historic Burgh Halls. This marvellous old building has been re-purposed with meeting rooms and a café – and the acoustics are superb. There was also the added benefit of a community picnic/BBQ at lunchtime. More of that later.

For various reasons I had not been at an LBPS contest for about 20 years and it was amazing to see how many of the old faces were still there, along with some new additions who added a lot to the day. In bright sunshine the contest kicked off with the Seasoned Pipers category (for those aged 65+). This was won with a cracking set of music played by Brian Mulhearn, playing a set of pipes of his own manufacture. Brian as you may know, has a troublesome right shoulder and so cannot blow bellows easily under that arm – so he rigged up an ingenious foot pedal to pump the bellows.

The Intermediate category was won by Robert Porter playing a very suitable set of tunes including The Black and the Grey from the Dixon manuscript. This is a factor which makes this contest different from many others, namely that any Highland pipe tunes (well-played by other competitors) are heard less often and are possibly less appreciated by the judges [marks are weighted towards performances containing tunes with a Lowland/Border flavour – Editor]. I didn’t ask them about that, but the Lowland tunes are certainly more suited to the instrument, and many pipers played Irish or European tunes to good effect.

•Brian Mulhearn: more power to his … foot!

There were three duet contests, and as I was successful in two of them I don’t wish to say much about that, except to hope that more pipers will take up this type of contest next year. At times, there was only one entry for each category,  which makes for an entertaining fast-moving day. There is, though, less of the stress of competition, that stress which can bring out the best in the players.

The other thing to say is that (in my experience) it is a lot easier to play along to a singer in a duet, than to play and sing at the same time. The only piper who attempted that feat was Matt Mochar. The duet for Pipes and Other Instrument category was again won by the only entrants, though I think Neil Clark and Kathryn Grainger would have beaten all comers with their lovely playing. Kathryn played a clarinet in its lower register in her duet with Neil. 

There are various contests that are only seen at this event including the Skeely Piper (well done to Stuart Letford) and a trophy in memory of Martin Lowe, that true gentleman, who is much missed. This trophy goes to the competitor adjudged to have made the most outstanding contribution to Lowland/Border piping on the day – the winner being Norman MacLeod.

Finally, the big contests of the day were probably the Open Smallpipes and the Open Lowland and Border Pipes contests. Rona Dawson was first on with her smallpipes in D, and no-one thereafter could touch her flowing playing which was full of expression.

A feature of this contest is the variation in instruments. No two instruments look the same or sound the same, and this makes it a very entertaining day for the listener. I’m more used to Highland Pipe contests where everyone nowadays has virtually the same sound (with some refinement, that makes the winners stand out, but the differences between the pipes can be small). 

To finish the account of the day, Iain Gelston from Tyneside struck up a set of Border pipes in the key of G. If you had shut your eyes you would have thought they were Uilleann pipes. Iain’s instrument had a beautiful steadiness and sweetness of tone, which beat all comers. I must admit to not having a great liking for the Border bagpipe sound, but Ian’s instrument totally reversed my previous point of view. It was the highlight of the day for me. Sadly, the pipe maker is no longer producing instruments but Iain is trying to find a way to have the pipe copied. Check out his performance on YouTube, as well as all the other performances.

While the judges were deliberating, the audience watched videos of the overseas entrants. Well done to Jeremy Kingsbury (USA) for winning that category. 

I mentioned the picnic: above the BBQ area and where the kids were playing was a veranda on which several of the pipers played a medley of tunes in the sun at lunchtime. Not a sight you see every day …

“Once more through The Roke!”


Full results:

Seasoned Pipers (aged over 60) – 1. Brian Mulhearn; 2. David Hannay; 3. John Kelly. 

Intermediate – 1. Robert Porter; 2. Matt Mochar; 3. John Kelly. 

Duet for Piper and Singer – Dr. Peter McCalister and Robert Porter (The Mountains of Mourne). 

Skeely Piper Trophy (tunes connected to Perthshire) – 1. Stuart Letford; 2. Alexander Scott; 3. Matt Seattle. 

Open Solo for Scottish Smallpipes – 1. Rona Dawson; 2. Alexander Scott; 3. Norman MacLeod. 

Duet for Pipes – 1. Dr. Peter McCalister and Robert Porter; 2. Stuart Letford and Bill Bennett; 3. Norman MacLeod and Matt Mochar. 

Solo Pipe and Song – Matt Mochar. 

Duet for Pipes and Other Instrument – Neil Clark (smallpipes in C) and Kathryn Grainger (clarinet). 

Open Solo for Lowland and Border Pipes – 1. Iain Gelston; 2. Stuart Letford; 3. Matt Seattle. 

The Martin Lowe Trophy (awarded to the competitor adjudged to have made the most outstanding contribution to Lowland/Border piping on the day – Norman MacLeod. 

Overseas – 1. Jeremy Kingsbury (USA). 

Judges: Neil Clark, Lee Moore and John Saunders.