BY JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE
Competitors in the Northern Meeting Clasp Competition and the Argyllshire Gathering Open Piobaireachd competition in 1977 were required to select and submit four from the following list of six tunes: Sobieski’s Salute, The Stewarts’ White Banner, Mary’s Praise, The MacDonalds’ Salute (the tune Fannet would not be taken as an alternative setting), The Menzies’ Salute.
Competitors in the Gold Medal Competitions at both the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting were required to select and submit six tunes from the following list of twelve tunes: Castle Menzies, The Bicker, Lament for Donald of Laggan, The Sister’s Lament, Duntroon’s Salute, Finlay’s Lament, The Men went to Drink, Mackinnon’s Lament, The Mackays’ Short Tune, Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod, Salute to Donald, Welcome Johnny Back Again. For The Sister’s Lament and Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod the Urlar was to be played again after the final Variation.
In 1976 there had been 43 entries for the Gold at Oban and 56 entries for the same event at Inverness. A Silver Medal competition was introduced at Inverness in 1977 when entry to the Gold was restricted to those who had won a prize other than first in a previous Gold Medal competition. This resulted in an entry of 23 for the Gold Medal and 39 for the Silver Medal. The introduction of the Silver Medal may have had an effect on the number of entries for the Gold at the Argyllshire Gathering. Competitors who were no longer eligible for the Gold at Inverness now had to decide whether to learn six of the set tunes for the Oban Gold or submit six of their own choice for the Inverness Silver. They could use the Gold Medal tunes as their own choices for the Silver but might be more confident with their own favourites. Anyone entering also for the Open at Oban would have a further four tunes to submit and unless they had already won the Gold Medal they would not be eligible for the Clasp at Inverness.
The Piping Times reported: “Once again the last week in August sees all roads leading to Oban for the first of the two major meetings. Because of the increasing numbers of competing pipers, swollen considerably at this time of year by the annual influx from abroad, it was with some trepidation that we sought copies of the programmes and scanned the list. The numbers entered however turned out to be quite reasonable, and well short of the dreaded figures we have been having nightmares about.
“The cause for this was almost certainly the setting of tunes for the Gold Medal event. Set tunes are notoriously the barrier over which large numbers of would be competitors do not even attempt to climb. As a result, the increase in entries for the light music was correspondingly less than it might have been.”
The Open Piobaireachd
“As always, the number who competed in this event was less than could have been expected, and probably less than will appear for the Clasp at Inverness. It has always been assumed that the reason for this is that many pipers are not well enough prepared in August, and the extra three weeks makes a big difference to their confidence when presenting four set tunes.
“It appears however that at least one of the top pipers gave as his reason that he does not like competing at Oban! Certainly there were complaints this year about the tuning facilities (as there have been in previous years) and perhaps a new look at this would not be a bad idea.
“A total of nine pipers actually played in the competition, and only four of these got through without making note mistakes – some of them serious. The standard indeed could not be said to have been very high, although it was probably up to what we have had in Oban in recent years.
“The winner was Duncan MacFadyen, who was the only man to play his tune with real confidence, or at least with confidence which turned out to be justified. Even he, however, was not free from actual note errors. His tune was The Stewarts’ White Banner, and in the third line of the ground he played the second half of the third bar as cherede, which is the Donald MacDonald setting, but he followed this in the next bar with hiarara, for which there is no justification in any written record of the tune.
“The phrase was not unpleasing, and indeed was singularly appropriate, but since there had been no indication from Duncan in advance that he was going to make such an emendation, the judges assumed that he had made a mistake and judged his performance accordingly. He also played a low A instead of a low G in the third line of the taorluath variation.
“In spite of this Duncan was considered to have given the best overall performance. It is perhaps a measure of the modern approach to the adjudication of piobaireachd competitions that the positive contribution of the performer is being given more weight than the negative attitude of avoiding technical errors. Duncan’s tune was masterly, in the true sense of the term. He knew exactly what he was going to do with the expression, and his handling of tempos and balancing of phrases were of the very highest standard.
“Second prize went to William Livingstone from Ontario who played The MacDonald’s Salute. We have become accustomed in recent years to the Canadians appearing with immaculate instruments and knowing their tunes perfectly. In this case both these basics were in evidence, but the third requirement to attack with supreme confidence – was sadly lacking. Bill played the tune just too steadily and too evenly, so that at times we were hearing only the notes and longing for the great melody behind them. The composer of the tune, Donald Mor, was the big brutal tough of his illustrious family, and his tunes have a roughness and vitality which is totally opposed to the sweetness and beauty of the Patrick Mor MacCrimmon compositions of the following generation. Bill Livingstone in fact played the tune rather as one might have expected Patrick Mor MacCrimmon to have played it, and that description is not entirely meant to be complimentary. Nevertheless it was a good performance played by a fine piper, and well deserved the prize.
“In third place came Murray Henderson with a rather apprehensive rendering of The Menzies Salute. The ground was just a bit tum ti tum ti tum without much subtlety. He slowed into the siubhal, and held on to the slowing down process throughout the performance- rather as if he was determined to finish with no major error at all costs. His technique was first class and the bagpipe was singing beautifully as always.
“Jack Taylor was placed fourth for a competent rendering of Mary’s Praise. He did not try anything ambitious, but then with this tune what could he do? Variation two started off a bit slowly, and to our surprise slowed down even further in the doubling. This was carried on to variation three and the doubling, and indeed there was no time when he decided to let fly on one at least of these long and rather monotonous variations. The technique was good throughout and the bagpipe was in the top rank.
“Of the others, only Malcolm MacRae could have been considered for the prize list. He also played Mary’s Praise but he tended to make it sound sloppy and lazy throughout, as if Mary’s praise for her gift was being made dutifully at the dictation of her mother.
“The other competitors were John MacDougall who went off in his MacDonald’s Salute, Ed Neigh who went off several times in Port Urlar but cut it to pieces in any case, and James MacIntosh who played Menzies Salute very sweetly but went off the tune several times. Iain Campbell from Islay also appeared and got through Sobieski’s Salute, but perhaps he would be better to stick to the Gold Medal event meantime rather than try to keep in his mind eight set tunes all for one day.
The judges were Dr. Colin Caird, Capt. John MacLellan and Seumas MacNeill.”
The Gold Medal
“Forty competitors turned out for this important event, but half of them pretty obviously were unsure of the tunes they were given to play, and half of these did not complete their pieces. This is to be expected perhaps with set tunes, and is one way of keeping the competition down to a reasonable length. The two tunes which seemed to cause most trouble were Salute on the Birth which every piper should know and play well, and The Bicker which is so obviously defective that it is amazing anybody chose to learn it. (The second line introduces a C note which is completely foreign to the rest of the tune). As a result the serious candidates for prizes formed quite a small group.
“The winner of the medal this year was Iain Clowe who played very well, as always. His tune was Welcome, Johnny, Back Again, which he handled confidently and with musical taste, helped by a splendid bagpipe. This was Iain’s fourth attempt at the medal, which makes his achievement all the more commendable.
“In the usually unfortunate position of runner-up came Tom Speirs, but Tom can hardly have been disappointed this year as his bagpipe did not keep so well in tune as it ought to have.
“He was asked to play what is easily the best of the set tunes The Lament for Donald of Laggan – and although a brisker approach to the taorluath singling might have improved things, this was a performance of a high order.
“Jack Taylor who already has the Inverness medal to his credit started off in most impressive style with The Sisters’ Lament, but did not quite keep up the high standard throughout. He received third prize. Fourth prize went to Murray Henderson playing The Bicker, but even if he had been on top of his form, which he was not, it is doubtful if he could have taken this tune into a higher place.
“Jacques Pincet from Brittany was placed fifth with Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod. Jacques was placed third in this event last year, and it seems almost inevitable that he is going to win this medal, or a similar high award, in the not too distant future. He plays with a mastery and understanding of ceol mor which puts most of the seasoned Scottish competitors to shame. His bagpipe is a beautiful set – for a drawing room, but it is not the Great Highland Bagpipe, and but for this reason he must surely have been placed considerably higher in the list. Nevertheless, his achievements at Oban this year and last year are quite outstanding for a non-Scottish piper, especially when we remember that he competes nowhere else but at Oban.
“The judges in the competition were Mr. James Campbell, Captain Iain C. Cameron and Dr. Robert Frater.”
The March, Strathspey and Reel
“The second day at Oban dawned wet and miserable and became steadily worse. The march to the games field was the usual exciting, non-musical event, but was completed before the rain really began. In fact at one stage, during the local competitions (which were held first for some obscure and unfortunate reason) there was even a blink of sunshine. John Burgess, who was first to play in the march, strathspey and reel for former winners, was lucky enough to be favoured by the tail-end of this spell, but the other competitors had to endure anything from a gentle drizzle to a vicious downpour.
“John Burgess set a cracking standard with his performance of Lord Alexander Kennedy, Arniston Castle and Pretty Marion. His rhythm and expression in the march were, like his performance at Blair Castle last year, absolutely immaculate and a memorable object lesson to the many young pipers (and old) who had gathered at the ringside to hear him play. To their great good fortune the judges had decided that the blink of sun heralded a heat wave, and they had moved to the far side of the platform and given instructions that their sheltered tent should be removed. So the punters were given an uninterrupted view, and were able to listen, if not in comfort, at least without the canvas barrier.
“John’s strathspey was first class although it could hardly come up to the standard of the excellent march, and his reel was again in the highest rank.
“Often one notices that if a good standard is set in a good competition then everybody plays well. The converse is also often the case. On this occasion everybody accepted the challenge, and gave of their very best.
“It will now be convenient to paraphrase General De Gaulle (who in any case was quoting somebody else, whom I have forgotten), – ‘after John Burgess came the deluge’. The pipers came up one after the other and showed that masters as they are, a little rain was not going to stop them from showing the Burgess that they also could play bagpipes.
“In the event, the last man to perform, John MacDougall, achieved the almost impossible and was placed first. His tunes were The Braes of Castle Grant, The Caledonian Society of London and John Morrison of Assynt House. Although the march was not as good as John’s, the strathspey and reel were considered to be slightly better and by the narrowest of margins he took the premier award.
“In third place came Arthur Gillies playing MacLean of Pennycross, Caledonian Canal and Lexie MacAskill. This was another splendid performance which could easily have won the competition on an average year.
“In spite of what the crofter’s tablecloth said of the event we cannot imagine that either Bill Livingstone or Tom Speirs were seriously considered for a prize. The former played a march, Edinburgh City Police, which is a non-event at any time, but at sixty-five to the minute was a complete bore. The latter seemed content to get through his selection without on this occasion adding the phrasing and expression which we have come to expect.
“The others who contributed to the enjoyment were Dugald Ferguson, Angus J. MacLellan, John Graham, Dugald B. MacNeill and Hugh Macinnes.
“The gentlemen who demonstrated so clearly that they were much better at judging piping than at judging the weather were Captain Iain C. Cameron, John MacFadyen and Captain John MacLellan.”
“The march competition was scheduled to begin at 10am, and with forty-five entries it went on until about 2pm Each competitor had of course submitted six tunes, one of which he was asked to play twice over. There was no short leet.
“Tom Speirs made sure that he gave us both execution and expression on a splendid bagpipe, and was placed first for his rendering of The Balmoral Highlanders. Close up second came Iain Clowe, playing Leaving Glenurquhart, so reversing the order which they had taken in the gold medal event.
“Another really outstanding tune came from Colin Drummond, who played the popular John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage. This young man is obviously destined for the top if he can manage to maintain his band playing separate from his solo performances.
“Fourth and fifth prize went to two Canadians – Ed Neigh for The Clan MacColl and Jack Lee from British Columbia playing Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France.
“The judges were Dr. R. Frater and Captain D. R. MacLennan.”
Strathspey and reel
“With the re-organisation of the timetables this year, the strathspey and reel event was not able to start until after the march had been completed. This meant that it went on until 7pm, by which time all of the audience and most of the competitors were already on their way home, leaving the field to the two judges, a few stalwart competitors, the piping steward and two men winding up their toy aeroplanes.
“The standard in the circumstances was not high, since most of the pipers had been hanging on for six or seven hours in the cold and the rain before being called on to play. First prize went to Malcolm MacRae playing what was certainly the best performance we have heard from him in such an event. His tunes were Caledonian Society of London and Lexie MacAskill. In second place came Ed Neigh with The Piper’s Bonnet and Ca’ the Ewes. This was really the best playing heard in the competition, but Ed played the wrong ending to the third part of his reel- instead of the B taorluath to low A he gave us the B, low A, B movement which is applicable only in the fourth, fifth and sixth parts.
“Third prize went to Duncan Watson who first of all had the shattering experience of being asked to play a tune he did not know (he had written Tulloch Gorm instead of Tulloch Castle) and secondly he had the disadvantage of playing while the model aeroplanes zoomed over his head with a noise like a Volvo when the silencer has fallen off. As always, Duncan played very well, in spite of the conditions. His reel was The Flaggon.
“Edward Clark from Strathtay played the best strathspey and reel that we have ever heard from him, his only flaw being some cutting of notes in the third part of his reel. He was placed fourth for The Caledonian Canal and Alick C. MacGregor. The fifth prize went to a newcomer to the premier prize lists, John Walsh who hails from Yorkshire but plays with Shotts and Dykehead pipe band. In the strathspey his gracenotes were a bit tight at times, and he missed a few thumb gracenotes in his reel. His tunes were Monymusk and Mrs. Macpherson of Inveran.
“Among those who played well were Bill Livingstone, Robert Worrall, Murray Henderson, Jacques Pincet (an excellent Little Cascade), Dugald MacNeill, Kelly Todd and Iain Clowe. Jack Lee would also have been added to this list, but he chose to play the reel he wanted and not the one he was asked to play.
“The judges in this event were Dr. Colin Caird and Seumas MacNeill.”
The Local Events
These events produced a very high standard from the young people concerned. The results were as follows:
1. Kathleen Paterson, Cairndow; 2. William MacCallum, Campbeltown; 3. Catherine MacInnes, Strathlachlan.
Strathspey and reel
1. Allan Clements, Dalmally; 2. William MacCallum, Campbeltown; 3. Laura Stewart, Inveraray. The march was judged by John MacFadyen and John MacLellan, and the strathspey and reel by Dr. Caird and Seumas MacNeill.
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