Review: World Pipe Band Championships, Glasgow Green

THE seemingly unstoppable Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band from Northern Ireland became the top pipe band on the planet for a third year in a row yesterday when it topped Grade One of the World Pipe Band Championships yesterday on Glasgow Green.

World Pipe Band Championship from Glasgow Green. Picture: Robert Perry
World Pipe Band Championship from Glasgow Green. Picture: Robert Perry

World Pipe Band Championships - Glasgow Green

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Two Scottish bands, Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia and Scottish Power, took second and third places respectively.

For the Field Marshall Montgomery band, under Pipe Major Richard Parks MBE, it was the ninth time they have taken this most coveted of pipe band prizes.

It may be one of the most tired stereotypes from the great Scottish shortbread tin of tartan cliches – that of a marching man playing the bagpipes. Multiply it some 8,000 times over, however, and “the Worlds” transcends all cliche, with an ambience, and particularly a sound, like no other.

The sound laces the air and gradually enfolds you as you approach and enter Glasgow Green – criss-crossing waves of unfocusedunfocused tuning, snatches of tunes and the thud and rattle of drums. The Green has been a traditional rendezvous for social and political ploys for centuries, and at the weekend saw the convergence of hundreds of competing pipe bands – 225 or thereabouts – from across the globe, with home-grown pipers and drummers competing against often fiercely determined and highly musical counterparts from the Commonwealth, the United States and elsewhere, including this year a novice band from Zimbabwe and, in Grade 4, a band from Mexico.

Now spread over two days, the Worlds has become more than just a pipe band event, albeit the most important date on the pipe band calendar. As well as the intense jousting between bands, there are competitions for drumming and Highland dance, while a “World Highlander” contest involved hefty kilted types of both sexes putting a cannonball-like stone weight, their grunts of exertion scarcely audible against a wall of strathspeys from a band warming up nearby.

Between the various arenas, stalls sold everything from pipes and accessories to genealogies, tartanalia to hamburgers. There was even a RSPB stall, even though one presumed that any birds in the vicinity of Glasgow Green had been counterblasted into stunned silence.

The main focus of excitement, however, was the main arena, where camera cranes leaned and swayed like inquisitive dinosaurs (the event was not only televised but streamed online) as the world’s top bands competed for that coveted World Championship Grade One title.

Early in the day, the weather was uncooperative, with bright sunshine alternating with blustery winds and pelting rain, and during the Grade One march, strathspey and reel class (MSR), Shotts and Dykehead Caledonian earned a particularly loud roar from the crowd after delivering an impressively crisp MSR set, defying a sudden squall that soaked players and spectators alike.

Some bands have had to deal with worse in their time. This was the first year in the Worlds that two New Zealand bands have reached the Grade One final. They were Canterbury Caledonian Society and Manawatu Scottish, the former giving a fine account of themselves, despite having lost their headquarters and many instruments in an earthquake two years ago.