Rattle and hum … It may suggest the old U2 album but it is precisely the sound that greets you – distantly at first, then utterly immersive – as you arrive at Glasgow Green during the World Pipe Band Championships. With 214 bands – that’s some 8,000 pipers and drummers – from 13 countries competing in numerous grades over two days, it is the zenith of the competing pipe band year, no more so than in the Grade One arena, where Saturday saw the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band from Lisburn, Northern Ireland, chalk up their 12th World Championship victory.
Second place was taken by Inveraray and District, who scooped the championship last year following their meteoric rise over just a decade, while Dublin’s St Laurence O’Toole, world champions in 2010, came third.
Glasgow Green during “the Worlds”, as the championships are known, becomes a sound world like no other. Walking through it, you are lapped by converging and intersecting ripples of reed sound from innumerable clusters of pipers preparing for their contest in whatever grade, each group with a band member circling round them with an electronic tuner, tweaking those drones. Through it all, the tidal snarl of snare and tenor drums beats from under the trees.
For the cognoscenti (and you can tell them by the way their fingers twitch on non-existent chanters as they follow a band’s performance), the Grade One Arena becomes the intense centre of the universe. Saturday’s weather was hardly auspicious, although it takes more than the weather to put a Grade One band off its stroke and the Field Marshal Montgomery proved no exception, as gulls circled above them through the smirr, possibly riding the waves of bagpipe sound from below.
In MSR section, the band won with the march Braes of Badenoch, the strathspey Blair Drummond and the reel Pretty Marion, while their winning medley opened with one hornpipe, The Edison, and closed with another, Fred Morrison’s widely popular Hard Drive, which they certainly delivered with drive as well as with sophistication. In between the two, their selection included a plangently harmonised “nameless” slow air, apparently also learned from Fred Morrison.
Later, Richard Parkes MBE, the band’s pipe major, described himself as “over the moon”, particularly as this 12th victory for his band means he now rivals the legendary Pipe Major Ian McLellan of Strathclyde Police Pipe Band in terms of World Championship wins. Parkes made the point that standards in the competition arena become higher every year: “It’s tough. You have to continually improve and it’s not good enough just to be as good as you were last year; you need to be slightly better every year.
“You’re talking fine margins but it can make the difference between first and second.
“It’s a lot to do with hard work and the team that you have around you,” he adds, “but I’ve got a great bunch of people that work with me and that’s what it’s all about.”