Just two days before, in Glasgow’s West End, I had happened to hear the Argyll band practising on the banks of the Kelvin, its music drifting almost pastorally through the trees and across the river. Saturday was very different because, in the unforgiving intensity of the Grade One arena, it played at its peak to seize this most coveted of pipe band trophies.
Inveraray, which first took the World Championship two years ago, has enjoyed a meteoric rise since it was formed by its Pipe Major, Stuart Liddell, a distinguished solo competition piper, as recently as 2005. A previous Inveraray Pipe Band had disbanded during the 1930s.
The 2010 championship holders, St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band from Dublin, took third place. In contrast to the positively youthful Inveraray outfit, the Irish band can boast a history going back to 1910, when its first secretary was the playwright Sean O’Casey.
Formed in 1945, the Field Marshal Montgomery band has become one of the most successful in the world, with last year’s World Championship victory making Pipe Major Richard Parkes MBE only the second pipe major to lead a Grade One band to 12 World Championship titles.
The pinnacle of the pipe band calendar, “The Worlds”, as the two-day championship is known, remains an event – and a sound – like no other, with almost 200 bands taking part, attracting some 30,000 spectators to Glasgow Green over two days, that audience expanded vastly by the Grade One event’s live streaming online.
Saturday, though, the second of the two days of the Grade One finals, became truly Inveraray & District’s day. Under blustery and threatening skies (although the rain didn’t really hit until around 4:30pm), the band clinched the title with a crisp march, strathspey and reel set of Lord Alexander Kennedy’s March, Tulloch Castle and John McKechnie’s Big Reel. In the medley section, its well arranged and harmonised sequence opened with the ever-popular march Father John MacMillan of Barra, then strathspeys that transitioned smartly into reels before the haunting Gaelic song air Togail Curs Air Leodhas, which returned after a jig section to harmonise plangently over a lively closing tune. Jim Gilchrist