2021 Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering both cancelled
“With great regret, the Northern Meeting Piping Committee has decided to cancel the competition again this year, due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the coronavirus epidemic,” said Northern Meeting Piping Convener Alan Forbes. “Progress with the vaccination program and the relaxation of many of the constraints associated with the epidemic give us hope that we will be able to go ahead as normal next year and we very much look forward to welcoming you back to Inverness then.”
Forbes confirmed that there would be no online events this year connected with the Northern Meeting.
Shortly after the Northern Meeting announcement, the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban, Scotland, the Northern Meeting’s sister competition, followed suit, saying that its 2021 competitions are also cancelled, releasing a somewhat cryptic statement.
“The Argyllshire Gathering is in accord with the view of the Northern Meeting’s Piping Committee that, given the current impact of the pandemic and in the interests of clarity, the principal competitions and awards at this year’s Gatherings should not take place,” Oban Piping Convener Torquil Telfer said in a statement. “However, given that 2021 is the 150th Anniversary of the Argyllshire Gathering, the Piping Sub-Committee of the Argyllshire Gathering will continue planning on the basis that social restrictions will reduce sufficiently to permit one-off competitions (outdoor/indoor) to take place which will specifically mark the occasion of the 150th Anniversary.”
Telfer did not expand on whether such an event would be one or more of the familiar Argyllshire Gathering competitions would be held, or if the possible event or events would be something altogether new. He did say that, if held, it be in August to coincide with the traditional date of the gathering.
pipes|drums has learned that competitors found out about the cancellations via the piping media, rather than directly from the events.
The Northern Meeting features the Highland Society of London Gold Medal; the Clasp, for winners of the Gold Medal; and the Silver Medal piobaireachd competitions, as well as a full slate of light music events, with the Silver Star MSR the ultimate competition in the category.
The Argyllshire Gathering holds nearly identical competitions, with the top ceol mor prize being the Senior Piobaireachd. The main format difference between the two events are venues. The Northern Meeting is held entirely at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, while the Argyllshire Gathering’s first day of contests are held at various halls throughout the town of Oban, and its second day is staged outdoors with a full traditional picturesque Highland games, complete with races, Highland dancing and bouncy castles surrounding the piping light music competitions.
“I am sad to see that the events had to be cancelled, but I can totally understand why the organizers made the choice,” said Alex Gandy of Halifax, Nova Scotia, a winner of the Silver Star and a contestant in the Gold Medals. “While I’d like to be competing there, and feel for those that are closer to the end of their career that are missing these two years, I can’t help but feel confident that this is the right move. Having so much more of the world fully vaccinated, or approaching that state, makes me feel optimistic for 2022 and I will be planning for a longer trip to Scotland next summer. I think the contests will be contested as strongly as they’ve ever been, and I look forward to it.”
Both competitions attract a strong non-UK entry, with more than a third of contestants coming from outside the country. Travel restrictions throughout the world likely would have made getting to Inverness and Oban extremely difficult, if not impossible, for international pipers. Even if the events had gone ahead, they probably would have seen significantly depleted numbers and a reduced standard.
Two years without the major gatherings brings into question the lack of piobaireachds set for the Gold and Silver medal contests by the Piobaireachd Society. The 2020 events had called for an “own choice” year whereby players could submit tunes from their existing repertoire. The Piobaireachd Society had announced that, should competitions have occurred in 2021, the same requirements would have carried over.
The last time that the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering were cancelled in successive years was from 1939 to 1945 due to World War II.
The UK had been emerging quickly from the pandemic, but recent surges in a COVID-19 variant has caused sporadic lockdowns in both Scotland and England.