Thursday at Piping Live! – class in session
The penultimate day of the Piping Live! Glasgow International Piping Festival saw perfect, sunny, warm weather, allowing Scotland’s largest city to shine before the thousands of visitors descending on the place for the celebration and, of course, the World Pipe Band Championships on Saturday.
While everyone rejoiced in Thursday’s weather, wary thoughts were full of the forecast for Saturday, which so far is calling for “light rain” and a high of 19. By this day, anyone competing on the day seems to start obsessing with the potential conditions.
Never mind; Thursday was all fun and fine playing. The Lunchtime Recital at the National Piping Centre this day was from Alasdair Gillies, he of the 11 Silver Stars at the Northern Meeting . . . and virtually every other prize a few times over. But it was nothing twice-over for this large crowd that filled the NPC auditorium, as Gillies did his sensational stuff, with certain highlights being of course his unbelievably good playing of "the big stuff," but also his clever jig-time arrangements of familiar, classic melodies. He played just short enough to want more and just long enough to make this a tremendous value for the paying customers.
From Gillies it was on to the second annual pipes|drums Pub Quiz at 2 pm in the same auditorium. Five teams took on a series of questions with a range of difficulty (e.g., easy for 10 points: “What is the first tune in the Piobaireachd Society Collection Book 1?” to difficult for 20 points: “In his pipes|drums Interview, whom did Seumas MacNeill say was the best march player he ever heard?”). Ultimately it was “The Auld Reekies” comprising Jenny Hazzard, Tyler Fry, Colin MacLellan and Martin Wilson who prevailed, gaining 195 total points to take home the £200 first-prize.
The crowd then spilled outside to the Café for the fourth qualifying round of the Pipe Idol solo piping competition for young players. This 3-to-4 pm session featured the impressive international talents of Micah Babinski (Seattle, Dowco Triumph Street); James MacKenzie (Isle of Lewis, ScottishPower); Simon Blackshaw (Australia, Pipeband Club); and Anthony Masterson (Houston, St. Thomas Episcopal School). As with many of the competition events around Piping Live!, Pipe Idol is judged by hand-picked unidentified experts in the audience, who on this day chose James MacKenzie to go through to the Friday final against fellow rising stars David Wilton, Forfar, Scotland; Craig Muirhead, Stirling, Scotland; and Emmet Conway, Northern Ireland.
It was then back up to the NPC auditorium for the launch of Bill Livingstone’s Northern Man CD. A sizable crowd of invited guests enjoyed listening to preview tracks from the recording over canapés, beer and wine. Livingstone and an ensemble of musicians took the stage to play one of the selections from the project, but it was the impromptu performance of the great composer, Roddy “R.S.” MacDonald of Scotland, Japan and now Australia that rapt the audience’s attention. MacDonald infrequently plays in public, and what a treat it was to hear his nimble work that oozed music.
A stop for dinner at the Piper’s Tryst restaurant and on to the University of Strathclyde for the Lord Todd Recital Challenge, where the competitors were Alan Bevan, Alasdair Gillies, Stuart Liddell and Angus MacColl. Again, judges were top secret, and they were undoubtedly finding choosing the placings a difficult task. (Whose “challenge” is this recital anyway?!) Each of the competitors veritably blew the doors off of the place. Each player was to perform for 20 minutes, but during the set has to play a traditional-style MSR and the ground of a piobaireachd. It’s remarkable how often it is these pieces – and not the fast-handed wizardry – that are the most captivating and memorable. Ultimately, it was MacColl who was deemed the winner after what was reportedly a near-dead-even tie for the £1,000 and solid silver medal.
The Todd Bar Challenge done and dusted the capacity crowd spilled into the bar and outside into the clear night for more piping and drumming revelry and intense discussion about . . . what else? . . . the Big Day.
But there’s still the Friday to go. True to the forecast, skies are overcast and it’s a bit cooler. On tap for our final day of the Festival: the musical-savant Stuart Liddell in recital at the NPC, the Pipe Idol final, and the premier of the anticipated documentary film, On The Day, all about the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band.
Everywhere you go, always take the weather.