What a year 2004 was for the piping and drumming world: continued interest and growth in these arts, new business initiatives, and an ever-higher standard of playing in the band and solo scenes.
As is now our tradition, we celebrate the year’s greatest achievers and achievements by highlighting those people, products, and projects that made the biggest impact on the world of piping and drumming. To determine the winners, we assembled a panel of some 20 pipers and drummers from all over the world and asked for their choices and feedback. Congratulations to all award winners and to all those considered for these honours.
Piper of the Year
Richard Parkes, Belfast. After suffering a stroke in March, Parkes took a leave of absence as Pipe-Major of Field Marshal Montgomery, handing the temporary reins to Alistair Dunn. Unable to play for months, Parkes had regained enough strength by June to assist at practices and at larger competitions. His goal of taking his band onto the field at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow in August was realized and he led Field Marshal Montgomery to a decisive win of the pipe band world’s biggest title. “The stuff movies are made of,” says one panelist. For his grit and determination, and his dedication to musical and competitive excellence, our 2004 Piper of the Year has got to be Richard Parkes.
Lorne Cousin, Edinburgh – no other piper brought quality playing to so many people as Cousin did as he performed on Madonna’s “Re-invention” world tour. Proving to millions that the Highland pipe has a place on stage with leading-edge pop cannot be over-valued.
Alistair Dunn, Glasgow – as interim Pipe-Major of Field Marshal Montgomery, the young Dunn ably filled Parkes’s enormous brogues, even taking FMM to a European Championship victory. Oh, and he also won the Silver Medal at the Northern Meeting.
Roddy MacLeod, Cumbernauld, Scotland – a stellar solo competition season, another successful year with his ScottishPower band, and the vision for the landmark “Piping Hot” festival combined to make a brilliant year for MacLeod.
Willie McCallum, Bearsden, Scotland – McCallum’s contest success across both light music and piobaireachd moved him ever closer to “World’s Greatest Piper Ever” consideration.
Solo Competition Piper of the Year
Willie McCallum. Winning both the MSR and Piobaireachd at the Glenfiddich Championship to take his record seventh title there was just more cake-icing for this musical piping machine. A Silver Star at Inverness, the MSR at London, second in the Northern Meeting Clasp, the United States Piping Foundation, the overall title at the Donald MacLeod Memorial, the MSR at the Mod, the overall at the Uist & Barra, and others made people start talking about McCallum possibly being the greatest all-round competitive piper in history. When it comes to McCallum being considered on our list each year, one panelist states, “He must have as many nominations as Hepburn has for the Oscars.”
Angus MacColl, Benderloch, Scotland – the fast-handed MacColl had his usual stealthy solo season, picking up several big prizes and always, but always, featuring in the prize lists wherever he played.
Roddy MacLeod – what a year it was on the boards for the head of Glasgow’s National Piping Centre. With an MBE safely stowed away, MacLeod proceeded to gain many top awards, most important of all the Clasp at the Northern Meeting.
Simon McKerrell, Edinburgh – a rising star on the Scottish solo scene, McKerrell turned heads this year with consistent wins from April to July.
Iain Speirs, Edinburgh – another Silver Chanter and scads of prizes for this affable east-coast Donald MacPherson protégé.
Pipe Band of the Year
Field Marshal Montgomery. For the third straight year, Field Marshal gets the nod as the Pipe Band of the Year. A fourth World title, championship wins at the European, Scottish and Cowal, and the RSPBA Champion of Champions award for both the band as a whole and its drum section make FMM a deserving recipient. When that competitive success is measured against the loss of Pipe-Major Richard Parkes for five months to illness, the band’s 2004 campaign is nothing less than inspirational.
Balinderry Bridge – the big winners in Grade 2, this Ulster band will join the premier grade in 2005. Says one panelist, “A band that is not filled with stars and just went out and beat up on everyone this year.”
House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead – favoured by many to win any contest they play in, Shotts had an excellent 2004, winning the British Championship along the way.
Simon Fraser University – has any band in history been so consistently good for 25 straight years? SFU once again turned up in Scotland in August and nearly copped its fifth World’s.
St. Laurence O’Toole – the pride of Dublin’s pipe band scene was a regular feature in the prize lists of championships, including the World’s. More music than you can shake a shillelagh at.
Drummer of the Year
Reid Maxwell, Vancouver. The only side-drummer in history to have played with World Championship drum sections in four decades, Maxwell took his Simon Fraser University corps to another World title in August. “A teaching zealot who has had huge positive impact on drumming standards in North America, if not beyond,” says a panelist. With an uncanny sense for ensemble, a competitive drive reminiscent of a pit bull, and a dedication to teaching that has produced as many top-quality side drummers as anyone, John Reid Maxwell gets our nod as this year’s Drummer of the Year.
Jim Kilpatrick, Ashgill, Scotland – consistently brilliant, Kilpatrick brought home a record thirteenth World Solo Drumming title while taking his House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead drum section to typically great heights.
Gordon Brown, Whitburn, Scotland – more consistent excellence from Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia’s leading-drummer once again helped to make his band a serious contender wherever they went.
Eric Ward, Glasgow – Ward led his Strathclyde Police section to solid finishes in 2004 and was runner-up in the World Solo Drumming Championship in October.
Solo Piping Recording of the Year
A Living Legend – Donald MacPherson. This recording of seven piobaireachds, by any standard, is great. That it was made by a piper in his eighty-second year is simply awesome. Produced and managed by Barnaby Brown on his Siubhal.com label, MacPherson’s playing captures his uncanny feeling for ceol mor, with riveting performances of “The Big Spree,” “Lord Lovat’s Lament,” and “Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar.” The compact disc is integrated into a beautifully designed multi-language book, making this a landmark, elegant product for musicians everywhere.
Awesomepipers– Bruce Gandy, Jack Lee, Stuart Liddell, Angus MacColl – an excellent capture by Planetpipe.com of the Willie McCallum-managed competition-recital at the Lord Todd bar at Strathclyde University, this is a rare compilation of four diverse pipers playing at their peak.
Extreme – Chris Armstrong – blindingly fast and extremely clever, Armstrong’s Greentrax CD will inspire hot-handed pipers everywhere.
March, Strathspey & Reel Volume 1 – Alasdair Gillies – A great teaching recording of the playing of perhaps the greatest MSR piper ever.
The Last Piper – Stuart Shedden, Roddy MacLeod, Angus MacColl, Gordon Walker – Solid stuff from four of Scotland’s leading competition soloists.
To The Bobs – Patrick Molard – a lovely recording full of emotion and dedication by one of Brittany’s greatest Highland pipers. Released in combination with a collection of music that includes many of the tunes performed, and To The Bobs is an important addition in 2004.
Pipe Band Recording of the Year
Impressions – St. Thomas Episcopal School – Once again, Houston’s band of ever-changing young wonders have put out a quality recording with plenty of new interpretations of old music. With plenty of electronica – and the know-how to use it – at their fingertips, Mike Cusack’s charges push the pipe band art forward more than most bands two grades higher.
Cathcart – ScottishPower Pipe Band – a solid contribution from one of Scotland’s top bands, aided by the musical contributions of Karen Matheson and Phil Cunningham.
Wizards from Oz – Nunawading Pipe Band – nice stuff from one of Australia’s leading lights in Grade 1.
Live@MPAC – Western Australia Police – WAPOL puts down solid tracks in the off-season on its way to trying to gain a World Pipe Band Championship.
The 2004 World Pipe Band Championships– another two-CD project from Klub, showcasing both the best performances from the world’s best and some of the worst performances from the world’s best.
Music Book of the Year
Ann Gray’s Collection, Volume 2 – “A tasteful collection of well-filtered, well-edited compositions with lots of variety and really good, instantly playable, compositions,” says one of our panelists. As Gray moves more from the competition boards to the composition scores, her second collection brings plenty of mature and quality music to pipers everywhere.
The William Gunn Collection – a beautiful reprint of by the National Piping Centre of the seminal work from the 1800s provides pure gems for those with the dedication to mine them.
The Full Monty – Ryan Canning – scores of many Field Marshal Montgomery tunes aimed directly at the pipe band piper.
The Fourth Title – Robert Mathieson – a must for fans of Shotts & Dykehead selections.
Boney Music – Andrew Bonar – a plethora of light music from the clever pen of one of western Canada’s leading pipers.
Special Product Award
Tradtunes.com – Uist Media Group’s launch in October of Tradtunes.com filled a much-needed void in online Celtic music. The site is a must for folk music fans, and will only get better as more people move away from CDs to digital formats and more labels sign up with the site. We’re crossing our fingers that this courageous business venture will prove profitable for Uist Media and all of the participating artists.
News Story of the Year
Richard Parkes suffers stroke– no other story got as many people talking as Field Marshal Montgomery’s pipe-major Richard Parkes’s sudden illness in March. Thankfully, he managed to make a complete recovery, culminating in his leading his band to its fourth World Pipe Band Championship victory in August.
Other big stories of 2004:
Piping Hot Festival unveiled– years of perennial wishful-thinking finally came to an end when Roddy MacLeod led the development of a week-long celebration, capitalizing on the World Championships in August.
Lorne Cousin tours with Madonna– the Queen of Pop hand-picks one of the world’s top pipers to play a major role in her world tour. Cousin brings quality piping to more people than anyone in 2004.
Jim Kilpatrick leaves Premier– the man synonymous with the biggest pipe band drum manufacturer sent shock-waves through the scene.
PPBSO reforms solo score-sheets– Ontario leads with a dramatic overhaul of the way its solo events are judged, ditching points for a quadrant system.
Richard Parkes awarded MBE– the Queen gives Field Marshal’s Pipe-Major the official recognition he deserves.
Keith Dawes made Lothian & Borders Police Pipe-Major– the band bypasses several big-name applicants for a stalwart member.
Donald Mackay takes over Strathclyde Police– one of the world’s most famous bands chooses James Wark’s successor.
The piping and drumming world saw several unfortunate and sad passings in 2004, including those of Luke Allan, William Barrie, and Noel Slagle. We are much the better for their lives, and much the worse for their absence. We miss them all.