August 09, 2016

Piping Live! Day 1: At the Centre of the universe

If it’s the Monday after Bridge of Allan, well, then if you’re not at the centre of the piping and drumming galaxy, then you’re not at Ground Zero, which is of course the National Piping Centre, the focal point of Piping Live! Glasgow International Piping Festival 2016, which kicked off in grand style with the Piping Live! Big Band, a massed band of all manner of players, including greats Roddy MacLeod and Jim Kilpatrick, leading a parade from the Centre all the way to George Square.

The Piping Live! Big Band.

It was all in aid of Asthma.uk, drawing attention to drawing healthy breath, adding a great new charitable element to the festivities, launched on a mainly sunny and breezy 15-degree across Glasgow’s city centre.

Once we checked in to our digs we checked out a rare appearance by William Donaldson at the College of Piping on Otago Street at noon. The author of the once-controversial book The Highland Pipe & Scottish Society, Donaldson led an illuminating discussion about the earlier days of the Piobaireachd Society and, especially, its early leader Archibald Campbell, Kilberry.

Willie Donaldson address the audience at the College of Piping.

Essentially, Donaldson discussed the regression of an art-form that was flourishing at the turn of the 19th century, only to be meddled with by Campbell-Kilberry, who almost single-handedly made ceol mor boring and slow with “interventions that were frequent and disruptive, making “arbitrary” changes to standardize settings of the vibrant and thriving music to eventually create the state it’s in today, as part of a “musical monoculture.”

Safe to say, this sort of talk would never be permitted through the stodge-tight doors of the College of Piping of only a few years ago. Today, it’s evident that pipers of almost all ages and pedigree are more accepting / less frightened of alternate opinions, particularly when they’re couched in well-researched fact. And it would have once been a career-ending move for a master piper and adjudicator like Jim McGillivray to provide musical illustrations on not just any bagpipe, but on a pipe once owned and played by Robert Urquhart Brown, which is exactly what happened. And the Piobaireachd Society actually sponsored the event.

Donaldson pulled no punches on Archibald Campbell and his brothers, saying that the Campbells funded the Piobaireachd Society, controlled its membership, convinced themselves that piobaireachd is in danger, and only their own intervention could save it.

This was heady and courageous stuff, and to the 50 or so who turned up to listen to the session, they saw what could be the big bang that reinvigorates the big music of the Highland pipes.

Jim McGillivray illustrates examples of what piobaireachd probably sounded like pre-1900.

And then back at the Street Café outside the National Piping Centre, the first round of Pipe Idol got under way, with four under-21 pipers vying to go through to the Thursday final. Ultimately Scotland’s 15-year-old Callum Craib got the nod, with Rebecca Tierney  (19, Scotland). Connor Jardine  (18, Scotland) and Jack Williamson  (19, USA) looking again to next year.

Craig Sutherland at the Masters Solo Piping Competition.

Throughout the day the Masters Solo Piping Championship went on at a packed Piping Centre auditorium, with 15 in the Piobaireachd and 18 in the MSR later on, and the formidable Angus MacColl took home the overall trophy against another impeccably high standard of playing.

Hey, don’t forget to enter our $4,000-plus prize-pack Pick the Six contest! Check out the prizes and the rules and send us your entry!

Ultimately, it means absolutely nothing and is only for fun, but according to the more than 13,000 readers who participated in the pipes|drums Poll, these 12 bands will be in the Grade 1 World’s final:

  • Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia (7.80%)
  • Field Marshal Montgomery (7.78%)
  • Inveraray & District (7.77%)
  • Simon Fraser University (7.70%)
  • Laurence O’Toole (7.70%)
  • ScottishPower (7.62%)
  • Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia (7.36%)
  • Spirit of Scotland (7.27%)
  • 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) (6.41%)
  • Police Scotland Fife (6.36%)
  • Greater Glasgow Police (6.26%)
  • 78th Fraser Highlanders (5.91%)

Check out the current Poll that asks you to choose which of all 21 bands entered will win the big title on Saturday! In the past, our readers have been pretty consistently damned-near almost sometimes correct!

On to Day 2 of Piping Live!, where the weather looks bright for another full schedule of events at the centre of the piping and drumming universe.

Stay tuned!



  1. I sincerely hope that someone recorded what have to have been an amazing lecture/demonstration and that it will be available to the public in some form.



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