Top solo pipers on edge waiting for word on Oban and Inverness
The world’s best solo competition pipers are on tenterhooks as they await from the organizers of the Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting on whether the events will be held.
“Oban and Inverness,” as they are commonly referred to, are the crucibles of solo competition, each awarding the Highland Society of London Gold Medal, the piobaireachd event that instantly places the winner’s name in the history books and can catapult him or her to a lifetime of workshops and judging gigs around the world.
Piping Convenors Torquil Telfer of the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting’s Alan Forbes have each said that they are still weighing the options. Forbes said last week that “We are unable to make a decision just yet due to uncertainty of access to the competition venue due to COVID restrictions. Our intention remains to hold the competitions in person if at all possible.”
The Northern Meeting is held entirely indoors at Eden Court Theatre, probably the finest venue there is for a major solo piping events. The Argyllshire Gathering’s piobaireachd events and Former Winners MSR are staged at indoor venues throughout Oban, while the balance of the light music competitions are staged outdoors, subject to the whims of the Scottish weather.
After a horrendous start, Scotland has rapidly gained a toehold on the pandemic, to the point where restrictions are being lifted, and reports of bans on incoming international travellers and two- and three-week quarantine stipulations could be lifted.
But a sudden surge in the B.1.617.2 variant of COVID-19 in the Glasgow area has suddenly sent the city and the northeast Moray region into Level 3 lockdown with an effective travel ban in place.
More than a third of contestants typically travel from piping rich countries like Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia to make Oban and Inverness are very much international events.
As it currently stands, the timeline for reopening on an international basis remains opaque in a regular travel context, never mind a piping one. – CPA President Derek Midgley
With Canada still in lockdown battles against the virus, planning trips to the UK could be unrealistic. Competitors from New Zealand and Australia, while virtually COVID-free, would have to make stops in other countries, thus complicating their plans.
“The Competing Pipers Association continues to support the Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting in whichever decision they make with regards to this year’s meetings,” said CPA President Derek Midgley. “As it currently stands, the timeline for reopening on an international basis remains opaque in a regular travel context, never mind a piping one. We hope that whatever end result for this year will be the safest possible one.”
Should either or both the Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting go ahead, they may not have the presence of non-Scottish pipers. The competitive solo piping scene is one of camaraderie and respect, and few pipers would be content winning a major prize with a potential asterisk by their name.
Unfortunately, as in the pipe band world, solo pipers are reluctant to speak on the record for fear of reprisal.
“If they were to go on at this stage, I would do my utmost to be there,” said a Canadian piper who asked that his name not be included. “That being said, it doesn’t appear to even be remotely possible that Canadians will be allowed to travel internationally. With the 105-day delay, if I’m able to get in in June for shot 1, I won’t be fully vaccinated until after the contests have already long been over. With quarantine measures where they are, I simply can’t take two weeks on either side of a two week trip off from work. I’d really love to be in Scotland, but I’m pretty confident that I won’t be there in 2021.”
“I won’t be attending,” said another international piper who would normally compete at the events. “There is too much uncertainty with international travel and quarantining that makes travelling practically impossible.”
The Lochaber Gathering in Fort William, Scotland, recently announced its intention to hold their events on August 27th. The competition generally attracts only pipers based in the UK.
The entire UK and Canadian pipe band competition seasons have been cancelled for the second straight year, including the World Pipe Band Championships, which usually attracts about 200 bands and brings in millions of pounds to Glasgow economy.
Despite the World Championships cancellation, the Piping Live! Glasgow International Festival of Piping, which coincides with the event, has said that it will take place with live performances for either empty or filled venues. The concerts, recitals and contests will be broadcast pay-per-view regardless.
The Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting were cancelled in 2020. The last time the events were not held was from 1939 to 1945, during World War II. The events have been accepting entries for the 2021 competitions in case they go ahead.
To compete at the 2020 Glenfiddich Championships last October, Bruce Gandy of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and Jack Lee of Surrey, British Columbia, each had to quarantine on each side of the Atlantic for two weeks.
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