September 20, 2013

Best ever

Field Marshal Montgomery is the best quality competition pipe band in history.

You can take your six straight Strathclyde Polis World’s.

You can have your Muirhead’s myth.

You can pretend that the 78th Frasers journeyed to the sky.

Yuze can be heppy with your 1998 Victoria Police.

But nothing, but no band, compares with the quality that Field Marshal Montgomery has produced this year. The closest band to this year’s FMM is last year’s FMM.

That’s not to say that the previous-mentioned bands were not each great in their own time and, depending on your personal measure of greatness, might be ranked ahead for other things. But for the pure depth of clarity of tone, tuning, unison and musical delivery, there has been none more consistently better than Field Marshal.

And the wonderful thing is, there will be a better band than the current FMM in the future – maybe the near future – and some will look back at the 2013 Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, just as some look back wistfully at the 1980s Strathclyde Police, the 1960s Muirhead’s, the 1970s Edinburgh City Police, the 1980s 78th Frasers, and so on and so forth, and insist that the 2010s vintage Field Marshal was still the best in history. And they will be wrong.

It might well be that the next iteration of Field Marshal or one of the other bands currently nipping at the back of their ghillies will be even better, but, rest assured, some band in the future will be even better.

Every generation has difficulty imagining that things could possibly top the current best. The mind and memory play tricks and fool us into self-convincing ourselves that back in the day there was nothing like such-and-such. It’s a tradition as old as MacCrimmon (Donald ban, not Euan), and it too will continue.

But in 2013 those who were fortunate enough to hear Field Marshal Montgomery in-person can say, yes, they heard the very best that ever was.

At least for now.


  1. I agree with what you say but never compare the old with the new if these bands were still competing they would have evolved to the current standard which is very high today. I played against these old bands and they were good but having listened to FMM at the five majors this year they were outstanding, in particular their performance at Dumbarton was the best I have ever heard from a Pipe Band and one I shall never forget.

  2. As we do in life generally, there is the temptation to find the leading edge of any contemporary undertaking and pin the ‘best ever’ tag on it. It is pretty easy to do, and is stating the obvious in a lot of cases. By doing this, we ignore how flawed the notion of comparing eras is.

    This is rife in sport, and somewhat pointless. But to do it in pipe bands seems even more pointless. Listen to the Dysart Ballymena concert back in 83, which was ground-breaking in its time. The sound, at best, is like the bottom half of 3B today. In its day, it was mixing it with Shotts and SPPB.

    FMM produces the best pipe corps sound, no question. It has for some time now. The sound they were getting in the early 2000’s is scary good, never mind the great sound they produce today. Listen to the front half of their 2003 medley as a reminder. Phenomenal.

    Are FMM a better band than what has gone before? If we ignore where the bar was set in each era that a great band dominated, then the simple answer is ‘yes’. It is a no-brainer. However, six-in-a-row has never been topped. No band has even come close. FMM are only halfway there right now. In fact, I’ll risk a mauling by saying the SPPB were stiffed in 87 and probably should’ve won 11-in-a-row. Still, 11 wins from a possible 13 is a domination we have never seen since. To me, that says the gap that SPPB put between themselves and the rest of the field has never been topped. If we are talking results, that can’t be beaten. If we are talking sound, well, it is FMM without question. But I see no point comparing eras because there is no question to answer.

    Here’s a test for people out there. Put the Elspeth Campbell, Cameronian Rant, Pretty Marion MSR that Strathclyde played though the 90-91 period on your stereo, and see if you can handle the necessary upbeat/clip style they play with amazing precision at the tempos they barrel along at…….I bet very few can.

  3. I am afraid I also agree with the previous comments about “best ever” labels. Regardless of the timeframe, the very best competitors, will rise to the occasion to do what is needed and necessary to win. And let’s not forget FMM did not garner straight firsts at the Worlds….
    This brings up an oft discussed topic about “judging” music…To me, the next step in the development of truly great pipe band music is to revamp the whole competition process. Let’s work towards allowing the cream of the crop to show their stuff in a more dynamic setting. Let them ENTERTAIN us in order to give them and us a chance to hear their true brilliance.

  4. I have been lucky as a pipe band enthusiast to have heard many of these great bands mentioned from Dysart, Strathclyde, Shotts, 78th, Victoria Police, Simon Fraser, SLOT and FMM and have listened to some of the others on old LP’s /tapes. It is impossible to compare bands over the long periods involved.
    I have also been able to witness the rise and rise of the FMM both here in NI and in the RSPBA majors. Their performances have certainly through the 2000’S been akin to turning on the radio as far as I am concerned – ‘as clear as a whistle’.

    I would like to make one specific point that I think is the main ingredient in their success and that is the management of the playing material and the top quality pipers and drummers in the band. The sheer consistency over such a long period and the continual demand for the very best [there is no allowance for any drops in standard] can only be down to Pipe Major Richard Parkes and no doubt a number of top class operators within the band who he can rely on. Another important person within the organisation I imagine is Frank Andrews who is the drone tuner. He is someone who we in NI know would have got outstanding sound with his McNeillstown band in the 1980’s and 90’s. Also he was known as someone who played really good foot tapping tunes which is what FMM do.



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