The 29th Annual Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society Competition was held in Edinburgh on 7th April

The competition was once again held at the Pleasance Theatre as part of Edinburgh’s Ceilidh Culture programme. This is in many ways an excellent venue, the ‘cabaret-style’ audience seating arrangements nicely complementing the informal character of the proceedings [though see Rona’s comments below]. The availability of car parking so close to the city centre is another major advantage, as is the adjacent bar and food. It is unfortunate therefore that the only tuning facilities it can provide necessitate a short walk outside and upstairs to a large and echoing room.
This year the numbers competing were somewhat down, with several classes failing to produce three competitors. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable occasion which owed much to the hard work of  of Society secretary Judy Barker, who once again, ably assisted by a number of volunteers, managed to produce an almost seamless proceedings.
The judges this year were Hamish Moore, Julian Goodacre and Iain Mac-Innes. In previous years marking has been divided equally between the judge and members of the audience. However, it has been noticed that wide variations in audience marking, and of significant variations between audience and judges, sometimes produced anomalous results. There has on occasion seemed to be a tendency for audience judges, who are asked to judge chiefly on ‘entertainment’ value, to award higher marks to competitors playing familiar music, which inevitably favours those playing highland music, whereas judges are asked to also consider ‘appropriateness of repertoire’, that is, to consider the Society’s remit to promote the performance of the music of the Lowland and Border regions. This year therefore 75% of marks were awarded by the judges, with 25% by the audience.  Some basic calculations on the results did suggest that the impact of this change was indeed to bring the audience marks closer in line with those of the judges. We have however, had objections to this change, and we are happy to hear the thoughts of others.
The Novice and Intermediate classes continue to be but sporadically supported. This year, though the Intermediate class attracted four entries, the Novice class had only one. Whilst a winner under such circumstances can congratulate themselves for their achievement it must detract from the satisfaction they feel in announcing their success to others. In fact, the Novice class had one more entry than it has had for the past two years. It may well be time for this class to be conjoined with the Intermediate. The same applied this year to the ‘Seasoned Pipers’ class. As your reporter’s time approaches and ‘seasoned’ status looms, I wonder exactly what the purpose of this class is? I am told that the intention was to create an opportunity for those whose flesh was growing weaker faster than their spirit, the sort of argument that would put me off, for one. Although having said that, it is refreshing in a way to see such a class rather than a ‘young pipers’ class’, even if the pool of likely contestants for the former is growing faster than that for any such as the latter.
Last year the new composition class attracted 10 entries – this year only four  which, by a quirk of the marking, managed to share the three prizes between them. Only the Smallpipe open and the pipe and song classes attracted more than four entries. Equally worrying was the dearth of entries for the most recently added class, that of duet for pipes and singer; the sole entry was beautifully performed, with lovely harmonies between the pipes and singer and would have stood well in any competition, but again, it would have been more satisfying to see others making a contribution.
So abbreviated were the morning classes that an early lunch became an extended lunch and much goodly conversation ensued in the Pleasance bar. The first class of the afternoon, that of pipe and song, included a contribution from a visitor from the Czech Republic; Chip Doehring had been a prize winner in former years and it was a delight to hear him sing his own song – it seemed to me to well deserve a place in the prize list.
The duet for two pipes class attracted a number of entries, several of which suffered from a lack of attention to the length of the performance; this particular class often includes duet combinations which have been put together on the day itself [there being a real challenge for pipers in remote areas to develop duets with others, even in the age of instant technology]. The result is often a miss-timed collection of tunes. The object of this class is for pipers to explore the harmonic potential of two instruments, but too often we hear unison playing throughout; it seems to me also that two pipers playing together should at least occasionally look at each other, but again we regularly see two separate players with heads down and no communication. For me a duet is the interaction of two players, not just two instruments.
One of the most innovative classes of the annual competitions has for several years been the pipe and other instrument. Each year we hear new combinations from very accomplished musicians. This year we had only two entries, both of them superb. The lyrical combination of smallpipe and harp has long been one of my favourites, and John and Caroline would have deserved the trophy in any other year, but this year it went to two music students from Trinity College in London with smallpipe and cello, a virtuoso performance.
The final class of the day, the Open Solo for Border/Lowland pipes was unusually poorly supported in numbers. Before the last minute arrival of one of the entries it looked as if there would be only one, and that was one that had been prepared just the day before. How close we came to having no entries in the Open Lowland/Border Pipe Class!
This year saw the first presentation of a new trophy, introduced to mark the memory of Martin Lowe, former chairman of the society, whose ubiquitous presence at past competitions was this year sadly missed. This trophy was designed to encourage the performing of the music of the Lowland and Border regions, something which continues to be surprisingly lacking in a competition ostensibly set up to showcase it. The trophy, which includes a miniature model of the Society’s ‘patron’, Geordie Syme, was made by Iain Wells with woodwork by Julian Goodacre. The accompanying certificate says ‘The Martin Lowe Memorial Trophy - Awarded for the greatest contribution to the performance of Lowland and Border music on the day of the competition”. It is to be hoped that more competitors will set their sites at having their name added to the winners list.

Prize-winners at this year’s competition;
left to right back; Pete Stewart, John Bushby, Bob Low, Peter MacKenzie, Alan Howie, John Mitchell, Richard Fernandez, David Hannay: front: Caroline Bushby, Rona Dawson, George Greig, Callum Armstrong, George Pasca

The editor is always delighted to receive  comments on the topic of the competition. The following comments from two participants reflect the variety of responses of members of the audience.

Rona Dawson sent the following observations:
“We have reported on this event in the past elsewhere, noting the convivial atmosphere and the same was true again this year.  The jury is out on whether the Easter weekend is a good date for this event – on the one hand it allows far flung members time to travel up and spend the holiday weekend in Scotland, on the other hand locals are often away and miss the event. Several well kent faces were absent this year.
“The seasoned pipers class was well won by Dr David Hannay, a long time member of the Society with a set including the attractive tune, Sorbie Tower, which he had composed himself.
” The intermediate class was notable for the number of first time competitors and one who hadn’t competed in public since 1989, so unsurprisingly nerves were a bit in evidence.  There were a few issues with steadiness of blowing, but happily not with finger technique as most of the pipers seemed to have had at least a brush with Highland training.  Congratulations to winner Robert  Low.
“I don’t think even the winner would disagree that the result of the Solo smallpipe class was a classic case of the best performance not being awarded the prize.  The time limit set for this class is four minutes, with an allowable over-run of 15 seconds before penalties are incurred. There were some very good entries – a tricky set with intricate variations from Pete Stewart,  another Border orientated selection from George Greig but it was the final player Callum Armstrong who really wowed the audience using stopping techniques to produce a staccato effect then retuned his Goodacre pipes half way through to the minor key with overblowing and keywork which produced nearly another octave worth’s of notes!  A playing sensation,  but unfortunately too long a set to take away the prize
“Again entries were sparse for the pipe and song class - although the quality of the two entries here was outstanding.  The Bushbys entered on pipe and clarsach which were well balanced for volume and tone and the husband and wife team looked comfortable playing together,  producing a most musical set.  Calum Armstrong and George Pasca on cello played variations of their own composition on a ground bass which employed a number of techniques on both instruments and was a joy to listen to - and finished with 4 seconds to spare!
“The open Border pipes class was won by Pete Stewart (playing the Day it Daws and Welcome Home My Dearie among other tunes) who had a very successful day.
“A new trophy had been presented to the Society in memory of the late Chairman Martin Lowe, for the piper who, in the opinion of the judges, made the greatest contribution to Border music on the day.  The judges were unanimous in awarding this to Pete Stewart and Martin’s wife Janet arrived just in time to present this to Pete [and to hear him play new tune he had composed for  Martin, which had won joint third prize].
“All in all a pleasant day – we are still not convinced about the venue (both acoustically and logistically with its lack of tuning facilities) but on the plus side it has the benefit of centrality and a bar on hand!  Well done to Judy Barker for organising everything so ably and for the usual band of willing volunteers who helped out on the day.”.
David Hannay also offered the following comments:
“Alan Howie won the novice award with a creditable performance for someone who had only been playing for two years.  The seasoned piper was won by David Hannay playing two tunes named after Sorbie Tower in Galloway. Robert Low won the intermediate competition with a well fingered selection of Highland, Welsh and Canadian tunes.
“The open solo for Scottish small pipes was won by John Mitchell with a slow air and selection of jigs on a good pipe and sparkling highland fingering. Second was Pete Stewart with a 17th century mazurka, followed by the Oyster Wife’s Rant and the Stool of Repentance from William Dixon with variations which flew along. Third was Rona Dawson on a good pipe with tunes from a teaching weekend followed by two strathspeys and a reel.
“The Judy Barker Trophy for pipe and song duet was awarded to John and Caroline Busby singing Leezie Lindsay with lovely harmonies between the pipes and singer.
“After lunch the Jimmy Wilson Memorial cup for pipe and song went to John Busby singing his own attractive tune. Second was Judy Barker with some nice harmonies in High Germany, and third was Pete Stewart with The Mill, The Mill O. The duet for pipes was won by George Greig and Rona Dawson, with Lawrence Thompson and Donald Cowan second and John Mitchell and Callum Armstrong third. There was at times a lack of harmony playing in this competition.
“The duet for pipes and other instrument was won by Callum Armstrong on the smallpipes and George Pasca on the cello. This was a stunning performance from two music students with the pipes improvising over a base theme on the cello.
“It was an excellent venue with car parking, and the only drawback was the lack of tuning facilities.  This year the numbers were somewhat down, perhaps due to the Easter weekend, and there is a case for having it on the previous Saturday. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable occasion and our thanks are due once again to Judy Barker and her team.”

Novice - Heriot & Allan Quaich
1.    Alan Howie - Pipe Major JK Cairns / Colin’s Cattle
Intermediate - Julian Goodacre Trophy
1.        Robert Low - The Flower of Yarrow / Y Ferch o Blwy’ Penderyn (The Lass from Penderyn Parish)/ Morfa Rhuddlan / (The Marsh of Rhuddlan) / Finbarr Saunders
2.    Craig McDougal -  Clara’s Journey / The Panda / The Soup Dragon / The Cook in the Kitchen
3.    Pete Mackenzie - Shoals of Herring / The Irish Jig
Seasoned Pipers - Nigel Richards Trophy
1.    David Hannay - Sorbie Tower / The Hannays Return to Sorbie
2.    Henry Aitchison - Mrs Hamilton of Pencaitland
New Composition - London Trophy
1.        (Joint 1st)     John Bushby - Moniaive Ceilidh
        Callum Armstrong -     Thanks to Julian
3.        (Joint 3rd)     George Greig - Robert Walker - A Tune for Anita
        Pete Stewart - Dr Martin Lowe
Open Solo for Scottish Smallpipes - Colin Ross Trophy
1.    John Mitchell - Farewell my Love / Gallway Whistler / Arlies Big Day / Miss Monaghans / John Keith Laing.    
2    Pete Stewart - Rothes Rant / The Oyster Wife’s Rant / The Stool of Repentance
3.    Rona Dawson - The Atom of Delight / Paulo's Waltz / Shepherd’s Crook / Alex Currie’s Favourite / An Cota Mòr Eleasaid / Red Fox
Duet for Pipes - Mains Castle Medal
1.    (joint 1st) George Greig & Rona Dawson- She moved thro’ the Fair / The Mill, The Mill O’ / Go to Berwick Johnnie
2.    Lawrence Thomson & Donald Cowan - Bloody Fields o’ Flanders / Rockin’ the baby / Doug Boyd’s favourite / The Kesh Jig / The Eavesdropper3.    
3.     John Mitchell and Callum Armstrong - Fair Maid o’ Barra / Itchy Fingers / Drops o’ Brandy
Pipe and Song Duet
1.    John Bushby and Caroline Bushby - Leezie Lindsay
Pipe and Song - Jimmy Wilson Memorial Cup
1.    John Bushby - Toddlin’ Hame
2.    Judy Barker - High Germany
3.    Pete Stewart -    The Mill, The Mill-O
Duet for Pipes and Other Instrument - Dunfermline Tassie
1.    Callum Armsttrong & George Pasca (cello) -i
2    John Bushby and Caroline Bushby- Where will our Gudeman Lye (from the Balcarres Manuscript)
Open Solo for Lowland/Border Pipes - Hamish Moore Cup
1.    Pete Stewart - The Day it Daws / Hunts Up / Welcome Home My Dearie / Salmon Tails
2.    Richard Fernandez - The Geese in the bog / Donald Cameron’s Powder Horn / Famous Baravan / Sandy Broon
The Martin Lowe Memorial Trophy - Awarded for the greatest contribution to the performance of Lowland and Border music on the day of the competition
    Pete Stewart

Callum Armstrong and George Pasca during their winning performance in the pipes and other instrument class at this year’s competition

New Composition Class- Winning Tunes

[Copyright of the tunes printed here remains with the respective composers]

The first prize in the New Composition Class was awarded jointly to John Bushby and Callum Armstrong

The Moniaive Ceilidh   John Bushby

Thanks to Julian                         Callum Armstrong

Robert Walker- A tune for Anita                     George Greig

Dr Martin Lowe OBE         Pete Stewart