Lewis Pipe Band are hoping the sun shines on them for their last competition of the season – the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow on Friday/Saturday, August 16-17 – after a weather washout at the European Championships in Inverness contributed to disappointing results.
The band were a highlight at the Lewis Carnival on Saturday, where they led the parade accompanied by youngsters from the Lewis and Harris Youth Band and visiting pipers from the St Andrews Caledonian Pipe Band in Tasmania. It was an opportunity for an enjoyable public practice ahead of the excitement next weekend at Glasgow Green.
Lewis Pipe Band attend only two championships each year due to the high costs involved but are being sponsored for the third year by community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, who have donated £1,000 towards the costs of travel and accommodation.
Lewis Pipe Band Chairman Sandy Gomez said the sponsorship was a massive help as it cost between £6,000 and £7,000 for the band to attend the two competitions. “This is the third year of support from Point and Sandwick Trust. Without it we couldn’t go to the competitions because fundraising is harder and to have the support of a local body is great, in assisting us to do what we’re doing and representing the island. Without it, we would struggle to raise the funds.”
Sandy admitted the band were disappointed with their results at the European Championships on June 29 and said the “horrendous” weather – the humidity and sudden rain – had made it very difficult to keep the pipes in tune. “When we arrived it was boiling hot and overcast. As soon as we got the pipes out it started bucketing and didn’t stop until after we played. The temperature change in particular knocks the tuning out by a mile.”
However, they were feeling positive about The World Pipe Band Championships – simply known as ‘The Worlds’ – and that preparations were going well.
They were also buoyed by the news they would not have to play a March, Strathspey and Reel selection, which was more tense and exacting, but only a Medley.
“The mood’s changed from Inverness. The Medley has been our strength and it’s a Medley at The Worlds, which we only found out a couple of weeks ago so we are very happy about that. Everybody kind of perked up then… we feel much more positive playing the Medley.
“Everybody is much more comfortable with it and we feel we play better in the Medley. You can just tell that the mood is less tense. Working towards the MSR, everyone is tense – it’s got to be technically perfect – whereas with the Medley it’s a bit more freeform in nature.”
Lewis Pipe Band competes in section 3a and will be one of 22 bands in their section at The Worlds, which sees around 220 bands compete altogether.
The Medley lasts between three and five minutes – meaning the costs of performing at a competition work out at about £1,000 a minute for the pipe band – and the overall event on Glasgow Green is a huge spectacle, attracting around 30,000 spectators and involving between 8,000 and 10,000 musicians.
Going into it, Sandy said: “Practices for the last couple of weeks have gone well and we’ll be fine tuning everything.” That said, though, “you’re going to get nervous”.
He added: “If you’re not nervous, there’s a chance you’ll make a mistake. It can be detrimental to people to get too nervous and make a mistake. But if you’re not nervous, then there’s a risk of being complacent and making a mistake.
“Too relaxed is just as bad as too nervous. It’s a fine line!”
The pipe band has issues at the moment with its drumming section, as its snare drummers all work shift patterns, which impacts availability, but the growth in interest among the young – with around 40 youngsters belonging to the Lewis and Harris Youth Pipe Band, set up in 2016, and more than 100 learner pipers in schools – bodes well for the future.
Sandy praised piping tutor Ashleigh Macdonald, who is Youth Band Director, for doing “a great job” and getting the youngsters involved in main pipe band events such as HebCelt.
“It’s going well on the back of the Youth Pipe Band – that’s coming on hugely and in the very near future that’s going to benefit the band exponentially. There’s been so many kids learning.”
The Youth Pipe Band is hoping to raise enough money to put a drumming tutor into schools to boost the numbers of drummers to support the growth in piping, as the two go hand in hand.
Sandy, also Chairman of the Lewis and Harris Youth Pipe Band, said they were aiming to have something in place by the end of the year and added the future was bright.
“It’s looking really positive from the youth point of view – definitely.”
Donald John MacSween, Point and Sandwick Trust general manager, said: “PST wish to encourage organisations like the Lewis Pipe band who are dedicated and deeply rooted in our community. Supporting culture is one of the four aims of Point and Sandwick Trust and we are committed to supporting the Lewis and Harris Piping Society and our islands’ pipe bands as much as we can.
“We also sponsor The Pipe Major Donald Macleod Memorial Competition and are delighted that our money has secured that competition in its home town of Stornoway, where it belongs, because it is another huge draw on the piping calendar.”
Dr John Smith, Chairman of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society, said: “It costs a lot of money to take a pipe band to any competition on the mainland. We in the Piping Society are delighted that our friends in the Lewis Pipe Band are able to attend the premier competition for pipe bands – The Worlds in Glasgow – enabled by the largesse of Point and Sandwick Trust for the third year running. The band have acquitted themselves well on previous occasions and we wish them the best of luck in their endeavours at this year’s visit to Glasgow Green.”
He welcomed the “upsurge of interest in piping in recent years in Lewis and Harris”, adding: “We are particularly pleased with the recent development of a Lewis and Harris Youth Pipe Band.
“The Piping Society is well supported by local tutors, both those formally employed and the many informal tutors who teach youngsters to play the pipes but we appreciate that there is perhaps a need for more help to develop the drumming side of things.
“It would be nice if a similar support system was established to help those who have an interest in playing the drums to develop those skills.”
Photograph by Sandie Maciver from Lewis Carnival Day parade…Lewis Pipe Band and friends from the Lewis and Harris Youth Pipe Band and St Andrews Caledonian Pipe Band in Tasmania