Lewis Pipe Band have been given £1000 by community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust to help keep them in the championship game.
The band are heading for the Scottish Championships in Dumbarton on Saturday, July 29, and were relieved to have the equivalent cost of their coach hire covered by Point and Sandwick.
Five pipe band championships are held in the UK every year but Lewis Pipe Band usually only attend two due to the exorbitant costs of travel and accommodation for the band and their gear.
They recently attended the European Championships in Forres — where they had been crowned winners of Grade 3a last year. They had a disappointing finish this year but are now determined to be ready for the Scottish Championships, where 130 pipe bands will be taking part.
“All focus is now on the Scottish Championships”, said pipe band chairman Sandy Gomez this week, describing it as “a whole new trip; a whole new experience” as it will be their first time there.
As well as the European and Scottish Championships, the UK also hosts the British, UK and World Championships during the year. Many bands attend all the competitions but, with each trip to the mainland costing Lewis Pipe Band around £5000, they have to be selective.
Pipe band championships are big events, with the Worlds, usually held on Glasgow Green in August, being the biggest draw. That event involves around 230 bands, up to 10,000 musicians and up to 50,0000 spectators.
Lewis Pipe Band, although it was formed in 1904, is a relatively newcomer on the competition scene. They began competing in 2007 and then annually from 2012 onwards. They enjoyed quick success, with consecutive wins meaning a series of promotions through the competition grades – from 4b to 4a in 2013, to 3b in 2014 and to 3a in 2016.
Sandy said: “That’s a rapid rise. Normally bands spend a few years in each grade, so we were jumping up the grades, as much to our own surprise as anyone else’s.”
He credited Pipe Major Peter Mackay for that rise. “His ear for sound is second to none. The sound he can get out of so few pipers is mind-blowing sometimes and it’s been commented on by other bands… ‘they’re a pretty small band but they’re very loud and they sound good’. I suppose that’s reflected in the prizes that we’ve won.
“He’s a perfectionist when it comes to the sound of the chanter. In his head it’s not good enough to be sounding okay. It’s got to sound great. I think that’s reflected in most pipe majors and it’s what’s helped us moved up the grades and get promoted.”
Sandy said the band had worked hard — but admitted it “gets harder every year” as all the other bands up their games too.
Reflecting on being crowned European Champions for Grade 3a last year, Sandy said: “We knew fine well that we’d have to really work hard over the winter to maintain that level. It wasn’t to be on the day but we took away from it plenty positives.
“We know what we’ve got to work on now for the next competition. The Europeans were our first competition of the season; most of the other bands may have done five or six competitions.
“They’re getting their critiques from the judges so they know what they’ve got to work on. We’re just jumping in after a winter’s practice, trying to find our feet, seeing what the judges think.”
There are six categories altogether, with the likes of the Field Marshal Montgomery and Inveraray and District pipe bands leading the way in Grade 1. The Glasgow Skye Association band are among those in Grade 2.
Championship performances are short but they are costly due to ferry travel, coach hire and accommodation as overnight stays are always necessary. There are 12 pipers and 11 drummers in the band, ranging in age from their teens to 70s.
Sandy said: “We fundraise hard over the winter to get to these competitions.
“Each competition costs £3000 or £4000 to get to and we’re only playing for four or five minutes.
“It’s more expensive for us, getting on and off the island. Most of the other bands are travelling on a day trip, leaving in the morning and back at night, but we’ve got overnight costs. That’s what adds to (the cost of) our trips. It’s a lot of money.”
He admitted the band only do two competitions a year due to financial constraints, adding: “We’d love to do all five major competitions but the cost is not something we can raise on our own.
“We’re entirely reliant on public donations – the collecting cans and donations from people like Point and Sandwick.”
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. Their Saturday performances during the summer months are hugely popular and their winter training programmes ensure that young people are encouraged to become involved.”
Sandy said the £1000 from Point and Sandwick was “effectively paying for the coach hire” this time, adding it had “taken a huge strain off our fundraising efforts” which he described as a “never-ending process”.
It costs between £10,000 and £12,000 a year to keep the band running, between the costs of attending competitions and keeping the pipes and drums in good order.
“We’re grateful for everything,” he added. “We’re grateful for anything we get in the collecting cans and for people who turn up to our fundraising nights.
“We’re grateful for every penny because it all goes towards the band – to keep it going hopefully for another 100 years.”