I didn’t know Tommy Pearston, the co-founder of the College of Piping who died last week, but I knew of him and certainly liked watching him at competitions. He was small in stature and quiet in demeanor, and seemed the exact opposite of Seumas MacNeill, who was tall and skinny and never met a podium he didn’t like.
MacNeill was “Famous Seumas” while Tommy was just Tommy, as far as I knew. I really like the less-known people who make a strong impact on the piping world, and the Piper & Drummer tries to bring these folks to the fore as much as possible. Of course, because of their natural reticence, it’s often difficult to draw them out. Willie Kinnear, Edith MacPherson, and Hugh Cheape are just a few of the less-known people who have been profiled.
For this reason, too, we sometimes overlook those who deserve better. Tommy Pearston would have been a great interview. His side of the College of Piping story and his view of Seumas certainly would have made fascinating and important reading. The fact that Seumas MacNeill, who had so little time for anyone who wasn’t an intellectual challenge, had so much time and respect for Tommy Pearston says a lot about Pearston as a person.
Beth Orton on Central Reservation sings that “Regrets are just things you haven’t done yet.” So, I greatly regret not thinking of Tommy Pearston until now, and it’s too late.
The piping and drumming world is full of incredibly funny people. Maybe it’s a result being so wound up by competition that pipers and drummers enjoy taking the piss out of most things.
It is funny, though, that we come across as a bunch of humourless pucker-arses to those not in the club. Contests are so often full of long and worried faces, as if players are about to go over the top of the trench. Pick up any piping publication (with one notable exception), and it’s all terribly serious articles and reporting with a heavy air of “authority.” Not a trace of humour in any of them unless it’s some inside joke with other “authorities.”
It’s a shame that we can’t lighten up a bit more on the outside, like we do on the inside at band practices and at competitions. We are so often a bizarre lot of competitive fanatics and traditionalist zealots. If our extraordinary spectacle isn’t occasionally amusingly absurd, nothing is.
Anyone who has been to the World Pipe Band Championships is aware of BBC Scotland’s remote truck capturing all of the action. The contest rings are lined with wooly and water- and wind-proof microphones. Iain MacInnes and Gary West have, beyond a doubt, the best listening experience on the park since they get to hear each band as a whole, with a perfectly-balanced sound that is consistent from band to band.
Which begs the question: why doesn’t the RSPBA put the judges in the BBC truck or another truck with the same microphone feeds? The judges would then get the full effect of the sound — and only the sound — and could make their judgments without distractions.
After all, if you can’t hear a piper hitching up his bag or a drummer lifting his sticks, then it should not matter. Additionally, putting the judges in the BBC truck would keep bands better focused on their task, with no eyes drifting from the pipe-major’s hands as a judge walks by.
Yes, the judges wouldn’t be able to preen before the crowd and competitors, but any piping and drumming competition is about the music and the competitors and not the judges. It’s not the way things are done, but it’s a way to do things better.