Now that Inveraray & District has completed its sweep of all five Grade 2 RSPBA championships with a win of Cowal, the band’s coronation to Grade 1 in 2010 is assured – not that it wasn’t before. The band powered through the season with 13 firsts from a possible 20 across the majors, leaving some wondering if the band should have been put in Grade 1 instead of Grade 2 when it moved from Juvenile after 2008.
Considering that Inveraray only started to compete in 2005 as a new Juvenile band makes this one of the great pipe band success stories of all time. Not since Boghall & Bathgate, Dysart & Dundonald or maybe Vale of Atholl in the 1970s has an organization risen to the top with remotely comparable speed, even though those three bands didn’t come close to Juvenile-to-Grade-1 in only four full seasons.
Hat’s off to Inveraray’s leadership and to the whole organization’s commitment to success. The band is led by Pipe-Major Stuart Liddell and Lead-Drummer Steven McWhirter, who both are stars at the top of the solo piping and drumming trees. But they both have something else in common – something probably far more important to Inveraray’s success.
Both Liddell and McWhirter for the better part of the last decade were members of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band. It’s clear that neither were simply hanging out at SFU only so they could enjoy winning a few World Championships; they were there to learn SFU’s style of band-craft and take it back with them to Scotland, where they have deployed their knowledge to the hilt in Inveraray’s first season in Grade 2.
Since the 2009 World’s not a few folks have noted that only one Scotland-based band – House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead – in the last decade has managed to win the big award, while the other seven times it’s gone to SFU of Canada or Field Marshal Montgomery of Northern Ireland. I’ve also heard comments from Scotland bemoaning that so many talented Scottish pipers and drummers are playing in bands not based in their homeland, insinuating that these traitors should stay home to fight for their own country.
It’s interesting to note that in the 1970s, Canadians started to travel to Scotland to play in and learn from top bands, and then bring their knowledge back home. This produced results seen in the likes of Clan MacFarlane (Scott MacAulay – Muirheads), Triumph Street (Hal Senyk – Muirheads), Toronto & District (John Elliott – Muirheads), City of Victoria (John Fisher – Shotts) and others. Rather than moaning that Canadian bands couldn’t match the Scottish standard, these folks committed themselves to going there to learn how it’s done. Pipers and drummers from all over the world continue to travel to Scotland to gain experience with top bands, although the practice continues to diminish.
Now, it seems that the tide has turned, with UK-based pipers and drummers learning from top bands in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. To be sure, some of the world’s greatest pipe bands are still in Scotland – tremendous talent is still there. But, now, it appears that things have come full circle, where the recipe for one kind of success is an ocean away – in the other direction.