…by Anura Guruge
The Strathclyde Police Pipe Band that regaled us at the 1999 Loon Highland Games. No they, nor any Grade 1 bands, will be there in 2012.
It took me awhile to find the ‘Featured Band‘ for 2012 mainly because I was not expecting it to be a University band. I am going to keep an open mind and wish them well. Yes, I went and read up about them. They have a new Piping Director from Northern Ireland, Andrew Carlisle, who is highly ranked and looks very promising. I am looking forward to seeing and hearing him.
All this said, I am a tad disappointed and frustrated and as is my wont when I am like that, I did some research last night. Here is a complete list of the pipe bands at the 2012 games as published on their Web site [and I am not sure whether they meant to include the not-so-generous travel stipends that are being doled out]. Notice that there is not a single Grade 1, i.e., top-tier, band. Carnegie Mellon (CMU) is ranked as a Grade 4 band, though some of my Web research indicated that they might have got up to Grade III on some occasions.
Queen’s Piper Jim Motherwell that lit up the 1998 Games. What a MAN.
Over the last few years I had a sneaking feeling that we were getting short changed by the organizers of the Highland Games when it came to the bands and the performers. So, yesterday I went looking for my old programs from past games, because I remember enjoying PROFESSIONAL regimental bands from the U.K. In 1999 we had the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band. In 1998 we had the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. In 1998 we also had two Pipers to Her Majesty The Queen, Pipe Major Gordon Webster and the incomparable Pipe Major Jim Motherwell, the 10th Queens Piper.
I ‘know’ Gordon Webster and his wife. I have chatted with them often, they always amused at my willingness to go back home given that they moved heaven and Earth to move up here. Very nice people. I think at the sombre 2001 Games Gordon marched up to the top of the bleachers on the Parade Ground and I think played ‘Taps’ or something equivalent. It was moving. I still remember his story about when he was the Queens Piper and had to on one occasion play for the Queen and her guests from a row boat on a Loch — and how the boat sprang a leak.
But, whenever I think of the Queen’s Piper, it will be Jim Motherwell that will always come to mind. What a man. One of those rare men with irrepressible presence and a surfeit of charm. What an ambassador he was for the U.K., the Queen, piping and mankind. During those Games of 1998, which I attended with my son (6 years old) on both Saturday and Sunday, Jim seemed to be everywhere — invariably talking to people. I spoke with him a number of times. One of my most abiding memories of the games is that of Jim, in full kilt, kneeling on one knee, with his pipes in his hand, talking to Matthew and showing him the details of his uniform — this taking place on the concrete between the Parade Ground and the Governor’s Lodge. Matthew thought he was the cat’s whiskers. He was in awe of him. Talked about him, the Queen’s Piper, for years. I am sure that meeting Jim was a key factor in why Matthew was devoted to those games for the next 6 years or so. [In those days when he was little, Matthew had a knack of getting people to kneel down and speak with him. Another indelible image is that of John McCain, in 1999, during his Primary Bid, on a extremely bitterly cold February day in Gilford, kneeling down, on one knee, talking to Matthew for about 3 minutes — while about 100 people looked on; Matthew having listened to the Senator’s speech from right below his feet.]
I haven’t seen Gordon at the Games in a few years. This could be because we tend to now go either on Friday or Saturday. I don’t think Jim Motherwell has been back. They really should invite him back. He would do so much to lift the Games, which of late seem to be sagging, like a Helium balloon slowly losing its shape.