There is nothing worse than a Friday night deadline – Scout Hut 7 o’clock. I’m fairly punctual but I’m married to a drummer, “Time is an illusion etc etc!” The car was loaded, everything was in order but my poor drummer was ill, ill, ill. There was talk of, “you go on without me.” However after a wee call from Pipey she rallied and we made the bus with minutes to spare. To a chorus of, “Did you remember your pipes?” I boarded the bus for the 3 and a half hour drive to Inverness. The word from on high was that there would be no drinking on the bus, fair enough! This was to be our first overnighter as a band, so best behaviour and no hangovers for the morning. I don’t think I heard the first can being cracked ’til we crossed the Clyde. However as a show of solidarity for my poor sick drummer lady I held out ’til Perth. When in Rome!
The bus driver had the hammer down and we cruised into Inverness in plenty of time to get settled into our hotel then send the bloodhounds out to find a pub. Belter! Right round the corner. Big thanks to the Fairways Golf Course for extending their hospitality. A few small sherries were had by several bandsmen and women and suddenly the bus driver appeared, this man was not having a good day, he had been told to turn up for us 12 hours early and now the guest house he was booked into wouldn’t let him in. Too late apparently, ah, the old highland hospitality.
We got him sorted, one more pint then we all trooped back to the hotel and a well earned rest.
Saturday dawned miserable and wet, fair weather was forecast but it looked like we were going to be playing the qualifier in the rain. The driver appeared resplendent in kilt and ghillie shirt, we like a man who gets into the spirit of the thing. Entry to Grant Park was via a complex system of one way signs and the Army were on hand to ensure:-
- We parked in the right place
- We received our complimentary hamper, and
- The Chieftain was left unmolested
Tuning was a damp arboreal affair, huddled under the trees being dripped on. Someone had decided that breakfast could wait until after the qualifier and we were fair famished by the time we reached the final tuning area. Grant Park looked good in the rain, well organised and laid out, plenty of beer tents and carnival attractions. I liked the freeplay area where bands coming out of the circle could give an impromptu performance, this was probably better attended than the Grade 4 qualifiers.
Kilbarchan Pipe band marched into the circle in the rain, played in the rain and marched out in the rain. We’ve played better. No recriminations though because rumour has reached us of a tea room selling all day breakfasts. Turn left out of the park then head up the hill, “You cannae miss it.” Our group missed the hill.
I’ve recently started a vegetarian diet so ordered an All day Vegetarian breakfast, never heard of such a thing. While my colleagues tucked into a Full Scottish I was eating a childs insoles. Vegetarian bacon, whit’s that aw aboot? The rest of the meal was delicious, couldn’t fault it but the wee pink slithers of cardboard were a talking point if nothing else. We took Hazel back a roll n sausage since she hadn’t eaten since Friday lunchtime and was in danger of fading away. With full stomachs we decided to go listen to some bands. The Grade 4a guys gave us a few fantastic performances and the Juvenile bands were sublime. James the Hat, Big Stewart and myself drifted over to Arena 4 to hear the results of the qualifiers and what’s this? We’ve only gone and qualified again. Air punches! Whoot whoot! So that will be all the hip flasks and carry outs put back on ice. We were not back on ’til nearly 5 so plenty time to watch our pals from Johnstone PB and Lomond and Clyde PB in the circle and to listen to the Grade 1 bands tuning up next to us. It really is a privilege to watch and listen to these guys, they make it look effortless. The weather had decided to shower the big boys in golden sunshine and it looked like our second performance was going to be a dry one too but we didn’t listen to the Pipey did we? Some pipes were stored between performances with chanters left in stocks and all the moisture from earlier ruined a few reeds and played havoc with the sound of the drones. Brian did a good job in difficult circumstances to get his pipers sounding like a band and all too soon it was back into the circle, this time in the afternoon sunshine, for our final performance of the day. The huge thud just before this was my bottle crashing. We escorted the chaps from SLOT out of the park as we made our way to the party bus.
The day had decided that sunburn was now required and as we sat and had a wee snifter we baked in the glorious North Eastern afternoon sunshine. Hazel had organised a raffle, oh how we love a raffle. The sponsors hamper and various bottles of stuff were offered up and managed to coax over 90 quid for the Albert Fund. Adam’s Mum won the hamper, Big Davey won the Tee shirt, karma! The hip flasks were taken off ice and distributed freely until it was time to pack away our tinkers camp and head over to the arena for the Chieftains march past and prize giving. The local schools had provided a wee lassie to carry a banner before us proclaiming who we were, this was a nice touch, well appreciated. Once in the arena it’s a bit of a stooshie; the centre bands giving it laldy, hip flasks flying all roads, pipers and drummers vanishing for a Jimmy Riddle and in the middle of this the Chieftain addressing the massed bands. Out on the rim of this galaxy the PA system gave up and we got an address by Charlie Brown’s teacher, “bwah bwah bwah, hmn!” This might have been the best chieftains speech since Julius addressed the legions at the Rubicon, we will never know. However with a concerted effort we managed to hear we were not prize winners and so slunk out of the arena and made a tactical withdrawal before the streets of Forres became a nightmare of buses. Our friends at Johnstone became European Champs at Grade 3a, a fantastic result well deserved.
All in all we had a fantastic time and look forward to returning. The journey home was sponsored by Cheeky Vimto and Lorna led the singing. I decided to relax with some Frightened Rabbit somewhere about Dunkeld and woke up in Glasgow. Old fart!
Our next outing is at Clydeport for the cruise ship passengers and Largs Family Day.