7:30am on a Saturday was something I had heard about, like the Yeti or the Blue Men of the Minch, I didn’t believe in it before I joined a pipe band. But here we are on a bus heading doon the waater to play at Brodick Highland Games. We picked up various bandsmen as we toddled down to Ardrossan via Port Glasgow, Inverkip and Seamill. The reason for the early start is you want to get on the ferry and it gets really busy really early. After last year, when the driver took us a wild convoluted route that involved going through Beith twice, it’s advisable to plan for contingencies. We had no female playing members with us over the age of 18, although Isy sent her Aunties to keep an eye on us, and I can’t help thinking that this was a test. Thankfully the bar on the boat was open as some of the guys looked a bit dehydrated, none more so than Big Davey who was so dehydrated he failed to notice the girl he was chatting up was a nun.
The views from the upper deck were magnificent, Cumbrae and Bute to the north and the Ayrshire coast running away into a blue haze in the south. The weather was looking good too, the reports from Arran on Friday had mentioned stair rods and everyone was expecting a washout but as the ferry berthed the sun shone on Brodick and it had all the hallmarks of a Grand Day Out.
Monty met us at the harbour and it was a quick dash to get the agonybags tuned before we were on. Basso mentioned that we had found a lovely place to get ready, right next to a wasps nest and there did seem to be a lot of wasps about but you’ve just got to get on with it and the wee beasties seemed more curious than angry. Brian and Big Stewart worked wonders to tune us in the time allowed and we sounded like a pipe band at the end of it. We were a really young band even allowing for Monty and had the cutest tenor section on the island by a country mile. The guys who organise the Brodick Games deserve a mention for their coordination and nonchalant, stuff just happens; bags get taken to halls, food appears in plentitude, you get told what’s happening and when. It must be like herding cats.
So we’re herded onto the start line and suddenly Brians nautical pint sends him running and we do our best “hanging about in a group” until he returns to bestow order. Band Ready, By the Right, Quick March! We’re off, sounding good and the crowd waves and cheers and small children cover their ears and stare and dream of being pipers. There is a moment of confusion during the 6/8 set as the left hand side of the band appears to be playing the second, third and fourth parts at the same time but they get it right on the second time through. We are marching too fast and are in danger of overtaking Isle of Arran Pipe Band, we do tend to stride out in a gallus fashion if not restrained by Jo’s wee legs. Wasps kept us company the whole way round the bay and came to the church hall for sandwiches and soup. There was an abundance of food, even after the Kilbarchan piranhas had heaped their plates high and as ever it was well appreciated. Other gala days take note, we could get used to this. It’s good to catch up with the friends we have made on the island over the last five years and to listen to what new tunes they are playing and to gossip about worries only pipe bands have.
After lunch Brian leads the charge to the Golf Club for refreshments and we hardly wet our lips before we’re summoned to the arena for the first of the massed band events. More tuning and Melissa seems to be having trouble keeping her pipes inflated, someone keeps making her laugh. It is only going to get dafter as the day goes on. The bands march in turn into the arena and form up in twos and Malcolm leads us off on a circuit of the arena playing Scotland the Brave and Rowan Tree, a lot. There were no crash mats to negotiate our way around this year and it all went off without a hitch and we fell out back to our sadly neglected drinks. If you have never been to the Brodick games you’re missing a gem, Arran is gorgeous to start with and Brodick isn’t too shabby either. The scenery is stunning, the people friendly and they have a huge array of stalls to tempt you with; whisky, candles, beer, hog roast. There is a full athletics program with caber tossing and everything. We manage a couple of sips of beer before we’re back on for our solo gig. Davey and Big Stewart have swapped instruments but thankfully swap back when no sound comes from the pipes. We form up and countermarch off to the last set of tunes and it’s fun to see the look of terror on people’s faces as they see a pipe band bearing down on them in full majesty. There is now massed instrument swapping, my cheeks hurt with laughing at StuPo on my pipes and me doing my famous Totties Falling Down the Stairs drum solo. Back at the Gowf Club swarms of children are beating off the wasps to play on the drums. Our Emma parades back and forward with the bass drum she is only just taller than and the tenor drums get a hammering from a toddler. I get sent to fetch harder reeds as my chanter has gone Pete Tong. After a wee bit of setting up Brian plays Highland Cathedral for an adoring fan and we both earn free beer, him for playing and me for trying.
The second massed band event calls us away from our beer again, it’s going to go flat at this rate, and back into the arena. We line up as four very long bands and march round the running track playing The Green Hills set. A lot. Wasps accompany us, I’m getting used to them crawling on my drones and glasses and suchlike but the one that went up my nose got squished after it got blown out. Meanwhile back at the Gowf Club it’s beer o’clock and we finally get to finish our pints. We have always treated the Arran Games as a big thank you to everyone who supports and follows us throughout the year. The Treasurer picks up the tab and only asks that you enjoy yourself. After an uninterrupted pint/hauf/GnT/cola it’s suddenly time to march down to the harbour to catch the boat. I think the second pint has affected StuPo, who normally stops at one, and he is practicing talking the hind legs off of donkeys. We suit up and march off, I’m finding walking in a straight line a problem but that must be the seaside air.
The harbour is a cauldron of lunacy, people are wearing costumes and daft hats. Pipe bands do the conga and play all the crowd pleasers, at a signal from the boats hooter the pipers and drummers march up the gangplank playing and before you know it we’re having our third pint of the day in the stern bar. This is a fraught time for Pipe Majors as pipers have been known to miss the ferry and every year some band or other has to carry a member off at the other side. It was our turn this year but we didn’t have to carry him, a bit of support and gentle guidance did the trick. I’m a bit vague about the return bus trip due to advanced fatigue but suddenly people were eating chips they had magiced from somewhere and then we were back in Kilbarchan. On the walk home I lost most of the buttons on my jacket. If this was a test then we failed miserably. Next week we head to Glasgow for the World Championships.