For many pipers and friends of the Scottish Piping Society of London, the Strictly Come Piping event is a real significant evening, bringing to a end what is normally a very busy year of piping. Particularly for the society it is very soon after the London Competition which is an immensely huge event that is very well put together and enjoyed by competitors and spectators from all over the world. Strictly Come Piping has a very different kind of feel though. It’s a relaxed and fun evening but with some very good piping to be heard. The idea : for each of the ten or so performers to put on a fifteen minute display of finger fireworks to try and win the crowds support. The vote then goes to the audience who decide who the winner is. There is also an SPSL piping quiz with some great prizes, including a raffle. Overall, it’s a cozy, warm evening with food and drinks served all night and some great piping.
I was invited this year to come along and perform. When I received the invite, the nerves seem to kick in instantly, dreading getting up and striking your pipes up in a cozy room with many other pipers watching and listening. But then again, what a fantastic opportunity that the SPSL give players of all abilities to come and take part in. I couldn’t really say no. With it being such a nerve wrecking performance for me, I figure there are a ton of benefits and advantages to get out of it, and also, because I am nervous, it’s something that I’m doing to try and better the nerves for the future. That’s all good saying but when the evening comes, the nerves are astonishingly big ! Good fun though and makes it interesting.
This year, with all the running I’d done, I had three days to prepare some sets. That was to pick the tunes, put them together in an order that worked well, and then practice them as many times as I could. I didn’t want to repeat a single tune from last year (I took part last year as well). I picked the following tunes :
Flett from Flotta
Battle of Waterloo (with slight variations)
Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque
Pack up your Troubles
Deck the Halls with Bells of Holly
Maestro and the Minions (with audience beating the tables)
Pipe Major Calum Campbell’s Caprice
Don’t Stop Rocking
Like last year, I opened the evening, coming out first to perform. When we arrived at the evening, we were a tad later than expected due to London traffic. Gareth did a great job getting us there for the time we ended up making though and as it so happened the evening was just ramping up anyhow with people still arriving. I saw Andrew Hall who came over and gave me an expected start time. So off to the stair case at the side of the pub it was for me, with my bags and costume to get ready! Competitors use a stair case just to the side of the room we are performing in, to tune up and get ready. I had loads with me as this year I decided to open the evening with a difference. I refrained from kilting up and rather came dressed as a monkey in my monkey onesie. Don’t wonder why – I still ask myself the same question. I was nervous before hand as I didn’t want to get a bad reaction but I figured it was Christmas so why not. My pipes had tinsel that would have made B.A Baracus happy (loads!). I tuned up for about 10 minutes and got the pipes warm. They were sounding good on the night and I didn’t have to do much fiddling at all. I was using a chanter that the SPSL presented to me last year which helped – a lovely wooden David Naill & Co chanter. I got dressed and within another five minutes, I could really hear the buzz from the room and it sounded like it had filled up. Andrew poked his head around the corner through the door and gave me a two minute warning, afterwhich I could hear him giving his introduction. Roger Huth was with me and kindly offered to have a quick listen to the pipes for any last minute drone tuning etc, but I was all set to go this time.
Before long, the door opened and I was given the nod by Roger. The rest is a blur. Not really….. Suo Gan went well. It gave me enough time to walk in, position myself nicely, face the audience and try to relax. Flett and Battle of Waterloo went ok too – perhaps lost a bit of pointing here and there but generally sounded ok. My first audience time was quite funny because the nerves really kicked in, but I tried to speak to the audience as best as possible and introduce the sets etc. Generally the piping went well and my pipes stayed in tune for the performance. I mucked up Don’t Stop Rocking a little bit but apart from that I had a good run. The other performances were incredible. There were some really good brave piping performances from some youngsters and even a competitor who had been on the pipes for a year ! Very brave and excellent piping from everyone. The winner this year was Conor McCallion. His fingers are like machines and we heard a few tunes from the medleys he plays in Field Marshall Montgomery. The runner up was Allan Dunsmore who was last years winner. All the players played so well. What an awesome evening.
These events that are come together are really worth the visit. The audience provided a lot of support this year and the SPSL hope that the evening grows even more. There is talk of needing a bigger venue next year already, so watch the website for further announcements in the new year. They are a really good platform for players of all abilities to take part in. If you pop along to the monthly pipers clubs when you can, bring your pipes and play a few tunes then you never know – you may be playing at the next Strictly Come Piping …… !