Published: 24/08/2007 00:00 - Updated: 25/11/2011 20:27

Northern Meeting may not return to its historical home

ONE of Scotland's most prestigious piping competitions could be permanently lost to Inverness. The Highland Capital was home to the Northern Meeting from its inception in 1841 to 2005 when Eden Court Theatre, which had hosted the competition for almost a quarter of a century, closed for its lengthy programme of renovation and rebuilding, leading to a move to Aviemore Highland Resort. This year's competition, which begins next Thursday, will be the last before Eden Court reopens later this year, but though competition convener Richard Cameron commented that for many in the piping fraternity Inverness and the Northern Meeting were synonymous, a return to Eden Court was not guaranteed. "That will depend on the price we can negotiate and a whole lot of other things too, but certainly we've been well looked after in Aviemore and they are keen to have us back," he said. The event not only attracts around 100 of the world's finest pipers and around 70 junior competitors, it also attracts a large number of piping devotees. "We get a good audience," Cameron said. "On our first night, the concert for the former winners of the march, Strathspey and reel, we will have 450 to 500 people in the audience. It's a big event and guys have got to perform because that's 450 critics, not just the judges!" The competition was now well placed to make a decision on whether to stay at Aviemore or return to Inverness, he added. "There are a good number of people who keep reminding me that Inverness is our traditional home and that we should be back when Eden Court is available to us, but other people are saying that they welcome the change," Cameron said. "Aviemore has provided us with a very comfortable environment. We have got all the accommodation we need for the actual competition events and we have very, very good tuning facilities. "Tuning facilities are obviously very important to us because the competitors we have got are top class players and they want ideal tuning conditions. Pipes are susceptible to temperature change and humidity change, so it's important to get them spot on if they have got to give a good performance. "These are very valuable and delicate instruments and these guys are going to be assessed not just on their playing ability, but the tonality of the instrument and the tuning. And if they don't get the tuning right they are not going to be on the prize list." This is particularly important for the Northern Meeting which typically will attract more than a fifth of its entrants from North America. This year there are 93 entrants in the senior competition, including entrants from New Zealand, Denmark, France and Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland, Canada and the USA. Among those in contention for the senior prizes is Inverness piper Euan MacCrimmon, representing not just the Highland Capital but a family whose name is associated more than any other with piping excellence as the hereditary pipers to the chiefs of Clan MacLeod. Also from the city is Niall Matheson, who runs a piping shop within Inverness's Victorian Market. Other leading names from the home country include Dr Angus MacDonald, one of Glenuig's famous piping MacDonald brothers, William MacCallum from Argyll, Galston's Gordon Walker and Roddy MacLeod MBE, who is currently director of the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. Representing the newer school of pipers is Glasgow's Simon McKerrell, described by Cameron as a very fine up-and-coming player. Among the overseas competitors is Alasdair Gillies, who is registered as an American entrant even though he originally hails from Ullapool. The first Pipe Major for the Highlanders Regiment following the amalgamation of the Queen's Own and Gordons, he now teaches in the US. Making the reverse journey is Donald MacPhee, who migrated to Scotland to develop his piping and now runs a piping business in Alexandria. There are also a number of family connections among the competitors. Canada's Jack Lee, the 1994 Gold Clasp winner, will be in contention with his sons Andrew and Colin for a prize next week. "They've kept it in the family and they are all very, very good pipers," Cameron said. "We have a history of that, though not always competing at the same time. There are also James and Douglas Murray from Cupar, brothers, who are again very popular." There is also New Zealand-born Murray Henderson, who is currently based in Kirriemuir and a five time winner of the Gold Clasp, and his daughter Faye who is in contention in the junior section while her father attempts to retain his title as reigning champion. Another player with a prize winning heritage is Edinburgh's Iain Speirs, whose father Thomas was a Northern Meeting prize winner. The army's piping tradition is being upheld with entrants from The Highlanders, The Royal Dragoon Guards, the Scots Guards and Pipe Major Michael Gray MBE from the Army School of Piping in Edinburgh. Though he pointed out there were fine pipers in contention from Canada and the US as well as the southern hemisphere, Cameron claimed that home grown talent was more than capable of seeing off the challenge from the New World. "There was a time, a few years ago, when the Canadians and Americans virtually swept the boards and we were left looking around asking who is going to be second, but now Scottish pipers are right up there in the first line," he said. * The Northern Meeting annual piping competition runs at the Aviemore Mountain Resort on Thursday, 30th, and Friday, 31st August, from 9am with prizes presented after the conclusion of the Gold Clasp pibroch competition on Friday.

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