We are the champions
MISMATCHED kilts, borrowed kit and a group of young pipers and drummers nervously marching into a pipe band arena for the first time.
Just 12 years ago at Cowal Highland Gathering, these were the beginnings of Inveraray and District Pipe Band.
Fast forward to 2017 and last Saturday at Glasgow Green, Inveraray and District – albeit with personnel changes along the way – were crowned grade one champions of the world.
Not only that, they were the dominant band across the season, winning four of the five majors on offer and winning the champion of champions title for the second year running.
It is a truly remarkable tale of dedication and hard work, with Pipe Major Stuart Liddell and leading drummer Stephen McWhirter leading from the front.
There has been a big cast of supporters behind the scenes keeping the band running throughout their meteoric rise to world supremacy, including the late Robert Stewart and Alasdair Chrystal, but also involving other tutors, committee members and parents over the years.
Speaking last Sunday – the day after winning the world title – as a select few band members marched through Inveraray to play on the front green, Stuart Liddell took time to reflect.‘It feels great,’ he said. ‘It didn’t seem real yesterday, but now it’s lovely, just a fantastic feeling. The more you dwell on it, the more incredible it seems to be. It’s a bit of relief too, to be honest, now that we’ve broken it. We can move on and continue the journey.
‘It’s a constant pursuit of excellence, so hopefully we can keep improving.’
Looking back to the origins of the band, he explained: ‘We got to grade one in 2010. Prior to that we had a really fast ascent through the grades. In 2007, we won four of the five majors in novice juvenile, and that got us promotion to the juvenile ranks.
‘In 2008, we also won four of the five majors, then we got to a crossroads. The question arose of whether we wanted to stay as a juvenile band or progress even higher up the ladder, but to do that we had to jump across to the adult sections, so they promoted us to grade two in 2009.
‘We won all five of the majors in 2009, but at that time we could actually take in adult players along with the original group to strengthen it up. That was a very successful year for us. At the end of that year we got promotion to grade one, where we’ve spent the past seven years cutting our teeth. This was a hard grade to be in. It’s the cream of the crop.
‘At the very top end, with bands like Field Marshal, St Laurence O’Toole and others, there’s really just a cigarette paper between them.’
Asked what made the difference this year, he said: ‘Our drum corps had two excellent runs in the final yesterday. Our ensemble mark also rated first in both circles. In fact, overall as a band over the two days we did really well getting 12 of the 16 first places.
‘But I think it was the drum corps in the final that really pulled us through. We had seconds and a third with the piping and a first, I think. But it was the drum corps and the ensemble marks that made the difference.’
Paying tribute to his friend and longstanding bandmate Stephen McWhirter, Stuart added: ‘Stephen and I work really well together musically. We played with Simon Fraser University together and it was there that the idea of playing together first came about. And here we are now.’
He then turned his thoughts to his own family, adding: ‘I’m sure my dad and grandfather Ronnie McCallum would both be very proud, as is my mum Agnes, of course.’
Pipe Major Stuart Liddell led Inveraray and District Pipe Band to a historic first grade one world title just 13 years after the band was formed. Read Stuart's thoughts on the band’s success on page 10.
Stuart Liddell with proud mum Agnes.
Leading drummer Stephen McWhirter was a big part of the band’s success.