Belfast Telegraph

A lot of hot air... and Ralph piping in as well

By Joe Nawaz

We've just hosted one of the five major events in the piping calendar. OK, so it's never going to compete with the glamour of the European Pipe Band Championship – what does these days, except for maybe the World Pipe Band Championship?

But still, the UK Pipe Band Championship was big enough of a deal to warrant two whole programmes and an entire Ralph McLean this week.

That's the sort of TV allocation usually reserved for Orangefest – so hopes were high that there'd be some top quality piping on display.

Guest of honour, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, caused a moment of mild concern when she revealed that bandsmen had been raving about the venue.

But fortunately there was no sign of that on the day as the UK Pipe Band Championship from Stormont did exactly what it said on the shortbread tin.

There was piping, piping, a little bit more piping, and then some more piping.

More piping, in fact, than you'd find in the Downton Abbey wardrobe department.

Or as Ralph put it with a pan so deadened it came with a warning not to resuscitate. "All tastes catered for. Especially if you like pipe band music."

If you spied the kilts, the relentless atonal droning and the Stormont setting as you were casually flicking from station to station in search of a television fix, you might have been forgiven for thinking it was in fact the annual gathering of the Nelson McCausland appreciation society.

But closer inspection would have revealed that the sheer numbers, and yes, craft, on display, suggested something potentially more engaging.

Robert Wallace from the College of Piping – the Michel Roux Jr of the piping fraternity – left us in no doubt as to the levels of technical virtuosity we were about to witness.

"Among the nine notes there's a bunch of twiddly bits. Those twiddly bits have to be spot on. The band who gets those twiddly bits correct will be the band that win."

We learned that there are grades of piping. And if you're an average pipe band you don't stand a chance.

Two things troubled me about this set-up.

Firstly, imagine travelling over to the Pipe Band Championships knowing you're not exactly piping hot? How soul-crushing must that be? Being patiently allowed to churn out your amateur caterwaul knowing full well the judges are smiling down on you like benevolent adults do to the crap kids in the school nativity?

And then – who's to say what's bad pipe music and good pipe music? Surely there's just pipe music?

After an hour's-worth, even the most tartan-attuned ears must flag like Roads Service workers on overtime.

Robert Wallace was constantly on hand to correct Ralph's, and by extension, our own woolly pipe thinking. "Conditions in Stormont are just about perfect, was that a perfect performance?" Asked McLean at one point. "Not perfect, enjoyable" came the curt reply.

In fact few bands met Wallace's exacting standards.

Ravarra for one were singled out for having only 13 pipers, yet excellent fingering. "You can hear it in the playing," he insisted.

Ralph tried to appeal to his better nature.

"The McLean tartan always gets my blood going. Was that a good performance?" he asked of his clan's piping efforts.

"No. A middle order performance," chided an implacable Wallace.

In the end, as they say, piping was the winner. Piping and somebody called Field Marshal Montgomery (although you sense he may have had help).

And moral order was restored at Stormont as musical men in skirts were replaced by monotonous men in trousers.

Craven Beeb is in thrall of vile Clarkson

Definition of racism: prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

Definition of Jeremy Clarkson: uncomfortably be-denimmed posh Top Gear presenter who enjoys espousing prejudice, discrimination or antagonism against someone of a different race, whilst hiding behind ironing. Or something credible like that.

Definition of a BBC chief: overpaid apologist for bad policy. Such as (this week) tolerating Jeremy Clarkson's racism.

Forget orange, it seems that for some on TV, racism is, in fact, the new black…

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