Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Meet the Manchester United of piping

Field Marshal Montgomery victorious on the field of musical battle again as pipe and drum ensemble scoops ninth World Championship

Field Marshal Montgomery pipe band members cheer their latest win
Field Marshal Montgomery pipe band members cheer their latest win

If the Field Marshal Montgomery pipe band was a football team, it would be Manchester United – virtually unbeatable, consistent trophy winners and in a class above the competition.

And that would make pipe major Richard Parkes the band world's Alex Ferguson – the top manager behind the world's best team.

That's just how good this 43-strong band of pipers and drummers really are, as they create a distinctive sound that is revered around the globe.

The Lisburn-based band is still coming to terms with having won its ninth World Championship title in Glasgow on Sunday.

Field Marshal Montgomery's winning formula is simply the band's extraordinary ability to play traditional tunes in its own distinctive style.

"We have a special sound, we have our own style, it's just an ability to play the music in our way," said Richard (53).

"But it starts off with quality players and then hard work," added the Comber man, who has been central to the band's success for the last 29 years.

Richard and his brother Gordon, a former drum major, took the band to its first world championship win in 1992, and then again in 1993 and 2002.

But it has been the powerhouse partnership between aeronautical engineer Richard and drum sergeant Keith Orr from Londonderry which has led to the record-breaking nine World Championship titles.

"Richard and I have similar thoughts on the music and how it should be played. We are both quite traditional," said Keith.

"But it's also all about the groundwork. You have to put in the groundwork."

Even after winning 'The Worlds' yet again, Richard still has his eye on a few more prizes.

"To have won our ninth World Championship is a major achievement, particularly as we won it for a third successive year. It was our second opportunity to do so, as we missed our last chance," he said.

"We are all very proud – it was a great day, particularly as the drum corps also won its World Championship title." With a clutch of 54 championship titles behind them, as well as two grand slams – winning all five major championships over a summer – Richard now hopes his band can complete the season by winning the Cowal Championships in Dunoon, Scotland, in two weekends' time.

Sunday's win has made Richard a contender to challenge legendary Scottish piper Ian McLellan's record 12 World Championship titles, and if achieved, would make him the most successful pipe major ever.

"I still have the passion to play and to compete, and I'm still enjoying it – so anything's possible," said Richard, who has recovered from a stroke he suffered in 2004.

For the band, whose ages range from 16 to 53, world-beating excellence doesn't come easy – in addition to band practise twice a week, individual members practise several hours each day in their own time.

The band is made up of 26 pipers, nine drummers and seven members on tenor and bass, and it also contains national and international solo champions from every corner of Northern Ireland, Scotland and beyond in the band.

The close bonds between band members is also a big factor in its success – there is a father and daughter, a husband and wife, uncle and nephew and one engaged couple. The band's Scottish pipers and drummers leave every Saturday at 5.30am to attend practice in Northern Ireland, and it boasts members who travel from the Republic of Ireland, Canada and even Australia for the honour of playing with the Field Marshal Montgomery.

And should Field Marshal Montgomery win its grand slam at the last ever Cowal Championships in Dunoon, what sweet music it would be for Richard Parkes, who celebrated his first major win for the band there in 1990.

BACKGROUND: THE FULL MONTY

The Field Marshal Montgomery band is the world's most successful Highland pipe band. It was founded in 1945 in the townland of Drumalig, a few miles from Carryduff on the outskirts of Belfast, after a group of farmers' sons decided to form a band in the wake of the Second World War. They wrote to the famous war hero for permission to use his name. Not only did 'Monty' agree, he also sent a 10 shilling note to aid the band's funds.

Led by pipe major Richard Parkes from Comber, Co Down, and drum sergeant Keith Orr, from Londonderry, the band has won every championship going.

Wins include:

* Nine World Championship titles

* Eight runners-up places and three third places in the World Championships

* Two Grand Slams – winning all five major pipe band championships in a season. The band will be chasing a third in two weeks' time.

* 11 European Pipe Band Championship titles.

* Since 1989, the band has won the All-Ireland Championship title all but five times.

* It has a total of 54 separate championship titles.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz