Video - On the march to European Championships with the Trust’s help

Lewis Pipe Band competing in the World Championships on Glasgow Green in August 2015.
Lewis Pipe Band competing in the World Championships on Glasgow Green in August 2015.

Lewis Pipe Band are in the final stages of practising for their summer competitions on the mainland, which begin this weekend with the European Championships in Forres.

The band aim to attend two of the five major championships every year and will be taking part in the World Championships in Glasgow in August, as well as the European competition.

However, the costs of attending these events are huge – and the band were delighted to receive support from community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, who have given £1,000 for the second year to help towards travel and accommodation.

Pipe band chairman Sandy Gomez said this money made a massive difference and would allow them to focus on practising instead of fundraising in the run-up to a competition.

“It’s huge because it takes the pressure off fundraising. We can just knuckle down and prepare. Although we have to fundraise, the less time we have to spend fundraising the more time we can spend practising. That benefits the whole band.”

Lewis Pipe Band have 22 members at the moment and 18 of them – 11 pipers and seven drummers – will be going to the European Championships, which take place this Saturday (June 30).

It costs the pipe band around £3,000 to attend each competition, although they do get help from Lochs Motor Transport in the form of very cheap coach hire.

“Roddy (Lochs Motor Transport) has been great to us and he always tries to help us out with costs,” said Sandy.

Competitions always mean a minimum of two nights away – leaving on Friday and back on Sunday – and the sheer costs mean the band cannot attend more than two of the big competitions.

As well as the European and World Championships, there are also the Scottish, UK and British Championships.

Only two of these are always in the same place – the Worlds in Glasgow and the Scottish Championships in Dumbarton – while the other three move around every few years, depending on what local authority has been successful in bidding for them.

Sandy said the location of the European Championships in Forres had been “handy” for the band as it was so close to Inverness. However, this is the last year it will be hosted by Forres.

There is a chance it will go to Northern Ireland for the next three years and it would be impossible for the band to attend as taking part would mean too long a trip away – Thursday to Monday – or the astronomical costs of chartering a flight.

The band play in Grade 3a and Sandy said they had been practising hard over the winter and were better prepared for this year’s competitions than last year, when they had disappointing results.

“Things weren’t settling right last year but we think we’ve nailed it this year,” he said.

“We’re a lot happier with how practices have gone over the winter. I think we’re playing better as a group.

“The tunes we’re playing this year are a bit more technical so everybody has had to knuckle down and work hard – and I think that’s happened. Everybody has put in the effort.”

For the European Championships, the band have to perform a three to five minute medley. For the Worlds, they play the medley plus a March, Strathspey and Reel if they get through to the second stage of the competition.

“Obviously it’s great to win but our aim to get into the top six.”

About 120 bands will be taking part in the European Championships, with about 12 bands in Grade 3a – but there will be double that number competing at the World Championship.

This event, taking place on Glasgow Green on August 17 and 18, attracts about 220 bands, about 30,000 spectators and involves between 8,000 and 10,000 musicians.

Lewis Pipe Band were unable to attend the Worlds last year as their Pipe Major, Peter Mackay, was away.

Although it will be hugely exciting to take part, Sandy admitted it was also rather scary.

“You do feel very nervy,” he said. “There’s more people there, more buzz about the place and just knowing that you’re at the Worlds makes you that bit more nervous. It’s the big one and it’s the absolute hardest to do well in.

“You know that if you’ve done well there, it means even more because it’s the pinnacle of all the competitions.”

There are six championship categories altogether, with the likes of the Field Marshal Montgomery and Inveraray and District pipe bands leading the way in Grade 1.

Although Lewis Pipe Band was formed in 1904, they have only been competing annually since 2012.

They enjoyed quick success, with consecutive wins meaning a series of promotions through the competition grades – from 4b to 4a in 2013, to 3b in 2014 and to 3a in 2016.

It was “a rapid rise” and Sandy said it took a lot of commitment to play in the band, who were always looking for new members.

But he said it was always enjoyable – “there’s a great atmosphere, just being in the band” – and they particularly enjoyed their community performances.

These include the Saturday afternoon parades in Stornoway during the summer and all the shows, including HebCelt, the Point Show, Lochs Show and the carnival.

The Saturday parades began at the start of June and take place until the middle of August.

They begin at the old Legion building at 3pm, with the band playing and marching to The Narrows, between Boots and MacNeils.

The performance lasts 45 minutes and Highland dancers add to the entertainment.

Donald John MacSween, Point and Sandwick Trust general manager, said: “PST wish to encourage organisations like the Lewis Pipe band who are dedicated and deeply rooted in our community.

“Their Saturday performances during the summer months are hugely popular and their winter training programmes ensure that young people are encouraged to become involved.”

It costs between £10,000 and £12,000 a year to keep the band running, between the costs of attending competitions and keeping the pipes and drums in good order.

“We’re grateful for everything,” said Sandy. “We’re grateful for anything we get in the collecting cans and for people who turn up to our fundraising nights.

“We’re grateful for every penny because it all goes towards the band – to keep it going hopefully for another 100 years.”

See the Lewis Pipe Band in action entertaining in Stornoway town centre: CLICK HERE