The first major event of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association’s 2015 competition season takes place today with the British Championship at Bathgate, Scotland.
As you would expect this event has attracted a number of Ulster entrants, however the numbers travelling to these early season contests in Scotland certainly seems to be in decline.
Today there are nine local bands and around 20 drum majors making the trip to Scotland.
Leading the hunt for honours will be the current world champions Field Marshal Montgomery.
The band was victorious at Enniskillen last weekend in what was their preparation for the bigger task - the hunt for major honours.
Field Marshal secured a milestone 10th world title and 60th major championship last season and it is safe to say they will want to build on that this season.
It is a strong grade one line-up featuring 11 bands.
Cullybackey, under pipe major Richard McGrath, will get the grade underway.
A strong Scottish contingent will be lead by the likes of Scottish Power, Boghall and Bathgate, Shotts & Dykehead and the Greater Glasgow Police Pipe Band, while St Laurence O’Toole, from Dublin, are regulars among the prizes.
Outside the premier grade we have interest at quite a few levels.
In grade 2, Bleary & District were third at the British Championships last season, however they did win both the Scotttish and UK Championships and were runners-up in the worlds so they will be serious contenders for the prizes today.
With a win at Enniskillen last weekend they would appear to be in good shape.
Two bands from County Donegal, Manorcunningham and Thiepval Memorial, will also be competing in grade 2.
Into grade 3a and we have a trio of Northern Ireland bands looking to make their mark.
Closkelt, under pipe major David Chesney, appear to have settled into life in grade 3a with ease. They have a strong pipe corps which has formed the foundation of their success so far this season - taking third at the Ards and North Down Championships and then winning the grade at Enniskillen.
These results would appear to vindicate the regrading of the band a matter of weeks before the start of the season having initially been expected to compete in grade 3b.
Ballybriest are well established at this level now and have been runners-up at the two contest on home soil this season, while Gary Smyth’s drum corps has proved unstoppable, winning the drumming prizes on both occasions.
Raffrey were placed fourth at Bangor but didn’t make the trip to Enniskillen but I understand the band put in a solid day’s practise in preparation for today.
Upper Crossgare and Colmcille have registered one win apiece in grade 3b this season and will be looking to translate that local form into a major prize.
Leading drummer Richard Garnham has his Upper Crossgare corps in good form with two wins from two outings which could play a key role in setting up a result today.
Upper Crossgare play first in grade so will be setting the standard for the dozen bands that follow.
There’s no local bands featuring in grade 4a so it is down to Portavogie in grade 4b, qualifying section one.
The band from the Ards Peninsula has made a solid start to the season, taking the runners-up place twice so far, while the band’s drum corps has two firsts.
Good luck to all the bands and drum majors competing in Bathgate today and of course to all the local adjudicators who have been included in the judging panel.