Worlds preview Q&A: Stephen Creighton (St Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band)
30 July 2015
It's been a successful week for Champion of Champions St. Laurence O'Toole, winning the Scottish Championship title. Ahead of the Grade One band's appearance at the World Pipe Band Championships next month, we caught up with lead drummer Stephen Creighton to learn about his career, proudest moments and thoughts on the future of pipe band drumming.
Tell us about your journey from an 8 year-old budding pipe band drummer to Champion of Champions with St. Laurence O’Toole.
I started at the age of eight when I was in a girls pipe band, taught by Gerry Mahady, the band’s drumming instructor. The short version of this story is my four sisters were part of the original drum corps, but then they started a junior band, with a mix boys and girls so my father decided that's it, you’re joining, so I did.
The band did compete however it disbanded after three years. At that point, my instructor decided that it would be a shame for some of us just to stop learning, so we joined St Joseph's Pipe Band in the next village. This was a bus journey away so folks weren’t too happy, but we did it nevertheless.
They were a Grade 3 band and didn’t compete that much at that time, but in the space of five years we progressed to become a Grade 1 band, winning our way through the grades with three all-Ireland titles and two World titles. This ultimately became a step too far for the band which amalgamated with St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band – known as SLOTPB. This where the big step-up came, working with world renowned music composer Terry Tully, a combination that resulted in winning our first all-Ireland Grade 1 drumming title – a feat that hadn’t been achieved by a Southern Ireland band since 1958.
This title was the first of ten to follow. It was 2006 when the drum corps hit the jackpot, winning the Premier World Title at Glasgow Green, an achievement that put us amongst the elite and a title only a handful of drum corps had ever won. From there it took off, wining several major titles both as a band and a drum corps until 2010 where we had a clean sweep, winning the World Pipe Band Championships and best drum corps.
From there we stepped up and continued to be consistently in the top three as a band and have since taken a total of 11 major drumming titles: European, Scottish, British and Ireland. Then in 2014 the drum corps finally got there hands on the Champion of Champions trophy, an award given to the best drum corps over the five major contests. The band had won it before but the drum corps had hit the bar three or four times finishing runners up. So finally we got it. The rest is history!
Who played a key role in mentoring you in the early years?
Gerry Mahady senior taught me in the early years then when I moved to St Joseph's Pipe Band it was two guys - Gerry junior (what a player he was) and the other was Martin Gallagher, their lead drummer. They took me to the next level up until I turned 16 where I went my own way, taking over as lead drummer at 17 and winning the World grade two title followed by the RSPBA Diamond Jubilee the next day. I went on to win the World Junior title that year also.
You have a number of memorable achievements in your career, which is the one you’re most proud of?
Tough question, there have been a few but winning the first drumming World title in 2006 was something I only thought I could dream of. What a feeling but then to get a second with the band also taking the overall title…wow!
St. Laurence O’Toole have firmly cemented their place in Grade 1, what is the secret behind the band’s success?
A simple answer should be hard work but team management, good attitude and hard work together is a good start.
Do you feel you can retain the Champion of Champions title again this year?
Yes most definitely, one contest left, top of the championship board and all to play for!
What makes the HTS 800 integral to the sound of the band?
The HTS 800 is without doubt the best pipe band drum because of its richness, clarity and tone that amalgamates with the huge drone sound that our band produces. It is so important that the balance is spot on and for me it's the only drum that has the carrying sound that suits a big piping ensemble.
How do you go about preparing your corps of drums ahead of the Worlds?
The Worlds is the big one, right down to what the guys are recommended they eat to the practice schedule. We put a huge effort in starting way before the last three contests, everybody is aware how important it is to be at practice and that they arrive on time and prepared to give their all. Drum maintenance is a nightmare as most drums are at their peek pitch wise so hard decisions have to be made whether to take a chance or replace heads; we normally get it right. But the corps will remain focused and determined for the three weeks leading to the Worlds no doubt.
What’s your view on the future of pipe band drumming in general, what do you feel could be changed?
Nothing, pipe band drumming is getting better and better, kids are now introduced much quicker and the teachers are better than they were years ago, as the top 12 players in the world over the last few years are getting younger, even me 😉.
Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring drummers looking to get the best sound out of their drums?
Choose a system that works for you without going too far away from what the drum was designed to do. Don't be afraid to experiment but be careful and don't blame the drum. Drum sound is your personal choice and if you like it keep it.
Be sure to catch Stephen and St Laurence O'Toole at the World Pipe Band Championships on 14th-15th August. Premier will also be in attendance at the Traders Village with products, accessories and sales support.