Great boys, but where are the girls?;Arts in Scotland

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
Sweet Pee - a power trio with attitude - are the first winners of the Fife Schools' Rock Band Competition, which took place at Lochgelly Theatre last month.

The boys from Bell Baxter High School in Cupar were the last of four bands who took the stage in front of an unnervingly large and highly partisan audience of their peers.

The competition was set up in honour of Donald Fergusson, a guitar instructor for Fife who died last summer. Instrumental teachers Denis Webster and Darell Berthon wanted to do something to commemorate their colleague and at the same time respond to a lot of complaints from children that there was no platform for the rock bands which had formed in many of the Fife schools. They now hope the competition will become an annual event.

Music adviser Graeme Wilson, who led the judging, acknowledges that while classical ensembles have a recognised tradition within Fife's education system, this is the first time that an attempt has been made to foster what turned out to be a substantial interest.

Ten of the council's 19 secondary schools put bands forward for the initial heats, and some, like Madras College in St Andrews, had to run their own eliminators before that.

Each school was allowed to enter one band made up of current pupils, with the proviso that former pupils could be included if they had left the school within the previous two years.

Heats were held at Bell Baxter High School, Cupar, and St Andrew's High School, Kirkcaldy, in February, and the four winning bands - accompanied by coach-loads of vociferous supporters, all pumped-up and ready to rock - went forward to the final in Lochgelly.

The standard was impressive, and the result must have been a close-run thing. Paradox, a four-piece band from Waid Academy in Anstruther, found themselves with the particularly difficult opening slot and acquitted themselves well. Like Mavis and Sweet Pee, the two bands which played after the interval, they used their own variations on the thick, late-Nineties, post-grunge rock sound. Khubla Khan, a five-piece band from Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline, took a more Seventies classic rock approach, which meant a cleaner ensemble sound, more effects pedals, and longer guitar solos, but they were let down by some untidy ensemble playing at times. Mavis, another five-piece from nearby St Columba's High, took a more contemporary tack, and produced the most emotionally powerful single performance of the evening in their intense version of Radiohead's "The Bends", which produced excitement even among the stoic opposition fans around me. Sweet Pee, however, had the edge in the sheer visceral quality of their foundation-shaking riffs and Green Day-style power chording, and their singerguitarist was clearly the strongest and most charismatic performer of the evening. On balance, they probably just deserved the verdict. As part of their prize, they will now have the chance to make a demo tape in the studio at Glenrothes College.

All four bands will have enjoyed their half-hour in the spotlight, and the audience certainly did their best to make it a memorable occasion. The major reservation would have to be that, Spice Girls and girl-power notwithstanding, rock is clearly still very much a boy's game in Fife. In an attempt to redress the balance a little, the comp re for the evening and principal teacher of music at Kirkland High in Methil, Alison Fleming brought along pupils Stacey Byrne and her friends to sing one of Stacey's own songs while the judges made their final deliberations. Perhaps next year the girls will start to muscle in on the competitive action as well.

Kenny Mathieson

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