Editor Robert Wallace: Crieff’s excuse of blaming the two-day Worlds and the RSPBA is a red herring. Last year and this, Glasgow Green was, and will be, busy on Friday and Saturday. Crieff is on a Sunday. That their committee has succumbed to that low emotion – victimhood – gives all credence to the lie.
If we needed further evidence, then a read of Nick Hudson’s factual account in the comment section of yesterday’s story provides it. Numbers are not the issue. No, all we have to do is take a look at the Crieff Highland Games website photo gallery and we can see what the problem is: not one photograph of a competing piper or band. It is all cycles, grinning chieftains and bouncy castles.
Crieff games is suffering from ‘family day out syndrome’, the syndrome that is a death knell for every authentic Highland gathering that adopts it as its template of intent. It means a general dumbing down of the day, more bingo stalls, fun events – vintage car displays for goodness sake – anything that brings Joe public and his family along for a few hours amusement, a public that has not the slightest interest in the serious side to the business of piping, Highland dancing or heavy events.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised; Crieff may have a Highland games and it may be surround by high land, but it is hardly Highland; Morningside with mountains maybe. Its games committee, like Stirling before it, has failed to understand what the essence of a true games is: serious competition in the traditional sports and arts, piping filling the air with unique sounds and atmosphere throughout the day, dancers giving grace and elegance where none might exist on the piping board, the grunting launching that massive log Skyewards and the roar as it falls off just short of noon, the runners, the wrestlers, the weight throwers and the tug – of – war. Apart from a refreshment tent, rain and midges, what more do you need? If the public understands what is going on and can develop some favourites, then interest will be maintained at a peak throughout the afternoon. If children get bored, then that is something that should be addressed with education and more competitions for their age group. Short attention spans must not be a reason for devaluing worth. Once any committee accepts this, the road to oblivion hoves into view.
Crieff may continue as an event, but if its posters dare use the phrase ‘Highland Games’ it should be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority. If they are unsure on how to restore their dwindling reputation then they should send one of their more enlightened committee members round the better Scottish games this summer. There’s one just along the road at Lochearnhead. There they have their share of froth but never does it overwhelm the body of the beverage. Central to the day is serious competition – and not just in piping, though they rightly give the musicians their place. If, for example, there is a problem with the siting of a board too near a loudspeaker, it, the board, is moved. They bring in judges from the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society, and, though they have their critics, they do a satisfactory job year after year and the pipers respond by continuing to support them. There is junior piping too which, when I was at another place, I decided we should sponsor.
The emissary must also head north and west to Glenfinnan and even out to the Uists. There he/she will see the bare bones of how it is done on a shoestring. It is called upholding the tradition, and these places know how to do it. They may not have huge crowds (though Glenfinnan can get very busy on a sunny afternoon), but they know what makes for a truly memorable day at the games – and piping is always central to the mix.
It is a shameful day when, after 145 years of doing the right thing by their town, their county and their country, this important gathering at Crieff, for years a social and commercial crossroads, can so summarily dismiss the great Highland bagpipe, the instrument that has provided the musical backcloth to its distinguished history.
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