Retreat March/ BB King/ US Piping Foundation/ Highland Games

The opportunity to travel and meet interesting people is just one benefit that accrues to we pipers over the years, be it as a soloist or as a member of a band.

BB and Lucille
BB and Lucille

Such a trip came my way in 1998 (I think) as a guest member of the Lothian and Borders Police Band. We went to Rome to play at a concert at the Vatican. Apart from the interest any visit to that great city would engender, it afforded the opportunity of sharing the performers’ ‘green room’ with blues legend BB King. Yes, for a few minutes I sat at his feet, admired his waistcoat and listened to one of the great musicians talking away about life, music, people. What he thought of the kilt, pipers and pipe bands I don’t know and I regret I never got the chance to ask him about playing a crunluath on his black Lucille. R.I.P. BB.

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The recent report from Alistair Aitken re the Beating of the Retreat on the Esplanade at Edinburgh Castle got me researching the actual origin and history of the ceremony. An old programme for such an event reads: ‘At the end of the day’s work, the ‘Retreat’ was beaten. The term, which comes from the French ‘retraite’ [retire] was used by all the European armies, and has no connection with the tactical manoeuvre of the same name.

‘After the daily drill or training, the troops dispersed to look after their own administration, which often included cooking their own meals, foraging for supplies, collecting food and water, and other domestic tasks. At the close of the working day, the troops had to be collected up again, and so the ‘Retreat’ was beaten by the drummers as the order to return to camp before dark for roll call. At sunset the gates of  the town or fortress were closed for the night and the sentries began challenging anybody who approached their posts.

‘Nowadays, ‘Retreat’ has two functions. Firstly, it is still an occasion for mounting the night guard each evening. Secondly, it its ceremonial form, it is an occasion when the Pipes & Drums can put on a musical display for spectators.’

There is now  a musical definition of course. The ‘Retreat March’, usually shortened to just Retreat, is one of the most melodic and easy on the ear forms of pipe music that we know. Think Kilworth Hills, Torosay Castle, Colin’s Cattle, Dark Lowers the Night, Cullen Bay….endless. We don’t hear enough of them. Bands leaving the field at the Worlds are you listening? Why not march off with some real end-of-the-day pipe music for a change?



To the US Piping Foundation in June and I thought readers might be interested in the list of former winners:
2014     Alex Gandy, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2013     Bruce Gandy – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2012     James Bell – Batesville, Arkansas
2011     Alex Gandy – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2010     Bruce Gandy – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2009     Bruce Gandy – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2008     Bruce Gandy – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2007     Alasdair Gillies – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2006     Ann Gray – Calgary, Alberta
2005     Bruce Gandy – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
2004     William McCallum – Bearsden, Scotland
2003     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
2002     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
2001     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
2000     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
1999     Alasdair Gillies – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1998     Alasdair Gillies – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1997     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
1996     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
1995     Seumas Coyne – New Rochelle, New York
1994     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
1993     William Livingston – Whitby, Ontario
1992     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
1991     James McGillivray – Don Mills, Ontario
1990     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
1989     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas
1988     Amy Garson – Ottawa, Ontario
1987     Michael Cusack – Houston, Texas

Eleven wins for Mike Cusack!
Entries close for this year’s competition on May 17. Here’s the link.

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RU Brown, Balmoral, playing at a games in the 1930s

The Highland Games season is nearly upon us in earnest, and I would appeal to everyone to do what they can to support it. Too many Games have closed their doors in the recent past, and some of those that haven’t, have stopped their piping contests – Crieff for example. The Games were good enough for the icons of the past (see pic) and I say this to pipers and their supporters: don’t worry about the judges, or your CPA track record, or the weather, or the midges or the prize-money. Get out and have a tune in the fresh air among the bens and glens of this sometimes picturesque land.

Be aware that the organisers are usually volunteers giving of their own time to put the day on. Be aware that no one makes a profit, be aware that policing costs can run into thousands of pounds, be aware that the judges will be doing what they do for the love of it and a few pounds to cover their expenses. Be aware of all of this and get out and play, and know that in so doing you are helping to preserve this unique part of our piping tradition for future generations to enjoy.

Check out the Guide to the Games here.