PP Editor’s Blog: Bands Failing to Support Small Contests/ SW Scotland School

I have to say I agree with drummer Andy Donaldson who messaged last week: ‘Just a wee note regarding Thornton. Our wee band (Cardenden) and Barney’s band (Methil, P/M Robert Barnes) were the only two bands that bothered to turn up. Every other band that was entered pulled out for no discernible reason. I think they should be ashamed!!! 

‘We had members on holidays etc. but still managed to field a band worth playing. After consultation with the organisers we ended up just doing a wee bit of gala band service for the punters and we each got a share of what would’ve been the prize money.

‘This type of thing is happening all too regular now and something must be done about the local bands patronising their local contests. Good games and venues like. Strathmiglo, Cupar, Forfar, Cowdenbeath and Thornton are dying through lack of attendance. An absolute disgrace!!!! 

‘And games like North Berwick and the like are actually suffering with bands pulling out because they are unwilling to pit their wits and talents against the large school bands (semi-professional, well tutored and drilled) playing up a grade. We MUST address this and retain our culture…. ‘Save our local Highland games’!!!’

Well said Andy and well done to your band and Methil for getting out there. I have said it many times that this is a top down situation. If the big bands get out to the smaller events the lower grades follow.



This not only benefits the competition, but piping, drumming and pipe bands in general. How many youngsters get the idea of joining a band because they’s seen one on parade. More than you would give credit for.

It may be too late to do anything for this summer but pipe majors and band secretaries at the top end have a real responsibility here. It should not be all about only ‘playing the Majors’. Bands like Shotts, Scottish Power, Fife Police, Inveraray, Glasgow Police, Boghall have a duty to get out and play at the minor contests. And this goes for the bands in Grade 2 too.

Even if there are drops in numbers because of holidays etc, these bands nowadays are so huge that they could easily put out a band with 14 pipers and six drummers – a sufficient size for the smaller contests.

I know from correspondence that RSPBA branches struggle sometimes to put on their local competitions. Yet all it takes is for word to go round that one of the big bands such as those named above are attending and the whole event takes on a new feeling.

So come on: let’s listen to what Andy says and support the minors. It can be a very enjoyable day out, less pressure and an opportunity to blood the youngsters.

What do you think?

The above picture shows a band playing at a minor contest held in Dundonald in Ayrshire.


Good line-up for the South West Scotland Piping & Drumming Academy starting this weekend. Alan Maltman has sent this: ‘This year’s South West Scotland Piping & Drumming Academy summer school will be held at the Barony College near Dumfries from Sunday 10th July to Friday the 15th.

‘Students of all abilities will have the chance to learn from a team of tutors with a wealth of experience in teaching and success in solo and band playing. Piping tutors: Ross Cowan, William Geddes, Callum Moffat, John Cowan, Walter Cowan; Drumming tutors:  Norrie Thomson, David Sheridan, Jordan Bailie.’


Tutor Book half page ad

6 thoughts on “PP Editor’s Blog: Bands Failing to Support Small Contests/ SW Scotland School”

  1. We need to get real here.

    Top bands have got zero interest in appearing in public and playing at anything below their absolute best. They are not going to go out and field a corps of 14 pipers. It’s not going to happen. You need the full team there and where you remember that getting a complete grade one band on the road involves a team of upwards of fifty people, many of whose presence is crucial, it’s pretty plain to see that it’s extremely difficult. People have weddings, funeral, life events as well as pipe bands and asking these fifty folk to turn out for ten or twelve contests per year – and financing it – is beyond reasonable for these bands.

    Now, that said, I agree that the minors are worth supporting and should be encouraged. The question is what will actually incentivise the bands to turn up. I think the focus on the Inverarys and the Boghalls and the Police is a mistake. Yes, it is nice to see these bands out but they gain little from it and are no more exciting to a 4yo child than any other band. The more dispiriting thing at these contests is seeing grade 3 and 4 contests with 2, 3, 4 bands attending. At that level the more competitions you do the better and personnel should not be as critical.

    I like the proposal that the Champion of Champions system should include minor competitions, and that mere attendance at a contest should count towards it, with the points weighted such that a strong attender of competitions should be able to be competitive with a band that does well at only four majors. In addition, there should be some serious prize money for it.

    The one thing I am certain about is that wringing our hands and saying bands have a “duty” to attend will get us nowhere. They need to have a reason to turn up.

    1. Callum

      You’re correct, we do indeed need to get real here…!

      You have lost sight of the true meaning and history behind pipe bands. If you can retaliate with comments like “top bands have no interest in appearing in public” and “getting a grade one band on the road” you must be getting pipe bands mixed up with rock bands like AC/DC or the like. If you think “top bands” only exist for five major competitions in a year then you are seriously UNreal.
      I have played in every grade and it certainly wasn’t the norm to get on and off fancy buses like some kind of superstar footballer or boy band member. We jumped in our cars and got to parks the length and breadth of Scotland.. Indeed I can remember one time in particular, I had to work on the morning of Inverkeithing games in the 70s. We (BP Grangemouth PB) were grade two, and all the cars were gone so I got there in full number one uniform including whitened spats and feather bonnet,on my wee Suzuki 100 motorcycle (crash helmet wasn’t compulsory back then). And I made it just in time to catch the band in the final tuning.
      My point is we would NOT miss a competition or gala day for ANY reason and if members had to be absent through family commitments, as long as we could field even the legal minimum amount of band members, we still showed up and played AND enjoyed every second of playing.I can include, without fear of contradiction, the great bands, ALL with the same attitude, bands such as Muirhead & Sons, Shotts, Glasgow Police, in fact there WAS a time when the record breaking world champion Glasgow Police band NEVER missed playing at Markinch games.
      The majority of bands were colliery attached and every miner had, in the beginning, tuppence deducted from his weekly wage. This deduction of course increased with the cost of living but each and every miner parted with the hard earned cash willingly such was the love, pride and respect for their pipe bands. And band members didn’t need persuaded to turn out and play..unlike the “superstars” of today.
      I am well aware that times and attitudes change, but not always for the best so why shouldn’t we stop this “can’t be bothered” attitude of bigger bands and insist that every effort is made to attend minor competitions, especially in said bands vicinity and bring back the culture and heritage of Scotland where communities knew their pipeband existed and were loyal and proud of their band.

      To say that top bands gain “little from” is the wrong attitude and maybe the big bands attendance would encourage the lower grade attendance to increase.After all, shouldn’t the “big bands” have the obligation to SET AN EXAMPLE for their lower grade colleagues? Is that not reason enough to “turn up”?

      Respect

      Andy

  2. While I’m fully in favour of supporting minor contests and my own band tries to attend as many as possible, sometimes it comes down to choosing between playing at a gala day where money in guaranteed, or a minor contest which may be a bit of a lottery.
    We are in grade 3B so already at a minor contest we are competing against any 3A bands who attend. On top of that if any of the best juvenile bands attend, many of which can easily hold their own in a good grade 2 field, they also are in the combined grade 3, greatly reducing our chances of taking home any prize money.
    The harsh reality for many players when planning their season is making sure you are available for the 5 Majors, using holidays, swapping shifts, or whatever it takes. Only then do they try to fit in the minor contests, paying gigs etc., sometimes leaving the band too short on numbers to compete.
    The dates of the contests also play a big roll, with many bands more inclined to play if there is a Major Championship the following weekend. This was probably the main reason that Inveraray, Boghall and Police Scotland Fife were to he heard at Lochore a few weeks ago, but it made for a very nice afternoon for all those who turned out to either compete or just to have a listen.

  3. Dear Robert,

    I like many agree there are many features to debate about minor contests and sense this is a good and useful debate to have.

    I would like to highlight that Boghall and other grade 1 bands in Scotland have competed at non major championship. In Boghalls case this has been at competitions in Fife and over the Lothian & Borders vast area. I would sense that a large majority of your readership would be aware of this.

    Overall, there are a number of factors to consider when managing organisations such as Boghall with three bands. For example: bus costs, volunteer tutor availability and balancing the fact that a large portion of young people in bands also take part in other musical, sport and other activities. Also taking three bands to the Championship in Belfast costs around £6000 annually. This is not a gripe, just the way it is and we must recognise that the Bands from Nth Ireland pay vast sums coming to Scitland where I am sure all enjoy the respective trips. Equally, The that attending non majors has on practise schedules for the majors to accommodate players who fly in or travel where we also need to consider all these factors in a tight calendar between the end of May and June when three of the five majors take place.

    Hopefully these thoughts provide some insight and serve as a contribution to the point being raised.

    Looking at recent compeitions I see Boghall and Inveraray have competed at a number of non major championships.

  4. Stevie,

    With the greatest respect, I think you’re losing sight of what this debate is about and the meaning of taking part in pipeband life. I say “life” because being in a band isn’t and has never really been just a hobby, it’s a way of life, I myself was born with the sound of pipes ringing in my ear, those who know me will testify that’s a fact. (aye I can hear my detractors shout “maybe that’s why he’s such a miserable bugger).
    Nobody is pointing the finger at bands like Boghall and Inveraray, in fact these are two bands that are trying to keep it real and haven’t lost sight of the fact that they are part of a heritage that stretches back a very long time. But to talk about “tutors” and “trips to Ireland” etc has nothing to do with it, these things are part of our grade one culture yes, and it takes a lot of organising and costs a lot, but, unless I’m mistaken, the big bands are well sponsored for a seasons expenses. Bands like Johnstone and City of Edinburgh have very little sponsorship but Johnstone still manages the trip to Ireland and both attend as much minors as they can with or without a full complement of players.

    Aye there’s always other things to do like sports and the like but the older generation had this as well like playing amateur football and so on but the band was ALWAYS on top when the season began , and as Robert says, these bands nowadays are so massive surely they can field a decent representation of their band and make an appearance at their local or area minor contest.
    As I said in earlier comments bands like the Glasgow police travelled to the other side of the country every year to play at Markinch.

    Anyway it’s not so much the big grd 1 bands at fault alone here, it’s the top bands from ALL the grades, indeed all the bands in general that are not attending the wee competitions the crux of the matter is we WILL lose ALL of our small Highland games if we don’t make at least some effort to ensure we attend as much as we can. And with the amount of cars on the road nowadays I can safely say that most band members have a car and carsharing with transport arranged for drums etc isn’t a crazy idea…. Is it????

  5. Thanks for your response. To help, I am very clear on the points I have made and also clear of things from my perspective.

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