The Day Richard’s Bag Burst, the Power Burst a Drum and the Vale Played the Wrong Tune

This article first appeared in the October 2008 issue of the RSPBA’s ‘Pipe Band’ magazine. As this issue of the magazine is now out of print, it is reproduced here in the belief that it will be of interest to pipe band members, adjudicators and the listening public. The article was written by Alistair Aitken OBE, one of our most respected pipe band commentators and a former RSPBA adjudicator…..

Burst Bags and Drumskins Among
Season’s Experiences

By Alistair Aitken OBE
By Alistair Aitken OBE

In recent editions we have attempted to provide an understanding of how the RSPBA expects its adjudicators to operate as well as explain the parameters which Piping, Drumming and Ensemble Adjudicators are expected to cover in their assessments. However, as hopefully these articles have been illustrating, whilst the Association can train adjudicators to adopt a structured and analytical approach covering a broad range of factors, adjudication is unlikely to ever become an exact science since personal opinion and subjectivity play such a large part.

The competition season, including Major Championships, has been in full swing. Inevitably the unexpected tends to happen when things seem to be going well (Murphy’s Law), and these circumstances can often have implications for adjudication or, more likely, can attract criticism of adjudicators.

The British Pipe Band Championships in Birmingham, in particular, encountered some examples of such situations all three of which happened in the Grade 1 competition. Firstly, the Robert Wiseman Dairies Vale of Atholl Pipe Band was disqualified for playing a wrong tune and then the Leading Drummer of the Scottish Power band’s drum head burst on the start line. Most controversial, however, was the Pipe Major of the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band encountering a burst pipe bag as soon as he blew up his pipes during the introduction to the band’s performance.

In the first situation, although unfortunate, the disqualification was unavoidable and fully in accordance with the RSPBA’s competition rules as a mistake had been made in submitting an incorrect tune in the band’s entry form. In this instance the responsibility of the adjudicators was simply to be aware whether the band was playing the tunes as specified in the competition programme. RSPBA Adjudicators have no role in disqualifying a band for any reason. That responsibility lies solely with the RSPBA National Council official.

In the case of the burst drum, Scottish Power were not disqualified as the drum was simply swapped on the starting line with that of another player in the band, who played the burst drum throughout the performance. This obviously ran the risk of impacting on the performance in some way (e.g. sound quality/distortion, tonal balance,  integration etc.) and it was the responsibility of the Drumming Adjudicator, and arguably to a lesser extent the Ensemble Adjudicator, to take this into account in their assessment and their final placings.

[The picture up top shows the Scottish Power band at the line at the 1994 World Pipe Championships at Bellahouston with P/M Hugh MacInnes making his Medley/MSR selection. We believe the man holding the bag is Bob Montgomery formerly leading drummer of the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. To the rear can be seen adjudicator Stirling MacMurchie formerly of Strathclyde Police’s all-conquering band. In the band itself can be seen, among others, a very young Stuart Liddell (seven from the left, looking right), Ronald MacShannon (10th from the left, now an RSPBA adjudicator) and well-known piper Peter Hunt (fourth from the left).]

The controversial incident was the Field Marshal one, as in reality one piper did not play for the whole performance. The situation was perhaps compounded by the fact that one adjudicator did not see the incident and placed the band first. The other piping adjudicator did see the incident and deemed that it should result in the band being placed last. The ensemble adjudicator also saw the incident but took a more lenient view of the effect on the overall performance and placed the band fourth. The end result was that the band finished sixth in the competition which attracted claims of unfairness and adjudicator incompetence.

P/M Richard Parkes had to stand without playting for his band's performance
P/M Richard Parkes had to stand without playing for his band’s performance

To avoid any doubt about the outcome of the Field Marshal incident, it was dealt strictly in accordance with the RSPBA’s Constitution and Rules. Rule 3.57 states that: ‘If during a performance the band plays with less than the requisite number of players the band will be disqualified’. The minimum numbers for a Grade 1 pipe band taking part in a Major Championship (as defined in Rule 3.55) are eight pipers, three snare drummers and one bass drummer. The Field Marshal Pipe Band vastly exceeded these numbers and consequently it was not within the powers of the RSPBA National Council to disqualify the band when one piper did not play after the band performance had started.[wds id=”2″]The responsibility then fell to the adjudicators involved to take account of the effect of the incident on the band’s performance in their assessment and placings. For such situations RSPBA adjudicators are expected to follow guidance set out in the official Adjudicators’ Code of Practice. The guidance states: ‘In the event of instrument failure (e.g. burst drum or burst pipe bag) which results in a member or members of the band stopping playing, the circumstances should be noted on the critique sheet by the adjudicator and reported to the National Council representative.

‘In such situations adjudicators should continue to evaluate the performance taking into account the loss of the player/players. When band members continue to play with defective instruments, adjudicators should take this into account in assessing the performance in terms of tone, band balance and general integration. Particular reference to such circumstances should be made in the critique sheet and taken into account in placings allocations.’

This video snatch from the 2008 British Championships at Birmingham clearly shows P/M Parkes with his bag down

It could of course be argued that the RSPBA procedures require to be reviewed. That would be a matter for the RSPBA Music Board and National Council to consider. There is no doubt, however, that the incident was dealt with exactly in accordance with the existing RSPBA rules.

The summary table from the 2008 British Championship Grade 1 competition

There was also some criticism at a public event this year [2008] about the limitations placed on RSPBA Adjudicators regarding commenting on or criticising the selection of tunes or format of tunes for competition performances, particularly in relation to medley construction. There appears to be a view among bands that adjudicators are restricted by RSPBA rules from commenting on such aspects. It should be clear that there are no restrictions on adjudicators in this territory. One of the key roles of the adjudicator is to assess the musical effect of the particular discipline he or she is assessing (i.e. Piping, Drumming or Ensemble). If this is affected by tune selection or the way in which selected tunes are linked together there is nothing to prevent adjudicators from commenting on such matters in their written assessments, particularly in an advisory capacity. Rule 3.72, however, does specifically state that Adjudicators ‘shall not condemn a band on the setting of a tune’