Pipe bands seem to have settled on a ‘no more than 25 pipers’ rule in the past couple of seasons. Before that we had showmen P/Ms turning out with nearer 30. Now they realise the difficulties this means for unison and control.
As I say, when you see the depleted ranks of a struggling band followed by the numerical power of a Shotts or a SLoT you can’t help but be impressed. But apart from this visual impact, there is no real advantage in having these juggernaut bands. Huge numbers of pipers make it all the more difficult to play with the required unison. Precision in technique suffers; it becomes woolly on the ear. The pipe major can lose control at breaks and in tempo change. Setting up and tuning becomes a lengthier undertaking.
I would be in favour of a cap of 20 pipers for all bands. Five ranks of four is plenty for any pipe major to be going on with and there are considerable benefits for the movement overall. Pipers on the periphery of a competing pool, unsure of getting a game at major championship, will lose interest and drift off to other organisations. It could lead to the formation of new bands or a boost for those at the bottom end of Grade 1, bands hungry for an influx of experienced, top-end, talent. Short on numbers and prospect of success, theirs is a sorry pursuit. Such a limit would help even things up and reduce the divide between top, middle and bottom.
If not a cap, then a Premier Grade for the top eight bands is imperative. I have written before about how this new grade would work: no more than four prizes and two going down each year and two coming up from the reduced Grade 1. The whole pipe band competing structure would be invigorated from the top down and I believe the bands would support it. It must be very dispiriting at the bottom end of Grade 1 to know that each competing day you have no chance of a prize – and when the young talent you have nurtured over many years is lost to the already burgeoning ranks of the big boys.