PP Ed’s Blog: Pipe Band Majors/ Ross & Cromarty P&D/ Small Highland Games

The debate over moving the European Pipe Band Championships to Forres will continue, particularly among bands who just can’t afford to journey up to the Moray Coast. Down the grades this is particularly inconvenient for Irish bands, few of whom, outwith Grade 1, attend.

The reverse holds true for the UK Championships in Belfast with many Scottish bands electing to stay at home for that one. It all points to the Central Belt of Scotland being the ideal geographical location for our pipe band majors. Everyone can get here with a minimum of fuss. It would mean that all major championships would be equally attended and that the final Champions of Champions tables announced after the Worlds on the second weekend of August, would mean so much more.

Something for the RSPBA directors to ponder when contract renewals come round. It never has been all about money with the Association. The award of contest rights does not always go to the highest bidder. Facilities have to be right (as they certainly are at both Forres and Belfast) and band officials must be able to work with their local council/ promoter counterparts.

But geography might need to come into the mix with a bit more weight. We want more Irish bands at the Euros and more Scots at the UKs. We call again for a major in Edinburgh and should Cowal be given another chance?

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Delight all round in the north with so many bands up there doing so well at Forres: Elgin, RAF Highland, Inverness, Lochalsh Juniors and the Ross & Cromarty Pipes & Drums School (pictured celebrating top). The band’s Gail Laird has sent this: ‘Ross & Cromarty Pipes & Drums School were delighted to be crowned European Champions after winning their grade at the weekend.

‘RACPADS competed at the European Pipe Band Championships and saw them achieving a clear first placing in the Novice Juvenile A section. The competition was extremely high with them managing to secure the top spot in front of a number private schools.

Ross & Cromarty in the circle at Forres

‘They were only promoted to this grading at the start of the 2016 season and to achieve this in such a short space of time is an absolutely fantastic result for both the tutors and children alike. Pipe Major Niall Matheson said ‘I am so proud of what the band has accomplished and can not praise the pupils enough for the commitment they have shown over the last couple of years, all their hard work has certainly paid off.’

‘He continued by thanking the parents and committee for their continued support. The band are now very much looking forward to competing at the Scottish and World Championships in July and August respectively.’

I must say I agree with the comment by Craig Martin on Saturday about the pull of Scotland’s ‘quirky wee Highland games’. It is a concept alien to a few of our overseas (and home-based) competitors who just can’t get their heads round the generally laid-back, organised chaos that we sometimes find at these contests.

Overall champion Ben Duncan playing for judge Jimmy Banks at Ceres on Saturday

It’s part of the attraction. Caught up in traffic you still get to play the organisers just glad you made the effort to support them. And many’s the afternoon I stood in the rain, brogues muddied, feet wet but cheered on by friendly comments from fellow competitors despite blowing up in the last part of the reel. There is a camaraderie here you just don’t get at the so-called premier events.

So I say to all pipers, there’s still plenty of time to get out for a tune at the small, non-graded contest. They are worthy of your support and a hearty well-done to all those who give freely of their time to stage them, including those last Saturday at Ceres in Fife.

Faye Henderson, joint first for ceol mor

Thanks to Patricia Grant for the current placings in the John Milne Fine Arts Highland Games League after two contests:

Ceol Mor
1= Gordon McCready & Faye Henderson 4
2= Eddie Gaul & Ben Duncan 3
3= Calum Brown & Allan Russell 2
4= Bruce Macdonald & Alan Clark 1

Ceol Beag:
1    Calum Brown 17
2    Brighde Chaimbeul 8
3= Gordon McCready & Allan Russell 6
4    Ben Duncan 5
5= John Macdonald & Alan Clark 3
6    Eddie Gaul 2

1 Liam Brown 12
2 Jamie MacRae 8
3 Angus Duffy 6
4 Angus Mackay Robertson 4
5 Tom Spencer 1

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11 thoughts on “PP Ed’s Blog: Pipe Band Majors/ Ross & Cromarty P&D/ Small Highland Games

  1. It appears the European etc are just labels for the events and little or nothing to do with the geography of Europe or whatever how the competitions are labelled. The persons who have responded to this are of course correct, that there is a central belt bias. Having a policy of competitions on a circuit is a positive thing as it does embrace participants from outwith the main hub. Yes there will be inconvenience for some at times and there are costs, but to suggest that the central belt for convenience for maybe the majority of pipe bands should dictate that such events should all be in the central belt has a selfish approach to it. Forres has another year of hosting the championship and doubtless the future venues for the European championship will be further south, depending on the bids to host it. In the years it has been held at Forres ,it appears that it has been well supported by spectators, despite the “remoteness” and it has encouraged positive participation from the more north based pipe bands.
    There are football teams now in the north above the highland line , namely Caley Thistle and Ross County and central belt teams and supporters have to travel on several occasions during the football season, both north and south depending on home and away games. The Forres visit is but once in the year.
    I must confess that I have only been to the Forres championship once, largely because it clashes with another commitment.
    So Mr Wallace, there are certainly positives to having the European championship above the highland line and you can put that in your pipe and smoke it!

    1. Although I am relatively new to the pipe band scene, I am hugely appreciative that that the opinion of such an experienced piper should be in line with my own, Mr Watson.

  2. As someone from across the pond, I find it curious that the “European” championship locales being discussed are ONLY on Britain. With the growth of Danish, German and Breton bands, why not consider more continental options?

    [I am reminded about how the US “world” championships (baseball, american football) are, in fact, US championships.]

  3. It was with a wry chuckle that I read your blog about the suitability of Forres and Belfast as Major Championship venues. It was particularly ironic that your comment about the trip north being too costly for south bands was accompanied by a photo of the Ross and Cromarty Band.

    To all those who made the effort to travel up the A9 on Saturday consider this…. the time, the cost and the inconvenience you endured for this one Championship, they will endure 3 times this season. Worse still for the Lochalsh Junior Band.

    Your assertion that the Central Belt is the obvious choice for Major venues doesn’t carry much weight in the Highlands. Might I suggest Perth as a venue, good motorway links, a little less travelling from the Highlands & Islands or Aberdeenshire and only a little more inconvenience to south bands.

    While obviously it would be ideal that the best bands compete at all Majors, no-one should forget the legacy that has been created by the Forres Championships. There is a huge community involvement, the Championships are valued and it’s ongoing success as an event is a huge source of pride. A stark contrast to Paisley, despite the Councils’ best efforts.

    There are local bands competing who never considered competition before, they have become active members of Northern Area competitions as a result and their standard of playing has improved with every adjudication.

    So when Highland bands take to the field at Dumbarton or Glasgow remember, some will have been up since 3am to meet their buses, spent between 4 and 5.5 hours on the bus and paid in the region of £1000/£1200 to the bus Company for the pleasure of being there. Now tell me again about these poor central belt bands…………

    1. I agree that Perth would be a very good compromise venue Coreen but can’t applaud your comment re Paisley. The townsfolk there have every bit as much pride in their championship and the local council are rightly using it as a cornerstone of their City of Culture project. RW

      1. Those involved with organizing Paisley put in a huge amount of work and have done their best to improve it as an event but it wasn’t reflected in public attendance, even although it was free.
        On Saturday I met people not connected to any band who come from as far as Caithness and Sutherland just to visit the Championship. Yet in Paisley the event seemed to be lost on anyone not connected to a band.
        I believe you commented on the lack of atmosphere at Paisley after the event yourself?

    2. Perth or indeed Dundee wouldn’t be a logical location for a Major.

      In between the Central Belt and the North with good links to Ireland by air.

  4. Dear Mr Wallace,

    First of all, I join you in congratulating all the Highland bands that won prizes on Saturday – I have close friends in many of the bands and am delighted for them all.

    Secondly, while you raise many valid points, it is disappointing to once again read about same old ‘central belt bias’ that always seems to raise it’s head – why on earth should all majors be held there? Many bands, particularly those outwith the central belt, spend most of their year trying to raise enough funds to compete at these majors – most of which are in the central belt already.

    The fact that the European Championships was awarded to Forres was the tipping point for us a a band (Isle of Skye) to compete – something we had never done in our history. Why? Because it was ‘on our doorstep’ – this doorstep being a mere 140 miles away!
    We simply can not afford to travel up and down the road to the Glasgow area four or five times a year and the fact we had a major ‘up North’ was the ideal opportunity for us to try our hand.

    To hear how inconvenient it is to travel up the A9 for all these central bands is disheartening to all our youngsters in the Highlands & Islands. I’ve actually heard G1 players complain about having to travel north for a major – oh how the other half live eh?!

    Just look at the number of Highland bands competing at Forres (and Irish bands competing at the UK championships) – I personally think it’s great that many of these bands get the chance to aim for a major competition that isn’t going to cost the earth to attend.

    Food for thought for the RSPBA absolutely but come on, all the majors in and around Glasgow/Edinburgh – no thanks.

    Lastly, huge congratulations to all the committee and organisers involved with the Euros at Forres – a fantastic event with true Highland hospitality.

    All the best,


    PS – we got 4th in Forres (4B)

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