It is Time to Make a World Concert Pipe Band Championship a Reality

By Robert Wallace

Why don’t we have a World Concert Pipe Band Championship? Here’s an outline:

Each August the 12 finalists from the previous year’s Worlds come together at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow. Date is the Saturday after that year’s  Worlds proper.

The bands have prepared a ten minute set of music.

To their pipe and drum corps they can add a maximum of any five instruments from mainstream music: maybe keyboard, drum kit, bass, lead guitar and (just to keep it celtic) the Breton bombarde. Or they can add singers/ chorus. (Who will forget SFU’s piobaireachd at their Worlds Week concert few years back.) The music starts as the bands chooses (synth wash always works for a low-key intro but some may go for the overture approach); they finish as they choose, hopefully with an amazing climax of sound and intricacy.

They play in concert formation of course, not the ridiculous circle, with judges ranged in front comfortably seated.

Strathclyde Police on stage at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall….the top band’s today are well versed in concert staging

Judges are from the RSPBA, but with respected music critics drafted in: men or women with a solid music background but who have gone to the trouble of learning about the bagpipe and its modes and understand pipe bands and their percussion.

Parameters for adjudication: tone, technique, harmonisation, instrument compatibility, instrument balance, suitability of content. audience impact, enjoyment.

I can foresee logistical difficulties if there is not a slick on-off system as one band ends and the other prepares to come on stage, but with professional stage hands drafted in nothing insurmountable.



No dead air. Between performances keep the atmosphere alive with appropriate music on the auditorium’s sound system or via an MC who is  forbidden to comment on the bands but who tells good, clean jokes.

Tickets at circa £25 a skull would fly out the door. Venues at the SECC start at halls with a 3,000 capacity right up to the 13,000 seater SSE Hydro. Start small and see where it goes.

All 12 bands receive a proportion of the takings scaled down from first where the winning band should earn nothing less than £5,000 but probably more. Decent fees for adjudicators too.

Sell TV live streaming and recording rights. Get sponsors on board.

Would a WCPB Championship detract from Glasgow Green? Don’t think so. Would it take pipe bands to another level, open a new frontier: for sure. Would the public go for it? No doubt. Look at the viewing figures for the livestreaming of Grade 1 at the moment. Look at the audiences groups such as the Red Hot Chilli Pipers pull in.

There’s money to be made there folks and all it takes is a willing entrepreneur to pick it up and run with it. I don’t think there would be any problem at all in harnessing the bands. The top outfits are all seasoned hands at the concert stuff by now and there would be good money just for taking part.

No charge for all this from free to air Piping Press, just a gratis ad in the programme please.


3 thoughts on “It is Time to Make a World Concert Pipe Band Championship a Reality”

  1. Most of the top bands are in the UK and Ireland- why not trial it with the top six during the off season.Give the bands 15 minutes.There would have to be strict rules about change over (maybe use same drums keyboards etc also no tuning on stage) so that the audience isn’t bored rigid.

  2. For bagad championships such as Lorient, groups are allowed to add whatever instrumentation they like as long as it isn’t electronically amplified. This functions as an interesting creative limitation and helps keep things technically simple: no sound checks needed for each band earlier in the day, no potential tech issues like feedback, stage monitors too quiet or going out completely, etc. These issues are one thing in a concert, but, since it’s a competition, could you imagine the outrage if issues with the speakers/mics/monitors plagued one of the bands? Keeping it acoustic means there is no outside medium involved in creating the sound (no sound or tech folks needed) so if anything doesn’t go as planned, the pipe band can’t point fingers anywhere else but themselves.

    It keeps things relatively traditional: any group be it a folk ensemble, classical orchestra, chorus, etc. for hundreds of years has “amplified” instruments or voices primarily by just adding more of them, just like our pipe band model.

    It also keeps it realistic sounding: an amplified ceilidh band still sounds the same as four people playing together in the small room, just louder to project across a concert or dance hall. A pipe band with an amplified keyboard or fiddle, while interesting, could never really exist without amplification. To me, even though it might be trad instrumentation it seems unrealistic and non-trad. I’m not humbugging electronic amplification for pipe band concerts by any means, but I think in this competition-concert format it would be best to avoid it.

    Each bagad has to bring their own instruments, drums, etc. on and off stage in a short amount of time between performances and it works fine, with pipers helping to carry percussion.

    If we do go in for something like this in the pipe band world (we should!), I think we would be wise to take a lot of cues from Lorient where they have been doing this very successfully for decades.

  3. Yes, and make it a contest with creativity and originality weighted as much as technique. It will keep twelve renditions of Highland Wedding from mucking up the concertgoers’ enjoyment.

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