I have been to a good number of poorly organised Highland games piping competitions in the past, however the experience at Perth this year was nothing short of shambolic. Unfortunately, due to the dreadful weather, there were a large number of call-offs which turned the event into a free-for-all from the outset.
While the order in the Piobaireachd events (particularly the B Grade) had slightly more structure, the light music (LM) was extremely sporadic. There were two LM heats with around 25 entered in each. Moving to an ad-hoc basis meant a lot of waiting for the judges, who I sympathised with especially on such a miserable day, however some order should still have been maintained, perhaps the stewards’ having an awareness of the next two to three players going on for example.
All the stewards appeared to be new to the role but seemed to lose interest early on. There was the added challenge that the competitor’s individual numbers, usually pinned to the kilt, were not visible due to wearing of capes and other rainwear. However we did try to assist in pointing out fellow competitors wherever possible. One appreciates that these individuals have most likely given up their free time to act as volunteers however their inexperience showed on this occasion. Given the competition was run under the remit of the Competing Pipers’ Association, it would have nice to see them providing some support and guidance in this area.
I had a late draw for the Light Music (Heat 1) but, as was the process on the day, I proceeded to try to go on earlier. I attempted this no less than three times. However every time I was geared up to go on someone else came out of the woodwork and beat me to it. Given the weather conditions, I decided the pipes would be better off back in the box until later.
We were then informed that the judges would be stopping at 1pm for a one-hour lunch break. I did wonder how far through the competition they would be at this point, but I was speaking to a colleague at the time who still had to play, so felt confident the competition would resume after lunch.
Alas, this turned out not to be the case. Finalists had already been established from those that had played and the heats were deemed complete. The names were posted on the board for all to see. Incidentally, four names had been provided by the bench for Heat 1 (for each event) and five names had been provided by the bench for Heat 2. This imbalance was however addressed with the additional qualifier from Heat 2 being dropped.
There was obvious disappointment from those affected by not being allowed to play. I am aware of at least three other individuals affected and, while all of us had travelled some distance, one had come all the way from Canada to play at his first Highland games in Scotland. All individuals had registered on arrival therefore the organisers were aware of our presence and many of us were congregated at the excellent piper’s marquee which provided some much welcome shelter from the elements.
I would estimate that approximately 50% of the registered players were not present on the day. Given the reduction in numbers, one could question whether there was even a need to have heats. However, this was perhaps difficult to determine at the start of the day as players with a later draw may have turned up later. It would be interesting to know what the balance of the heats was as well and whether one heat outweighed the other; a moot point now perhaps, however something that the organisers should be cognizant of.
A refund has been promised by the organisers however I will certainly think twice before attending next year. It would may have been wiser to remain at home, especially after a long, tiring week piping! This has been a well-run competition in the past so let’s hope this year was just a blip!
• Perth Games moved out of the town this year for the first time to the splendid grounds of nearby Scone Palace, home of the Earl of Mansfield. Results from Perth here. Please comment below.