Reflections on the 2019 World Pipe Band Championships – Part 1

Having sat through all the Grade 1 performances at the World Pipe Band Championships (WPBC) this year on both Friday and Saturday, I have prepared my summary in three separate sections – general comments about the event, thoughts on the Grade 1 medley performances, and some observations about the revised two-day format for Grade 1. 

I should make it clear from the outset that I was sitting in the main stand on both days in different places and fully appreciate that my views will be different from those of others.  I am also conscious that some of my thoughts on other aspects of the WPBC may also attract criticism as there are always widely different views about how the event is adjudicated and organised.

By Alistair Aitken OBE

General Comments: Firstly I must congratulate Stuart Liddell and Steven McWhirter and the players of Inveraray and District [pictured celebrating, top] on becoming Grade 1 World Pipe Band Champions for the second time – a remarkable achievement for a band which has worked its way up through the grades over a fairly short period of time. 

Commiserations to Richard Parkes MBE and his Field Marshal Montgomery players in losing out marginally by just two placing points to achieving a historic 13th win for the band. 

Stuart Liddell with the 2019 Worlds trophy

I am sure Richard will remain motivated to continuing to strive to achieve that goal.  Congratulations also to Stephen Creighton and the drum corps of St Laurence O’Toole on again winning the Best Drum Corps prize.

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The revised two-day format for Grade 1 pipe bands presented a major challenge to the bands.  On one hand it allowed all of them to compete without qualifying heats. Previously this resulted in some bands finding that their competition ended on the Friday after overcoming many challenges to even get to Glasgow Green. 

L/D Stephen Creighton of St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band from Dublin, the 2019 World Drum Corps Champions

On the other hand, having to play in four separate competitions during Friday and Saturday, and also cope with the often horrendous conditions, was a major test of commitment and consistency.  Throughout the two days the weather varied to extremes as did the temperature, which must have played havoc with tuning.  If only the WPBC could be held under cover in some way. 

It probably could be for Grade 1 pipe bands, perhaps in a venue like the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall or SECC but it would be impossible to involve all the other grades of bands who, remember, are also RSPBA members. 

Commiserations to P/M Richard Parkes MBE pictured here at the 2019 Worlds

One possibility might be to revert to having the event earlier in the year when the weather in Scotland is normally better, but even that would provide no guarantee as I can recall even worse conditions in the days when the WPBC were held in places like Lanark and Aberdeen.

It was disappointing that band entries this year dropped to 195 compared to 214 last year.  By my calculations the bands included 42 from 10 different countries outwith the UK. Overall, however, the number of actual band performances totalled 274 over the two days after taking into account qualifying heats in some of the lower grades. 

Get help for your band from the RSPBA’s fund – click here

All of this (involving nine separate competing areas) represented a tremendous organisational challenge, so congratulations must also go to RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton and his small group of staff, the officials in charge of the competing rings, the many volunteers involved in stewarding and compiling, the adjudicators and those involved at Glasgow City Council and its promotions arm, Glasgow Life.

The spectators in the main stand this year experienced some problems in listening to the bands.  In Section C spectators had to cope with a constant droning from a generator engine running behind the stand. 

Chief Executive Ian Embelton at this year’s Worlds….he and his team deserve praise

Initially some of us also thought that the distance from the starting line for the bands to the competing circle was too short.  I checked this out and it was the required 14 metres from the starting line to the centre of the inner competing circle. 

The competing circle, however, should really have been much closer to Section A of the main stand (i.e. the area facing the bands as they start their march-up).  Spectators in Section A were seated too far away from the bands to hear the performances clearly and the fact that there was a prevailing wind and sounds coming from other competition rings on the Saturday added to that problem. 

The stand to the left, Section A, was too far away from the competing circle

As I have argued on numerous occasions before I would still also prefer to have the adjudicators seated on a raised platform at the head of the performing circle so that they can all make their assessments based on hearing the same sound projection from the bands.

It was also evident that the band circle measurements may also have become outdated due to the size of the top pipe bands.  The inner circle is intended for the players and the outer circle for the adjudicators so that they can be at least three metres back from the players. 

Bands played too close to the outer cicle

In most cases the bands were formed much nearer, or on, the outer circle due to the numbers of players, leaving no guide for the adjudicators to maintain their required distance.

  • In his next instalment Mr Aitken, a former RSPBA adjudicator looks at the Grade 1 Medley at the 2019 Worlds.
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