The Scottish Piping Society of London held their Annual General meeting on Saturday 7th December at ‘The Mudlark’ pub adjacent to London Bridge and elected Mike Fitzhenry as the new President. (Mike is pictured above after winning the Gold Lochaber Axe for piobaireachd at Fort William in 2015.)
Attendance at the AGM however was very disappointing with only six members attending in person and retiring society President Andrew Hall participating by video call.
Whilst attendances at this meeting have never been large, this is the lowest number I can recall. The reasons are unknown but possibly the move in timetable from the traditional June date in recent years to December has caused clashes in the diary with Christmas events.
Added to this is the fact that few society members actually reside in London itself and for some, like myself who commute into central London five days each week, the thought of breaking the weekend and making the journey again on a dark and cold winter evening is not appealing.
However, the fact that the society is now in its 88th year and continues to successfully run one of the ‘big three’ solo piping competitions is an achievement in itself.
Canadian piper Mike Fitzhenry, now resident in London, was elected to the role of President with Andrew Hall moving into the position of Vice President and retaining the Treasurer’s role as well.
Alison Gilmour is thankfully to continue as the Society’s secretary, having successfully run the Annual Competition for the past couple of years and seamlessly managed the transition of this event from Kensington Conference Centre (its home of some 15 years) to this year’s venue at London’s Caledonian Club in Belgravia.
Other committee members, elected in their absence having previously notified their agreement to stand, were Billy Wardrope, Steven Cussen, Fraser Stewart (current Pipe Major of the City of London Pipe Band), Stef Supranowicz and Len Durham.
In recent years, the SPSL has seen reasonably regular changes of presidency with Mike being the fifth incumbent in the past 15 years. Previously, a similar number of individuals filled the role for over fifty years with James Campbell holding the post for a dozen of these and Allan Beaton for a record 21 years.
It was indicated that the move of the annual London Competition to the Caledonian Club had saved approximately £6000 in venue hire costs thus improving the sustainability of the event.
Feedback received from competitors, audience and judges on the new venue was overwhelmingly positive and the society is seeking to build upon the relationship with the Caledonian Club in the future. It was reported that the William Grant Trust will continue to provide similar levels of financial support for the event in 2020 to that received in 2019 (£10,000). Other significant donors acknowledged in the Treasurer’s report were the Piobaireachd Society, the Highland Society of London and Barclays Bank.
An hiatus in the engraving of winners’ names of the society’s trophies has now been rectified. Due to the value and irreplaceable nature of a number of these trophies, the society has not allowed winners to take them away in recent years and it is recognised that the recording of the victors’ names is an important aspect of permanently recognising their achievements.
I understand that the society is now seeking a location to place these trophies on permanent display rather than their only seeing the light of day at the Annual Competition whilst being kept in storage for the remainder of the year.
Concerns were raised from the floor that the society had significantly reduced opportunities for members to actively participate in events in recent years. The committee acknowledged that the focus of the last two years had been on revision of the format of the annual competition and during this period other activity which the society has historically undertaken (recitals, monthly meetings, running local and members competitions) had reduced.
It is the incoming President’s intention to engage with the membership and wider piping community in southern England, to assess the feasibility of resuming these activities.
The society has some eighty annual and life members but unfortunately far fewer are active in the piping scene, either in London or elsewhere. These are much changed days from when I joined the society some 40 years ago when monthly meetings were regularly attended by fifty or so pipers and supporters.
The appearance of a premier piper such as Iain MacFadyen, John D Burgess, or Pipe Major Angus MacDonald as a recitalist would see these numbers almost double. Whilst it is unlikely that such ‘glory days’ will return it is encouraging to hear that the committee is actively seeking ways to reinvigorate piping in the capital.