By Robert Wallace
I remember the day well. It was Aberdeen 1970. The Worlds. Shotts first Muirheads second in Grade 1. Apart from Shotts’ big win (Hills of Alva or Peter MacKenzie Warren set?) what was significant was that they had done so playing a medley, not an MSR.
The conspiracy theorists back then said John MacAllister had worked his magic with the RSPBA to get them to change the playing format away from the MSR. Five years of Muirhead’s dominance of the genre had to be broken and his home band, brother Tom and Alex Duthart, were just the boys to do it. Whether you believe that or not, Tom and Alex’s Shotts band was a magnificent outfit and deserved any and all the success that came their way.
The medley has been with us ever since, for 50 years, and it has been a success. In combo with the MSR if throws up a worthy world champion every year. True the MSR has suffered. No one plays them the way they should, well certainly not at the bottom of the grade.
The medley has also given birth to a distinct genre of music, music that is distinctly pipe band, not pipe. Try it solo and it does not work. It has also led to the demise of cut and dot playing, a special skill that requires a far higher level of control and dexterity than the straight-line, round style stuff – hence the difficulties with the MSR.
Recognising this deficit, I’ve heard that the World Solo Drumming now has separate sections for ‘pointed’ and for ‘round’ hornpipes. Maybe the bands should do something similar and insist on at least one of the former in each medley.
Pipe band change moves at glacial speed. Five decades since the introduction of the medley the thing has not really developed in any fundamental way. Is it not time it did? If the music has changed why not change the musicians too?
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Why do medley bands march in with a three-pace roll? Why do they still play in a circle? Is it not time to loosen up the definition of what exactly a pipe band is? Why can’t we be like the Bretons? Could we not take everything to the next level by allowing bands to incorporate two or three other musicians of their choice?
With the MSR firmly in place (get bands to change them every other year for interest) and very definitely on equal points, we have another section for the Worlds. We drop the Medley name and have a Concert section instead. Each band is given a ten minute spot to set up as they like in a covered canopy facing the crowd and a bank of judges. They do their stuff playing what they like.
How the Bretons do it….
If they get into un-Scottish, ‘We Will Rock You’ territory, judges can mark them down accordingly. But think of the scope for the music the addition of a keyboard or guitar or some interesting percussion would bring. Like seconds, judges could condemn overuse and the same if the drones were too often drowned out through lack of sensitivity for the pipe corps.
And don’t throw up the spoiler that our judges would not be able to handle it. I have yet to speak to one who is not interested in other branches of music from Bach canatatas to Frank Sinatra. They could handle the added dimension in their sleep.
The crowds? You’re right, standing room only. TV ratings would soar. What’s not to like in any of this? All it takes is a little off-centre thinking by the Music Board and Adjudicators.
Half a century after Shotts’ historic win it is surely time for change.