Tales from the Circle….A Pipe Band Adjudicator’s Reminiscences

Around 2004 there was concern among some members of the RSPBA Adjudicators’ Panel about the positioning of adjudicator tents.  The main concerns were about placing them in a position which would reduce the amount of time necessary to walk to and from the tent, and thus maximise the limited time available for completion of critique sheets. 

There were also concerns about more than one adjudicator being in each tent to avoid the possibility of collusion between adjudicators.  At that time any form of consultation between adjudicators was not allowed.  The matter had not been resolved by the time of the British Pipe Band Championships held in Turriff in June that year. 

By Alistair Aitken OBE

For that reason, when everyone arrived at the Turriff venue that morning, no adjudicator tents had been erected at any of the competition rings.  Negotiations between adjudicator representatives and RSPBA officials were necessary before the tents could be erected and, by the time these discussions were compete, the result was that the first competitions were around fifteen minutes late in starting.  All this resulted in extra pressure on the bands and the adjudicators before the competition even started.



At the World Championships that year a new system was tried for the Grade 1 arena, where all the adjudicator tents were positioned beyond the head of the competing circle.  I judged the Grade 1 Medley that day along with Harry McNulty and Bob Worrall on piping and Bob Shepherd on ensemble. 

It was before the current arena and main spectator stand were introduced.  At that time there was a curving tail into the Grade 1 arena by which the bands entered.  When the bands arrived at the starting line the drum corps was actually still in the narrower part of the tail and the drumming adjudicator had to squeeze past to get behind the corps for the start of the performance. 

It also meant that you were very close to some of the spectators who were not backward in telling you what to do.  The big problem, however, was that as the drumming adjudicator I had a much greater distance than any adjudicator to walk to my tent to complete my critique sheet and hand it to the RSPBA official. 

A non existent sight in 2020…judges judging and bands playing

When judging drumming I always at some point spent some time behind the pipers to assess the balance of the band sound with the drumming projecting through the pipes.  That day I did that more towards the end of each performance so that I had a shorter distance to walk to the tent to complete my critique sheet. 

The downside was that I then had a much longer walk (almost run!) back to the rear of the next band.  Thankfully these days the adjudicator tents at Major Championships are much more accessible.

I remember a similar situation at the European Championships at Alden Biesen Castle in 2003.  For the Grade 1 arena that day the starting line was actually in line with the spectator barriers, which meant that the drumming adjudicator was among the spectators when each band started, having to battle his way to get there. 

Alden Biesen Castle and grounds

I had an early finish that day as there were only three bands in the Grade 2 competition.  I helped the stewards try to hold back the spectators at either side of the Grade 1 competing bands as they approached the start line. 

When Field Marshal Montgomery started there was a very loud early ‘E’ from the pipe corps.  FMM sound man Frank Andrews, who was standing beside me laughingly said, ‘Did you hear that?’  My response was, ‘Not only did I hear it, I could tell you who it was!!’ 

The point of the example, however, is that the way the arena was set out for such a major event put added pressure on the bands and at least the drumming adjudicator.

  • To be concluded. Read the start of this series here.

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