By Robert Wallace
There were a few points I missed in my ‘nightmare scenario’ comments last week. The first is the plight of our bagpipe making/ Highland supplies industry. Orders are slowing. Without pipe band competition, and to a lesser extent solo contests, the future does not look good.
The blow to these companies is being offset at the moment by the UK government’s furlough scheme which guarantees 80% of wages for ‘stay at home’ employees – and there is other financial assistance. But it can’t go on for ever. Couple of months more at most.
So don’t scrimp on your spending with our super manufacturers – especially the ones who advertise in this magazine and keep it free for everyone to enjoy. Like you I didn’t spend a lot during lockdown, so if you’ve any spare cash why not treat yourself to that new set of pipes, chanter, kilt, set of reeds.
Yesterday we heard the news that Glasgow Life, the local authority business which sponsors the Worlds, is facing a £12m loss in revenue with hundreds of jobs threatened unless they get a substantial cash injection from the government. I hope they do but whatever happen I am sure someone else would step in to run Glasgow Green if they go under.
Then we can take the RSPBA themselves. Despite their fiscal propriety, could the organisation survive another blank season in 2021? The major championships are worth £500,000+ a year to them. The answer is of course they could, but income to pay for running costs and salaries would have to come from somewhere else.
All the science points to Covid-19 and its derivatives being with us for the rest of time. It is something we will have to learn to live with. An effective vaccine may be a year away but might never happen. The piping and pipe band worlds cannot simply sit around for another 12 months hoping for the best and waiting for the latest words of ‘wisdom’ from our politicians.
I say again: we need a work around, a plan B, a new approach, so that if we cannot do as we did before then we at least can put on some form of competition within a performace system that complies with all safety rules but allows us to put brogues on the grass.
It will be a real shame if 12 months hence there are still travel restrictions affecting overseas players and they cannot join us there, but that should not be a reason for ceasing all pipe band events here in the UK next summer.
There is hope. Look at the bagad concert being staged in Brittany in lieu of the Lorient Festival. Half a dozen bands will perform in an early evening stadium show on August 8. Social distancing in the crowd between family groups; masks compulsory; outdoors. The council and government are in agreement. And I’m told there was an outdoor parade of pipers in Germany last week, again with local authority approval.
Turning to the indoor solos, yesterday we read of the practice chanter only contest in Ayshire; a start. Currently West End Theatres in London are experimenting with distanced audiences well back from the aerosol spray of voice projecting actors.
Let’s apply that approach to say, Eden Court Theatre for the Northern Meeting. The audience is never huge anyway, so separated seating in the main hall should not be a problem. The pipers are a good bit away from the listeners and the judges. Provided there is no crush at entry could there be any reason why this great contest can’t go ahead next year? The smaller rooms at Eden Court might be a problem right enough. But then a change of venue becomes a must. Gold Medal here, Silver Medal there; the show goes on; we do what ever is necessary to make it so.
The Uist & Barra in March: The audience crammed into the old College building in Otago Street makes for a great atmosphere but is the ideal mix for cross contamination. The U&B should decide now to move to the NPC at McPhater Street where there is more space and social distancing can be maintained. Less of a problem if audience numbers are capped.
As for the Highland games, promoters need to make a commitment that their piping contests will go ahead in 2021. All that’s needed is a field a board and a couple of chairs for the judges. Pipers are sensible people. They’ll stay apart and wear masks if required.
We need a ‘can do’ not a ‘can don’t’ attitude here in Scotland. We musn’t stand idly by and allow our great traditions to fester and falter. We are not ‘all doomed’ as the great John Laurie used to tell us in ‘Dad’s Army’, but we do need to learn to live with the situation we find ourselves in. Adapt, adapt, adapt.