The Split with Cowal and the Fight to Bring the Worlds to Glasgow

The World Pipe Band Championships, earns millions for the local economy and brings considerable prestige to the city of Glasgow. Today they can’t get enough of the Worlds. But it wasn’t aways so. In this article from 1948, the SPBA’s then Secretary, Mr RC Whitelaw, explains the schism with Cowal Gathering, the search for a new home for the Association’s first official World Pipe Band Championship and the difficulties he encountered, not least from the ‘dear, green, place’…..

Bowhill Colliery Pipe Band, Fife, winners of the first SPBA World Pipe Band Championship in 1947

ON a recent occasion when I tried to cross Renfield Street, Glasgow, I was obliged to wait until the traffic lights turned to green. While waiting, a tramcar stood broadside in front of me, and clearly implanted on the side of it was the Glasgow coat-of-arms containing the three words: ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’.

I read the words several times and finally asked myself a question: ‘I wonder who will be bold enough to come forward and let Glasgow flourish?’ I had good reasons for asking myself that question because I was then at my wits’ end in an effort to persuade the City Fathers to co-operate with the Scottish Pipe Band Association in an attempt to stage the World’s Pipe Band Championship Contest in Glasgow.

What a task that proved to be. You may well ask why should the Association depend upon the co-operation of any local authority? Why shouldn’t the Association conduct its own affairs? Such questions are perfectly logical, and certainly deserving of serious consideration. I shall, therefore, try to provide the answers.

Firstly, the Association has no fixed ground for such an important venture, nor has it the influence to obtain a good venue. Secondly, the Association is perfectly capable of conducting its own affairs, and although we ask the co-operation of the local authority we do so on the clear understanding that the local authority will be given a definite agreed percentage of the total gross profits from the gate receipts.

In the case of Glasgow the offer was 15 per cent. All we ask is their co-operation towards advertising and the provision of such necessities as platforms, marquees, and other amenities.

I know that many pipe band enthusiasts will have reason to complain about the inconveniences and mishaps which took place at Scotstoun Showground on 4th September, 1948. I also know that many will be inclined to blame the Association for such happenings, hence my reason for writing this article.

This is not an attempt to tell you a story with a view to covering up any misdeeds. On the contrary. The case I now submit can be substantiated by documentary evidence. Here. then, are the real facts.

Your are all well aware, I am sure, of the dispute which existed between the Cowal Highland Gathering and the Scottish Pipe Band Association, the history of which, lamentable as it may seem, would make a long story and. at this stage, serve no useful purpose.

Although I must refer, in part, to that dispute, I do so not with any feeling of vindictiveness but merely as a jumping-off ground in proving my case. I trust, therefore, that the Cowal Committee will view my remarks from that angle.

The winners of the Worlds in 1948, held at Scotstoun Showgrounds, Glasgow, were Shotts & Dykehead. Here they are four years later after winning the title at Ayr

The Association held rigidly, and rightly, as far as I am concerned, to certain matters of principle; while, on the other hand, the Cowal Committee fought equally hard to preserve tradition and maintain prestige. I should say here, however, that it was the original intention of the Association to hold the World’s Pipe Band Championship contest in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, on Saturday, 28th August, the same day as Cowal Highland Gathering at Dunoon.

As I proceed with this artide I shall try to prove to you why the Association was compelled to forego 28th August and and accept the following Saturday, 4th September. I have used the word ‘compelled’ and here is the reason for that decision. Let it be clearly understood, however that the Association was perfectly justified in originally fixing the big contest for 28th August because no promoter – and this includes the Cowal Committee – had applied for that date, and consequently it was looked upon as an open and suitable date for the World’s Championship.

However, due to the inability of the Association to obtain the use of the Scottish Rugby Union Grounds at Murrayfield, we were obliged to search elsewhere for a venue. Our thoughts turned to Glasgow, it being the Second City of the Empire and next in succession to Edinburgh, as far as Scotland is concerned.

Consequently, Glasgow was chosen. With that object in view, an application was made to the Town Clerk of Glasgow on 15th May, 1948, to solicit their co-operation and support on agreed terms. No reply was received to that letter until I telephoned the City Chambers on 28th May, and was then invited to call and meet the City Treasurer.

This I did on 31st May, and, in addition to meeting the City Treasurer, I was afforded a private interview with the Rt. Hon. The Lord Provost of Glasgow, Sir Hector McNeill (left). We discussed at length the proposals for co-operation and I sensed immediately that it would be quite impracticable to run the World’s Pipe Band Championship contest in Glasgow on the same day as Cowal Highland Gathering at Dunoon.

I was then, and still am, fully aware of the fact that his Lordship was an Hon. Vice-President of Cowal Highland Gathering. I was equally aware of the fact that Dunoon is on the River Clyde, and consequently the citizens of Glasgow have a soft side for it.

Undaunted, I continued to pursue my defence of the Association, and it was finally agreed that a further attempt to be made at reconciliation of the two parties in the dispute. Consequently, his Lordship suggested a joint meeting. I reported this latest development to my Executive Committee and it was agreed to accept the Lord Provost’s invitation.

The meeting was held in the City Chambers, Glasgow. on Thursday, 10th June, 1948. It was a memorable meeting and one which will go down in history as the saving of the Association from complete disruption.

His Lordship presided at the joint meeting, and although he is an Hon. Vice-President of Cowal Highland Gathering, I readily admit that his mediation was fair, unbiased and helpful. Nevertheless. we were compelled to change the date of the big contest to Saturday, 4th September.

Having agreed to this change, the Cowal Committee was again free to pursue its own demands on the Association as we had, by our decision that night, given them the unqualified reservation of Saturday, 28th August, for the Cowal Gathering.

‘It was a memorable meeting and one which will go down in history as the saving of the Association from complete disruption……

At the conclusion of this meeting, the Association President, Councillor Wm. Maclean, and myself, realised there might be a danger of the old demands reasserting themselves and the dispute continuing as bitterly as before.
There was only one answer to such a stage of affairs, namely, that the original dispute must be paled into insignificance; or, in other words, it must be forced into the background.

This was done by simply drawing the attention of all concerned away from the original issue and making something different the main item of the dispute. To put it softly, a ‘second front’ was opened. I shall continue shortly with this theme. Meanwhile, let me give a few more details of the joint meeting.

As a result of our joint deliberations a proposed agreement was drawn up, but before a final decision could be reached the Cowal Committee representatives required to report back to their main body. It should be understood of course, that any guarantee of co-operation and support from Glasgow Town Council to the Association was fully dependent on both sides ending the dispute by accepting the proposals drawn up at the joint meeting.

In short, the Cowal Committee had now got Saturday, 28th August, as a clear date and, with the prospects of a few more bands breaking away from the Association, they felt quite happy. Don’t forget, however, that both sides had to agree to the proposals. Such proposals did not mean a thing to the Cowal Committee: but they – the Cowal Committee – did know that unless they agreed to the proposals there was no hope of the Association getting any form of support from the [Glasgow] Town Council.

In fact, we would not even get a field for the contest. Having carefully weighed up the whole situation, can anyone say the opening up of a second front was unjustified. How was this strategic move arranged, and what were the reactions to it?

  • To be continued.

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