My first international playing experience was a trip to the inaugural Scottish Highland Games in San Diego, California, in 1974 with the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. The trip also involved the band playing at Disneyland and SeaWorld in San Diego, and in Tijuana in Mexico.
It was interesting to discover at that time that San Diego had a Cameron Highlanders Pipe Band which had existed since 1946 and that there was also a variety of other pipe bands from different parts of Southern California. These included the Los Angeles Police Department band and R P Blandford & Son (now Kevin R Blandford Memorial which I recall competing at the World Championships in Glasgow more recently).
By Alistair Aitken OBE
There was also a strong presence of Scottish expats and descendants, and the Highland Games followed the traditional pattern of such events in Scotland but with more emphasis on memorabilia of Scottish clans. Pipe band music was also very well received during the visits to Disneyland, SeaWorld and Tijuana. During the latter visit the band played at the local army base, the local authority and the Tijuana police department (where we even enjoyed a performance by a Tijuana Brass Ensemble). The San Diego Highland Games have continued annually ever since until they had to be cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
A trip to England in 1975 would hardly be classified personally as an international visit (although it might be by some!!). However, it was an international event and it was one of the highlights of my police pipe band career when we won the Grade 1 Worlds title at Corby.
We travelled down on the Friday and stayed in university accommodation in Leicester, where we prepared very well on the Saturday morning before travelled to the Corby arena. Although it was a long time ago, apart from the excitement of winning, I still have three particular memories of that day. When we marched from the competition circle, the voice of Pipe Major Archie Pinkman of Bilston Glen Pipe Band was heard clearly from the spectators shouting loudly, ‘Nobody will beat that‘. When we were stood down after marching off, George Lumsden, in his typical droll delivery, turned round and said ‘That was wizard‘.
When the results were announced later in the day, the voice of Archie Pinkman could again be clearly heard shouting, ‘I told you so‘. That did not mean we had won, however, as the results announcement even had its own degree of pressure as the winners were declared in reverse order from 6th place. After 2nd place was announced you had even more pressure knowing that you were either the winner or you were not even in the prize list!
I also enjoyed two trips with the police band to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, Canada. This involved Grade 1 bands (and some years alternating with Grade 2 bands) from the UK playing in an International Tattoo. There was a competition at the end of the week which also involved the top Canadian pipe bands, known as the Intercontinental Pipe Band Championships.
This was one of the early more prominent events during the 1970s which brought together pipe bands from the UK with bands from North America, and the massed pipe bands in the International Tattoo were an impressive demonstration of collective pipe band music. Another highlight of the CNE trips was the impressive march of the pipe bands in groups down Yonge Street to the stadium where the Tattoo was held, in very hot weather and in full No. 1 dress. Numerous other bands and historical military/pioneer corps type groups were also involved.
Another international trip with the police was to participate in an International Tattoo in Gothenburg in Sweden in 1977. Also involved in the Tattoo were the Gothenburg City Pipe Band and the Gothenburg Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, so a strong pipe band and Scottish tradition connection was also apparent in Sweden. During our free time we were also taken by ferry boat to Frederikshavn in Denmark where we had drinks in the oldest pub in Denmark before returning on the same ferry. Strangely the sea seemed calmer on the way back!
Towards the end of the 1970s I played with the band at the world renowned Salzburg classical music festival in Austria. It involved a number of public performances and parades as part of the annual festival and showcased pipe band music alongside other forms of music. Another highlight of the visit was playing in a mini band at a black-tie dinner in the prestigious Hohensalzburg Castle which overlooks the town.
The event was live on Austrian TV. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I missed later trips which the band had to the Berlin Tattoo and to France. I did, however, play at a Burns Supper in Majorca along with Pipe Major Colin Forbes around 1982. Mary Sandeman (aka Aneka, star of chart hit ‘Japanese Boy‘) was also involved in that event as well as members of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra.
Another engagement with Lothian and Borders Police Pipe Band which had an international dimension was a visit to Edinburgh Castle for the filming of the Johnnie Cash Christmas Show for USA television in 1981.
The programme was never shown in the UK. It was filmed within the Castle battlements and ended with the band playing out of Edinburgh Castle on to the esplanade on which the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place.
Next: Travels with my clipboard…on the road as an RSPBA adjudicator