Travelling the World as a Pipe Band Adjudicator

You may have read in my last instalment about my career and journeys as a drummer with the Edinburgh Police/ Lothian & Borders Police band. I was privileged to experience a much greater number of international assignments during my time as an RSPBA adjudicator.  The first competition I judged in Europe was at Swifterbant, near Amsterdam.  I was sent there on at least four occasions by Robert (Bob) Nichol, the former RSPBA Executive Officer. 

These competitions involved pipe bands from a number of European countries ranging from Grade 4 to Grade 2.  Among the more prominent pipe bands at the time were the City of Amsterdam and Beatrix from Belgium.  There were other pipe bands from the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. 

In my early adjudication years I also judged a competition in Hamburg, Germany, along with piping adjudicator Peter Snaddon QVRM.  The competition was won by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards band which was based in Germany at that time.  There was also a solo piping competition which included a competitor from East Germany.  He played a set of bagpipes which had been smuggled across the Berlin Wall for him, the story of which I wrote at the time for the RSPBA’s ‘Pipe Band’ magazine. 

I judged the Belgian Pipe Band Championships on around eight occasions.  The first time was in 1987 or 1988 at a place called Hengelhoef near Antwerp.  It was a form of holiday camp where all the bands and adjudicators stayed in chalets.  On that occasion my adjudicator colleagues were John Wilson, the late Harry McAleer and Joe Noble, and we all played in a form of recital on the Saturday evening after the pipe band competition.  My remaining visits to judge the same competition were when the venue became the prestigious Alden Biesen Castle, near the town of Bilzen. 

Originally the vision of Ludo Thijssen, former Pipe Major of the Antwerp & District Pipe Band, the event gradually expanded and developed into the international celtic music festival (The Scottish Weekend) which still takes place annually with its strong Scottish traditional music focus.  There was always a strong representation of pipe bands from European countries, including France.  A few Scottish, English and Northern Irish pipe bands also always managed to make the trip.  The Sunday of the weekend always featured solo piping and solo drumming competitions. 

I also officiated when Alden Biesen was the venue for the European Pipe Band Championships in 2003, in which eight Grade 1 bands participated.  This was the first and only time an RSPBA Major Championships has been held outwith the UK.  The normal Belgian Championships were held the following day and probably had their largest ever entry.  Harry McNulty and I stayed over for this competition also and we judged 22 bands in Grade 3 and 12 in Grade 2.

In 2008 I had my first trip to Switzerland to judge the contest at St Ursen, near Fribourg, along with Pipe Major Bob Shepherd MBE.  This competition, organised under the auspices of the Pipe Band Association of Switzerland, involved eight Swiss pipe bands – Glaronia Pipes and Drums, the Pipes and Drums of Lucerne Caledonians, the Pipes and Drums of Zurich, the Swiss Midland Pipe Band, the Swiss Highland Pipers, the City of Basel Pipe Band, the United Maniacs Scottish Pipes and Drums, and the Traditional Pipe Band of Lausanne. 

St Ursen

There were also solo piping and solo drumming competitions.  The journey there and back was an interesting experience as we travelled from Geneva by scenic train to and from Fribourg.  

I later judged again in Switzerland on two other occasions in 2011 and 2013, on both occasions at the Appowila Highland Games in the village of Abtwil, near St Gallen.  The pipe bands involved were mainly from Switzerland and included the City of Berne Pipe Band, the Pipes and Drums of Zurich, the Zurich Caledonia Pipe Band, the Swiss Midland Pipe Band, the Red Eagle Tyrolean Pipe Band, the Black Sheep Pipers, the Glaronia Pipes and Drums; but the Heildberg & District Pipe Band from Germany was also involved. 

Massed bands at Appowila

The local pipe band in the competition was the United Maniacs Scottish Pipes and Drums from St Gallen and virtually every part of their Highland dress, including kilts, had some form of the St Andrew’s Cross Scottish flag on it.  During the Games there were numerous piping and other musical displays on stage, including the Folk Group ‘Rapalje’ from the Netherlands – a group of musicians with wild hair and clad in medieval kilts singing traditional Scottish and Irish songs and playing a range of instruments, including bagpipes with flames coming out the drones. 

On the first occasion we flew Ryanair to an old Luftwaffe airfield in Germany.  We then travelled by car from Germany to Abtwil through Austria (without any EU customs problems!!).  On both occasions we were taken on interesting historical trips within St Gallen, including the impressive Abbey of Saint Gall cathedral.

In addition to my earlier judging trip to Hamburg I had two other judging assignments in Germany.  In 2010 I officiated at the contest at Machern, near Leipzig.  I flew to Berlin airport where I learned that we had to wait at the airport for six hours for piping adjudicator Malcolm MacKenzie and drum major adjudicator Jim Graham arriving from Glasgow.  When our driver learned that I had never been to Berlin before he decided to take me on a tour of the city rather than wait at the airport.  It proved to be a very interesting visit. 

A large crowd in a picturesque setting at Machern

Firstly the car we were in had a large photograph of a piper on either side from top to bottom making it very conspicuous.  It apparently was known as ‘Mr Schimmel’s special car’, Mr Schimmel being the promoter of the pipe band contest.  On entering Berlin we were stopped and booked by the German police for speeding.  It must have been the photograph of the piper! I was then taken to the Brandenburg Gate and the former Checkpoint Charlie, and also to various other places of historical World War and Cold War interest.

The actual contest field was within the grounds of Machern Castle which had been subject to very heavy rain a few days beforehand and for the first time ever I judged a pipe band contest on a field covered by straw.  The main competition involved a total of nine bands – Berlin Thistle Pipes & Drums, Odenwald Pipes & Drums, Teutonia Pipe Band, Osnabruck-Paderborn, Holbaek Pipe Band, Denmark, Heidelberg & District Pipes & Drums, Claymore Pipes & Drums, Munchen, Rhine Power Pipe Band, Rheinland, Crest of Gordon Pipe Band, Bremen, and Dunoon Argyll Pipe Band over from Scotland for the weekend.

I returned to the same contest in 2012 but on this occasion the venue was the village of Trebsen on the outskirts of Leipzig.  This time my colleagues were piping adjudicator Donald MacPhee and drum major adjudicator John Noble.  Claimed to be the largest Scottish event of its kind in Germany, the Highland Games on both occasions were organised by the Cultural Association in Machern (chaired by the already mentioned Scottish enthusiast, Mr Uwe Schimmel) in conjunction with the Bagpipe Association of Germany. 

Massed bands at Trebsen

The Games incorporated many traditional Scottish activities, including heavy events, sheep dogs and Highland cows, as well as pipe band, drum major, solo piping and solo drumming competitions.  There were also an outdoor stage featuring traditional Scottish and Irish musical groups; and a wide range of stalls selling a comprehensive range of Scottish goods.  Traditional Scottish and German food and drinks were available throughout the grounds.  An added attraction for visitors was the romantic English garden at Schloss Trebsen.

To conclude: The USA, Canada and New Zealand

2 thoughts on “Travelling the World as a Pipe Band Adjudicator

  1. Thank you! Reading this reminds me of my dad George Summors. I bet he would have had some stores to tell!

  2. Thanks Alistair for that !

    I am a former VHPBA and AFPBA piping adjudicator.

    Thanks for your notetaking and prodigious memory which has produced this memoir, now captured for us on the internet. Hopefully, you will also be able to print this, so that your memoirs can enter histories written archives.

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