Cowal, the Worlds, the Band Bus – Memoirs of a Piper’s Moll

By A Long Suffering Pipe Band Widow

As they say in the modern vernacular, ‘from the get go’, I have had a love/hate relationship with the world of piping. Looking back, I can remember fun times, interspersed with frustration and downright dislike of the whole fraternity. But as we get older we tend to remember more of the good things than the bad.

Firstly, I feel I must give a small resumé of my background before being thrust into the pipe band world.

I met my particular piper at the age of 20. Being the youngest of a family of seven siblings, six of whom were sisters, and a reasonably strict Presbyterian upbringing, I was ‘intrigued’ by my initial experiences in that strange new world. 

I admit, also, that I had never had much interaction with hordes of young boisterous men before, so meeting them was indeed a baptism of fire, and the greatest of these baptisms was on ‘the Band Bus’. 

With my particular band a competition day was a great family outing with wives, mothers, girlfriends, an occasional child, band secretaries and sometimes an erstwhile freeloader all on board. I guess you’d call us ‘the band groupies’.

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The seasoned mothers and wives usually took the younger band members’ girlfriends under their wings (and it was almost all females then as there were very few mixed-sex pipe bands in those days). The women mainly stayed together while the bandsmen practised and then competed.

We rarely went into the competition park being a combination of canny Scots and a bit skint. This was the late 60s early 70s so money was tight. But we could listen while they practised in the tuning park. We did venture into the arena area for the March Past and results, which was usually free at the bigger venues like Cowal or World Championships.

So what did the women do while their sons, fathers or husbands practised and played? Well this was where I had my first new experience. We partook of a very important aspect of the band bus outing, namely, a small libation. The men would have their crowded, noisy, claustrophobic beer tent while we did something different. 

The seasoned groupie would bring their particular tipple with their particular mixer in a lemonade bottle. They would share this with the younger groupies and we’d drink from the luxury of paper cups. We would huddle together having rather inane conversations, but in this atmosphere of camaraderie this mattered not a jot as we would laugh and joke and tittle-tattle away the few hours until our bandsmen had played. 

I’m not saying that we sat around all afternoon drinking. No! We would sometimes take a walk into the town and pop into a pub or cafe. This was my introduction into the conundrum of what to do….hour after hour….after hour….after hour awaiting the band’s turn to compete.

‘We did venture into the arena area for the March Past and results, which was usually free at the bigger venues…….

Cowal Games was the best! Alas now a mere shadow of its former glory. It was a very long day at Dunoon, leaving early morning and returning late in the evening. The atmosphere on the journey there was usually subdued and serious. There was the occasional chanter practice whilst en-route.

However, the return journey was somewhat different. Now stress-free and reinforced with a few drinks, the atmosphere was cheery and sometimes raucous. The band bus became a great source of entertainment. Pipers performed solos, all taking turns to show off their prowess with fingering jigs at the speed of light.

Somehow the back of the bus was the reserve of the younger unattached pipers and drummers. The more responsible sat at the front. The entertainment did not stop at piping for I was also introduced to the young bandsmen’s predilection to raucously belt out bawdy ballads, the innuendo in the lyrics far more unsubtle than any ‘Carry On’ film. But, in the idiom of the great comedian of old, Frankie Howard, they were ‘titter-some’.

I must inform you that my baptism on the band bus didn’t just teach about sneaky drinking and dubious songs – it also taught me a whole new vocabulary. Who would have thought that there were so many metaphors or inventive rhyming slang for the act of ‘needing the toilet’.

How often pipers and drummers needed to relieve themselves on a return journey was an education. Urgent yells would emanate from the back of the bus, and of course the emergency would be acknowledged by the driver. A quiet roadside and the clamour to evacuate bus and bladder would ensue. 

Arriving home and disembarking was like a military operation. Did they all have their own kit? Did they leave anything incriminating behind? Most of the time all was well and that band bus trip was over ‘till next time’. However, there was the occasional eejit who was ‘incapable’ of looking after himself and that’s when the female nurture role came into play.

So many fine memories of my pipe band life. So many lifelong friends and acquaintances, many of whom are long gone. That fleeting time of being young; of that short space of time in your life when you could be a little irresponsible. Memories of the first few years in my 55 years of being a piper’s moll.

All names are withheld to protect the guilty.

1 thought on “Cowal, the Worlds, the Band Bus – Memoirs of a Piper’s Moll

  1. I loved “the pipe band widow’s” story. It’s important to share such stories. When I wrote my book on the history of our band and piping in the Northwest US, I found too few still around to share their own stories; and hers is from a different perspective, which we can all appreciate. Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Michael

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