Some Reflections on the World Pipe Band Championships 2022

The 2022 Worlds took place in unusually extreme heat.  I listened to most of Grade 1 from the spectator stand on both days, although was forced to leave the stand mid-afternoon each day when I could tolerate the heat no longer. The seats in the main stand are not what you would ever describe as comfortable either!

Perhaps it is due to my advancing years, but I cannot ever recall such weather at the Worlds, except possibly Corby in 1975.  Future years may tell us if it was global warming or just a freak of nature.  Whatever, the event attracted a large number of spectators to what ultimately proved to be a historical occasion. 

By Alistair Aitken OBE,
former RSPBA Adjudicator

Perhaps strangely, most of the spectators preferred to stand or sit around the competing band arenas.  The main stand was never more than a third full and we will probably never know if that was due to the sun or the high £30 ticket price imposed for the Saturday by Glasgow City Council’s commercial arm, Glasgow Life.  A packed stand on both days would have created much more of the normal ‘Worlds’ atmosphere for the performing bands.

The picture at the head of this article illustrates my point: half empty east stand and packed standing area to the right.

There is no doubt, however, that the event was a major success and a pleasure to attend after the depressing experience of two years plus of lockdown.  In reality it was the 73rd Worlds since the Championships were taken over by the RSPBA (then the Scottish Pipe Band Association) in 1947. 

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Had we not missed 2020 and 2021 it would have been the 75th – but statistically it was still the 75th anniversary.  It proved to be historic as the Grade 1 competition was won for the 13th time by Field Marshal Montgomery under the expert leadership of Pipe Major Richard Parkes MBE. 

Previously Richard had been on level terms with the equally historic Strathclyde Police band under Pipe Major Ian McLellan BEM.  Records, however, are there to be broken so hearty congratulations must go to Richard, Leading Drummer Keith Orr and the members of the band for achieving this milestone.  Ian McLellan, however, still holds the record of six successive wins between 1981 and 1986, and one wonders if that record will ever be broken.

As expected band entries this year were significantly down: travel and funding difficulties, some bands not yet back up and running to competition standards, continuing fears about covi, and, in the case of bands outwith the UK, possibly also fears that the event might be cancelled at short notice. 

Entries overall dropped to 146 compared to 195 in 2019 and 214 in 2018.  By my calculations the bands included 22 from seven different countries outwith the UK (compared to 42 from 10 different countries in 2019).  Well done to all of them for making the journey to Scotland in these difficult times. 

Taking into account qualifying heats in Grade 4B and the four separate Grade 1 competitions, the number of actual band performances totalled 170 – a tremendous organisational challenge for RSPBA staff, the officials in charge of the competing rings, the many volunteers involved in stewarding and compiling, the adjudicators and those involved from Glasgow Life.  Well done to all concerned.

Watch Field Marshal in action at the Worlds:

I have no intention of challenging the results.  Grade 1 was based on four separate competitions across Friday and Saturday.  With 16 different adjudicators involved across the four competitions it was probably inevitable that there would be differences of opinion as musical assessment can be very much a subjective process. 

Three firsts and a 10th in one of the Grade 1 competitions did, however, seem rather extreme.  Suffice it to say that I thought the best band came out on top with a quality of playing and collective sound which was unsurpassed on the day. 

All 14 bands, however, played to very high standards, which made the competition as keen and challenging as it should be.  The other placings in the top six were for me a fair reflection of the performances, albeit that there were some other differences in the adjudicator rankings across the four competitions.

Finally I must mention that the Worlds represented the final Championships under the direction of RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton before his much delayed retirement.  I worked closely with Ian throughout his 20+ years with the RSPBA so I am well aware of the major contribution he has made to the Association.  I wish Ian a happy and healthy retirement and similarly wish Colin Mulhern well in his role as Ian’s successor.

  • To follow: ‘General observations regarding the bands which played in the main arena over two days’.

1 thought on “Some Reflections on the World Pipe Band Championships 2022

  1. Regarding crowd noise, at the North American Championships in Maxville, Ont. Canada this year, as each band was coming to the line, after they were introduced, the announcer also asked the crowd to sit back and listen quietly. That seemed to work well.

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