History of the World Pipe Band Championships – Part 1

We are grateful to correspondent Alistair Aitken for this updated history of the World Pipe Band Championship…….

The World Pipe Band Championships (WPBC) is the main event in the annual calendar of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA).  The Championships have a long history stretching back to 1906, but were not organised by the RSPBA (then SPBA) until 1947. 

Initially the Championships were part of the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Argyll. 

By Alistair Aitken OBE,
former RSPBA Adjudicator

The very interesting picture above is of the MacLean Pipe Band, Pipe Major Willie Sloan. They were winners of the ‘Cowal’ Worlds in 1927, 28 and 35.

It may be considered a little ironic that P/M Sloan, was one of the founders of the Scottish Pipe Band Association, the Association which effectively, in years to come, took the World Championship away from Cowal

Since 1947 the Worlds have been held in various UK locations but in recent years the venue has always been held in Glasgow Green, in Glasgow, organised by the RSPBA in conjunction with the City of Glasgow Council and its commercial arm, Glasgow Life. 

In normal times the event can attract up to 230-240 individual pipe bands, approximately 60 of which can be from countries outwith the UK, reflecting the world-wide interest in Scotland’s national music.

The Grade 1 Finals, the premier competition, are filmed by BBC Scotland and are also now streamed world-wide live over the internet.  It is estimated that overall the WPBC contribute at least £20 million to the Glasgow economy each year. 

That figure is likely to be higher Scotland-wide as many of the overseas pipe bands and their followers take the opportunity to extend their stay to visit other parts of the country.  Apart from the hospitality sector, many other Scottish businesses also benefit such as manufacturers of bagpipes, and highland dress and equipment suppliers.


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The Cowal Highland Gathering

The first Cowal Games were held in Dunoon, Argyll in 1894, attracting fewer than 2,000 spectators.  The Games were primarily about athletic and traditional highland “heavy” events. 

By 1901 they had attracted attendances of 5,000 and also overseas participants.  By 1946 attendances had reached 28,000 and have since reached even higher levels.

Pipe band competition was first introduced to Cowal Games in 1906.  The Argyll Shield for the winning Grade 1 pipe band was donated by Her Royal Highness The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. 

Between 1906 and 1946 the Grade 1 competition was recognised as the World Pipe Band Championships.  The competition was held annually, except for the World War 1 years between 1914 and 1918; and World War 2 years between 1940 and 1945.

The winners between 1906 and 1946 were:

The Worlds winning Clan MacRae Society PB in 1932. In the centre is the Argyll Shield for ‘Open’ pipe band competition at Cowal, considered then the World Pipe Band Championship. Atop the Argyll Shield is the Inverkeithing Shield. To the left of the Argyll as we look at the picture is the Dunira Shield from Comrie Highland Games which at that time had a thriving band competition. On the other side of the Argyll is the Markinch Shield. P/M John Nicol is seated between the Argyll and the Markinch
  • To be continued.
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