Readers React to British Pipe Band Championships Blow

As the RSPBA settles the distribution of British Championship graded contests to minor events, Piping Press readers have had their say on yesterday’s announcement that there would be no single-venue championship this summer.

One reader, who signed himself ‘David’, responded to the Editor’s suggestion that Cowal should be involved in said re-distribution. He wrote: ‘Those of us who were around when the announcement was made that Cowal would no longer be a major contest remember that momentous day well.   

‘Bands were weeping with joy to discover that they no longer had to flog over the water to be treated like second class citizens by the organisers – except of course on the charging front, where bands and band members were royally fleeced at every opportunity.

‘And who could forget the lingering joys of fighting your way down the road to the buses through hordes of locals, dodging the beer cans while trying to play a tune at the same time. A far cry from the Cowal of 20 years before when we actually felt welcome and enjoyed going there to take part. On that basis, yes, an RSPBA major and Cowal might not be a bad match.’

To remind readers of the glory days of Cowal check out the picture (top) of the ‘March of 1000 Pipers’ taken there in 1926. And here is a letter to PP from 2016, the year it was announced that Cowal was to lose ‘Championship’ status:

‘Sir, I would like to say that having been born and brought up in Dunoon and been to many a Cowal Games, I was disgusted that the Grade 1 status was removed. Cowal is one off the oldest and most famous of all the gatherings and I remember as a child scrambling to get a name banner to march up and down the town with a band. The hairs on the back of the neck stood up and nothing but pride was felt.

‘Having been born and brought up in Dunoon and been to many a Cowal Games, I was disgusted that the Grade 1 status was removed…….’

Robert Hartley

‘One can only imagine the same pride all those band members felt with the roars and cheers going on through the town. It’s a great pity and a loss especially to the junior bands that will never march with the Grade 1 bands in this parade. What a boost it was to those smaller bands. I look back to the days of Rose Fletcher, Glasgow City Police and hundreds more. Indeed a very sad day and I hope you with your poll can salvage something. Regards, Robert Hartley.’

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Back to yesterday’s comments:

Chris Pollock: ‘Make the Friday contest at the Worlds double as the British Championships for the Grade One bands and have all the other grades play twice on a given day, spread across the other Majors. Problem sorted.’

Ian Forbes: ‘One comment which the current RSPBA directors may not be aware of to add to the interesting suggestion of hiring a park for one or more grades of the British Championship.

‘In the early 1970s (1970 or 1971 I think), and this was in the days before ‘big sponsorship’, the then SPBA hired Queen’s Park in Glasgow to run a stand-alone Grade 1 competition, around the bandstand end of the park.

‘It was a highly successful event with excellent attendance from Grade 1 bands and spectators alike. For some reason, it was never repeated. Perhaps this could serve as a template for this year’s reconfiguration of the ‘British’.

‘I recall the day in Queen’s Park well because of an amusing incident involving the Glasgow Police Pipe Band (the Polis). Pipe Major Ronnie Lawrie discovered during tune-up that his bass drone had stopped, and needed some attention.

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‘Unfortunately, the stock joint was stuck, and big Ronnie was fearful of it snapping if too much effort was applied. After repeated attempts it took four pipers (two holding the bass drone stock and two holding the lower bass pin) to eventually twist it free, before the reed was given the necessary attention.’

The Editor writes: Re ‘David’s’ letter, I accept that things were difficult at Cowal before the RSPBA pulled the plug. There would need to be a change in approach from the authorities in Dunoon where most definitely the bands were, latterly, seen as second class contributors to the old gathering.

‘But times move on and perhaps these same authorities now realise what they have lost in the absence of most the world’s top pipe bands.

‘Turning to Queen’s Park, I remember playing in the contest and, as Ian says, it was a very successful event with a good crowd and most of Grade 1 in full No1 dress in attendance. I have an abiding memory of the Shotts band as they marched to the arena. They were playing new plastic chanters and their sound blew everyone away. We were all playing for second that day.’

5 thoughts on “Readers React to British Pipe Band Championships Blow

  1. The RSPBA has no money to fund the competition themselves as they spent all the reserve money on HQ which is unavailable for use to any members outwith office hours.
    What a result !
    Not !!!

  2. Allan
    The amount of money sought by the RSPBA is frightening- if my source at Inverclyde Council is accurate !

    1. Agreed, the Scottish government have held councils to ransom for years and now the chickens come home to roost.

      Watch as more championships will fall because underfunding of local government means these games are not viable and in the interest of local authorities who are struggling to provide vital services let alone pipe band championships.

  3. It’s my opinion that that the RSPBA board should be held totally accountable for this happening. Their responsibility is to the organisation. Their part is to organise these majors. These things should be well organised in advance. I don’t know the cost of these events; are they looking for to much from the cities/towns who put forward their names? Allan Sutherland.

  4. Reading ‘David’s’ comment about bands weeping with joy realising they wouldn’t have to flog over the water to Cowal, I wonder how his band felt about having to flog over an even larger expanse of water to the UK Championship which the RSPBA replaced Cowal with, along with more expensive ferry costs and the expense of an overnight stay in Ulster? Be careful what you wish for as you might actually get it. I noticed looking at the entries for the UK Championship a lot of Scottish bands didn’t enter, maybe they didn’t fancy flogging across the Irish Sea.

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