British Championships: Get Back to Basics to Re-Engage With the Public and Promoters

Bands on parade captivate the public and engage local authorities

Shock has been expressed at the loss of the first pipe band championship of the season 2023. Apparently this is due to the current lack of funds at local authority level, these authorities understandably reluctant /unable to commit funding to a pipe band competition when measured against other essential spending.

Parks for competition require preparation, safety barriers and signage. Staff costs for policing and clearing up afterwards are rocketing owing to increased wages and inflation.

By Allan Hamilton

While beautiful public parks, with their backdrop of grass and trees providing ambiance and shelter, are great to attend, it may be time to go back to basics and just get two big fields adjacent to one for parking and with easy access to a good road system and possibly public transport.

I remember going to Belgium years ago for a championship event. We flew into the hotel and bused to a field in the country, did the event and reversed back home via the hotel and plane back home. We didn’t see anything at all of Belgium. The event could have been held in a field in Ayrshire and saved quite a bit of money.

Can’t we cut back on frills, tents etc and prize money? Yes, this is all a bit spartan, but the most important thing is that bands get out in public and compete. Without a re-think Iā€™m afraid this cancellation of the British Championship will not be the last.

MacRaeBanner ’19
Ayrshire Bagpipes Nov 2020
shepherd banner ’22

Do we need to make our product more attractive to local authorities and the public? I was thinking back to the old competitions of the 50s and early 60s when just about every contest had a local parade of bands playing to and from the competition location. 

That provided a lot of fun for the local population who lined the streets and cheered. Shops, cafes and bars on the route benefited.  Hence the local authority could support the event; more especially if it could be held fairly centrally in the town giving local businesses the opportunity to sell their services and products.  

Bands had to learn and play marching tunes: 6/8s, 4/4s, wee 2/4s. Who can play these now to the decent standard heard 60 years ago?  

Which leads me to think on the attraction of Cowal and Bute Games. They had bands playing up and down long main streets which seemed to attract many more bands to take part and attend.

There is more to band playing than just practising a competition set or two. There is more to going straight to a park where the only public exposure is a competition set. Parades expose our art to the public who will then attend the event.

Band members and public will respond favourably to practising and playing the street marching tunes. For bands it provides a change from the competition sets at band practice.

In closing, a word for the RSPBA. Officials and volunteers are drawn from the membership. They work at it over many years. All bandsmen and women can attend branch and other meetings and put themselves forward for official positions. They will be made welcome.

It is good to take part with the object of improving the service. Scottish society – golf, bowling clubs, churches etc. – are bereft of volunteers. Event planning and execution collapses through lack of strength and energy owing to the small numbers and disposition of the few volunteers left.

Get help for your band from the RSPBA’s fund – click here

6 thoughts on “British Championships: Get Back to Basics to Re-Engage With the Public and Promoters

  1. Good Morning

    When can I find a list of towns where there will be pipe bands marching through towns in 2023?

    We have just moved to the Aberdeen area.

  2. Great reason to cap the size of competition bands to 12 pipers, 2 tenor, 1 bass and 4 snares. Save the combined bands for marching through town. Smaller bands will expand opportunities for rural players and games will be localized and supported. This has needed to happen for a decade or more.

  3. Great article Allan, a much needed discussion. Firstly I can’t agree with your back to basics suggestion, in this day and age that will not work. Taking a contest to two fields in the country will attract zero spectators, you must try to attract the general public to a great event and that won’t do it. In hindsight was it not a shame that you travelled all the way to Belgium and saw nothing of that beautiful country. Completely agree with your thoughts on street parades, they are so attractive for spectators, the biggest one here in NI was in Portrush and the parade was a bigger event than the contest, it was great for the community and for business. Marching tunes, couldn’t agree more, no harm to the big bands, but all the fancy high falutin tunes do nothing for the ordinary Joe, but you play Scotland the Brave and the Rowan tree and the crowd love it. When was the last time you heard FM playing tunes such as those, I would love to hear the best band in the world playing stuff that everyone knows. No doubt the RSPBA have a job on their hands because it appears to me that Covid could have dealt the piping scene a fatal blow. Time will tell

  4. Are pipe bands on the decline ?
    The Stirlingshire Branch one of the more active Branches in the RSPBA during the 1970/80s no longer exists due to lack of interest in local Bands playing an active role within the RSPBA

  5. Well said Allan. Unfortunately there are many bands that only have competition sets and a smattering of the same old massed band tunes as their whole repertoire. Hence struggle when required to entertain. I hope some bands will heed your well founded advice and endeavour to put together some further entertainment sets.

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