Editor’s Notebook: British and Cowal/ Band Displays/ Tune Plea/ Alan Watters and Donald MacLeod

Contrary to the impression given by RSPBA Chairman Kevin Reilly in last week’s story on the cancellation of the British Championships, the Association did not approach Cowal Gathering about the possible transfer of parts of the competition.

Mr Reilly was referring to an approach to an events company in the town who mentioned the use of ‘Cowal Stadium’. Cowal Gathering Chairman Malcolm Barclay has since contacted the RSPBA to clarify the position.

The Association Chief Executive Colin Mulhern has now issued the following statement: ‘The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association would like to address the statement in this article [by Mr Reilly] with the quotation ‘we were speaking to the organisers at Cowal only a week ago’. This wasn’t accurate. The RSPBA had a discussion with a local events company where Cowal Stadium was mentioned as a potential venue. We would like to apologise to Cowal Gathering for this confusion.’

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Still on the British, I’m with Allan Hamilton and other correspondents on the need for band’s to re-connect with the public and thus their local authorities. This from reader ‘Gordon’: ‘Lack of interest in smaller competitions from the Grade 1 bands (and with other grades following suit) who only attend the five majors has caught up with the RSPBA.

‘In previous years at smaller competitions, towns benefited from a healthy pipe band competition which usually ran hand in hand with the town’s gala day. Now with shortage of cash you can see why councils have adapted to other forms of entertainment.

‘The RSPBA should have made it mandatory that bands attended a certain number of non-major competitions within their branch as part of their membership. I’m thinking of Shotts, Lesmahagow, Ardrossan and Pitlochry to name a few that were well attended events in years gone by.’

I’ve been on about that for years Gordon. A simple solution to building interest. Another is dress. Everyone grumbles about No1s. Not the public. They loved to see bands in full regalia on parade, drummers swinging, drum majors throwing (see picture top). Take that away – which we have done – and is it any wonder interest is falling?

I am always reminded of the introduction of the music video. The positive effect on sales of recordings was instantaneous – the visual adding a new dimension to the music. That’s what full No1 dress gives the pipe band and we need to see more of it. What do we have these days? Shirt sleeve order with only the tenor sections adding anything worth watching to the pipe band display. So well done to the much-maligned girls and guys with the multi-coloured twirler sticks.

Tune Search

Reader Keith Morris: ‘Any chance you would have the sheet music for ‘We Will Remember Them’ I’ve copied a YouTube link of the New Zealand youth pipe band playing the tune. What an awesome tune, looking to get a copy of the sheet music. Thanks very much.’

Can anyone help Keith? His email is keith.morrison@KPProducts.com

P/M Donald MacLeod

Reader Walter Kruse in South Africa: ‘I read your article on Pipe Major Donald MacLeod and your invitation to comment. My tutor attended the P/M’s course as a fellow student with P/M MacLeod. He told me many stories about him. All started with: ‘Oh, P/M Donald MacLeod, he was about the height of that windowsill…‘ This was pre-WWII. My tutor, Alan Watters, would go on to become P/M of the Black Watch, I think 6th Batallion, during the war.

‘He also had many stories about the war. He was one of the pipers at the battle of El-Alamein and served most of his time in the desert. After the war, as was done at the time, he did a trade apprenticeship and became a book binder.

‘He then emigrated to South Africa and played a massive role in the establishment of piping here. He taught hundreds of school boys at the Christian Brothers College and at Pretoria Boys High School. He also played in, and was P/M of, the Pretoria Highlanders for years.

‘By the time he tutored me in 1994, he was 76 years old. He had a civilian tutor position in the South African Medical Service. As far as I know. I was his last student. His son, Roddy Watters has also been P/M of Pretoria Highlanders.

‘On my web page is a photo of the two of us, probably taken at his farewell in about 1996 (above). He was a great man, as you could imagine, and an excellent story teller.

‘One of the most memorable he told me was one Burns Night when during the ground of a piobaireachd his valve broke. He played all the parts of the piece while keeping pressure on the blowstick with his tongue. No one knew a thing. He also had many grim trench stories, such as a Lt. Molteno dying in his arms.

‘Pipey Watters passed in 1999. There’s more history here: https://www.pretoriahighlanders.co.za/history.html.’

5 thoughts on “Editor’s Notebook: British and Cowal/ Band Displays/ Tune Plea/ Alan Watters and Donald MacLeod

  1. At the risk of shouting into the wind on this, (or perhaps stating the obvious which has seemed to be ignored) if you want bands to do more parades then you’ll have to pay them. We may not “do this for the money” to quote the editor but one of the primary reasons top bands don’t compete/perform more is because of the availability of members due to having to do crazy things like work for a living. So to be expected to do additional performances for little or no compensation is frankly ridiculous. You wouldn’t ask any other musicians to do that. And playing in No. 1s? That’s a suggestion from people from a time gone past, and those who have the privilege of not actually having to pay for kitting a band out in clothing which only burdens performance. Happy piping to you all.

    1. I don’t think they were talking about parades, its non attendance at the other pipeband competitions, outwith the 5 majors, that bands used to attend and compete in that is leading to the demise or scaling back of a number of events and gatherings. As a former competing bandsman I don’t recall anyone in the band who didn’t work so that’s not really changed, the cost of taking a band on the road now however has, it is now expensively prohibitive to those that don’t have sponsorship so a trip to a major(s) may be the only outing they can afford to do. Next season the RSPBA will be looking for hosts/sponsors for 3 of the 5 majors which will be challenge to say the least based on what’s happened this year.

  2. Re dress, I’m sure the public loved seeing bands in no 1 dress but the only bands that could afford that now are bands with sponsors or an amazing fundraising committee

  3. Re, the RSPBA efforts to find a suitable venue for the “British”. I think it is completely disingenuous for RSPBA chairman Mr Reilly to have given the impression that the “Cowal option” had been competely investigated, when in fact it was merely some local small events company that had been contacted. One wonders about the veracity of the other “facts” in Mr Reilly’s statement about all other options having been fully investigated??
    I repeat my previous statement that the Cowal Gathering Committee has decades of experience in organising a major championship, which regularly attracted 30,000+ spectators, and which would be a popular choice with many bands in view of its historic and nostalgic background. It is an abrogation of its prime responsibility to organise 5 majors for the RSPBA not to have investigated this option.

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