History: Cowal Gathering Programme from 1947 Reflects SPBA Dispute

I have recently acquired a copy of the Cowal Highland Gathering programme from 1947, writes Trevor Clydesdale.

The dispute between the Gathering’s organisers and the then Scottish Pipe Band Association was in full flow and it is interesting to note that no band names for the Cowal World Championship were shown in the programme.

Presumably this may have been due to the uncertainty over entries with threats of bans for bands that entered for the Cowal ‘World Championship’, and perhaps bands leaving it late before deciding to compete?

The programme however does include a four page insert which lists other band entries. Only eleven bands entered with six competing for the ‘World Championship’.

The rules for the contest state that all judging will be done ‘under cover’. The order of play would be decided by ballot on the field with the contest beginning at 2.15pm.

A ‘Band Board’ would carry numbers which would tell spectators and listeners, on reference to their programme, the band playing and their tunes.

Entry to the park was to be by the pathway east of the main stand and there was to be no tuning on the park. Bands had to be standing-by ready for Massed Bands BEFORE the band in the circle finished playing. They were then to parade collectively for the prize giving.

Glasgow Police at Cowal in 1950

The rules go on: ‘On the awards being announced, Pipe Majors of the winning bands will step to the front to receive their trophies which will be presented by Lady MacNeill, wife of Sir Hector MacNeill, Lord Provoist of the city of Glasgow.’

The row with the Cowal committee over the ‘Worlds’ in 1947 meant two World Championships took place that year with Bowhill Colliery, P/M Chris Sutherland, winning the SPBA’s version at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, and Glasgow Police under P/M John MacDonald, South Uist, winning at Cowal. 

A defiant Glasgow Chief Constable had decided that his band would compete at Cowal as they had done for many years, ignoring the SPBA edict that any bands competing would be blacklisted. The fact that the city’s Lord Provost was the Chieftain probably influenced their decision too.

It was not until the following year, 1948, that things got sorted out with Cowal becoming a separate RSPBA ‘major’ alongside the Worlds, British, Scottish and European Championships.

Cowal Champions City of Edinburgh Police, P/M Iain McLeod, with the magnificent Argyll Shield, centre, probably mid-1970s

A question for pipe band statisticians. Should the 1947 win by Glasgow Police be added to the tally of Worlds sucesses achieved by Glasgow/Strathclyde Police Pipe Band?

Furthermore, isn’t it time winners of Cowal’s Grade 1 Argyll Shield pre-1947 are added to the list of Worlds winners we read about every year in the RSPBA programme at Glasgow Green?

After all, prior to this date Cowal was always regarded by bands as the de facto World Championship and if they were to compete in only one contest in the year it would be at Dunoon.

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