By Stuart Letford (for bagpipe.news)
I don’t know about you but that was a quick year. It does not seem like nearly a year since I sat in The Mackintosh Church in Maryhill, Glasgow to enjoy the ‘Seinn Air A ‘Phiob’ show held during Celtic Connections.
All too soon, the British Pipe Band Championships at Paisley was upon us. This would prove to be the first outing of many this year for my cape.
A fortnight prior to that, the bagpipe.news website was launched quietly. It got off to a great start and has been a very active site since. News stories, feature articles, blogs, reviews, great photography … and all free.
Since its launch, the site has brought you more than 514 articles, all contributing to what has quickly become an unrivalled archive and one that will increase in importance with time. Analytics show that our posts have been fairly eclectic in terms of popularity. If you’ll permit a moment of self-indulgence, let’s take a look at the top ten:
1. We don’t realise how important our hearing is until we start to lose it. Our biggest post of the year was one taken from the pages of the Piping Times, the monthly journal once described by Captain John MacLellan as “the biggest single repository of bagpipe knowledge in the world”. The article, written with help from the Musician’s Union, implored pipers to use ear plugs to protect their hearing.
2. World Champions 2019: Inveraray & District. Our second biggest post was our report (with outstanding photography taken mostly by John Slavin) posted seconds after Inveraray Pipe Band was crowned Grade 1 World Champions.
3. Bob Shepherd MBE, 1938-2019. Our report of Bob Shepherd’s death was, understandably, visited in large numbers. Bob was undoubtedly one of the greats of the pipe band world.
4. Vale goes back to the future. Our fourth biggest post was a report on how Scotland’s Vale of Atholl Pipe Band organisation was rebuilding after the demise of its Grade 1 outfit. Our story included the band’s intention to return its two component bands to wearing its original, unique Murray of Atholl tartan.
5. Stewart returns to lead the Vale. The Vale’s subsequent appointment of former member, Mark Stewart as Pipe Major followed this post and was our fifth biggest.
6. Gourock, Dundee and Banchory results. Perhaps inevitably, the keenly awaited results from Scotland’s first pipe band competitions of the season would feature in this list. Our post featuring the results from the contests at Gourock, Dundee and Banchory held on May 12 beat even the RSPBA’s own posting of the results.
7. Inveraray: 2019 Scottish champions. Our post (again with great photography) from the Scottish Pipe Band Championships at the end of July, uploaded seconds after the completion of the results, was our seventh biggest story. Inveraray made it two majors in a row at a torrential Levengrove Park, Dumbarton. It was also another good day for Closkelt in Grade 2.
8. SLoT: 2019 British Pipe Band champions. The results from the first pipe band ‘major’ of 2019, the ‘British’ at Paisley, was our eighth largest post.
9. Draw for the European Championships. A post containing the draw for the European Pipe Band Championships was popular. Perhaps this was an indication of how keenly felt the 2019 pipe band season was becoming.
10. The Grade 1 contest at the British. Lastly, our tenth largest post was my own critique of the Grade 1 contest at the British Pipe Band Championships.
Throughout 2019, poor weather conditions affected Scotland’s pipe band and solo piping events. All five ‘majors’ suffered, with Lurgan (the UK) and Dumbarton (the Scottish) being so bad that the march past was cancelled at both. Elsewhere, Cupar Highland Games, Perth Games, Strathpeffer Highland Gathering and Cortachy Games were all cancelled because of the weather. Thornton Highland Games and Inverkeithing Highland Games were cancelled due to lack of entries. Let’s hope they’re back for 2020.
There were low audience numbers at the European Pipe Band Championships when they were held at the new venue of Bught Park in Inverness. The entry fee charged by the promoters probably had something to do with this. Overall, though, it was a decent event. The Grade 1 and 2 arenas were sited close – but not too close to spoil listening – to each other which benefitted the crowd greatly.
Last month, the city of Glasgow was named in a European Commission report as the cultural and creative ‘centre’ of UK. The report said: “Glasgow was one of the first European capitals of culture, in 1990. Known as an industrial city, it has now gained recognition as a creative and cultural centre of European importance.” Those of us who live and work here will not be surprised to hear this, and Piping Live, Celtic Connections and the Worlds are significant contributors.
Glasgow remains the home of piping. End of.
2019 will also be remembered as the year the RSPBA decided one World Championships for Grade 1 wasn’t enough so had two. Joking aside, it was noticeable that there were many calls, mainly on social media, for a shake up of the flagship event and criticism of the RSPBA, Glasgow City Council and of BBC Scotland. Ever since 2006, when BBC Scotland first televised the Worlds, it has seemed to treat the event as a sporting one rather than a musical one. The grandstand surrounding the Grade 1 arena is almost universally derided and is it really necessary to have one camera on a crane jib? Doing away with it will mean the grandstand, if it must remain, can be sited closer to the bands. Currently, straining to listen to the bands play so far away is utterly frustrating.
And is it really necessary for the BBC to stall the end of the prize-giving ceremony at the end of a very long day by not allowing the bands to leave the Green until the winning Grade 1 Pipe Major has been interviewed? Interviewing contest victors is something that’s done regularly at sporting events – tennis, rugby, football, snooker, golf etc – but this is not a sporting event. Surely, an interview can be done later, and a proper one at that? These are relatively minor personal gripes that can be addressed quite easily.
It would be almost churlish of me to ignore the real ire of bandsmen and women which seems to be that they feel they, the performers, are being treated with disrespect by the promoters and by the RSPBA. Some have called for a share of royalties, and that seems fair enough. Perhaps it’s time for a body to be established that will speak in a united way on behalf of the bands, something like the solo piping world’s Competing Pipers’ Association? Get organised, guys and girls.
In Canada’s pipe band world, 2019 will be remembered as the year the incorrect Grade 1 result was called out at the North American Pipe Band Championships in Maxville, Ontario. Meanwhile, in Australia, there appears to be dissension between many members and the governing body. We hope this can be resolved in 2020.
The year has ended with only one member of the piping or pipe band world receiving a gong in the Queen’s New Year Honours. Step forward Tom Brown of Boghall & Bathgate who has been awarded an MBE. Tom joined Boghall & Bathgate from Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia in 1978 and has remained with the organisation ever since. Our congratulations go to Tom.
Sadly, 2019 saw the passing of, among others, Hugh MacCallum, Trevor Dear, David Hester, Alex Connell, Colin Ross, Owen Nash, Chris Rapp, Dougie Reid and the aforementioned Bob Shepherd. To these names we add that of Tommy Graham, Liverpool, England. Tommy was 93 and died just before Christmas surrounded by his family. Tommy’s was a frequent face at the Piobaireachd Society’s annual conference and I remember a couple of years ago chatting to him at the 2018 conference in Birnam. He had just played, aged 91, Lament for Patrick Òg MacCrimmon at the evening ceilidh. An obituary will appear in the February Piping Times.
Our art has been enriched by the respective contributions of all these individuals and we will be poorer without them.
2020 is gong to be a very interesting year – and not just in the solo piping and pipe band worlds, of course. Still, at least we managed to end the year by putting all the hatred and division of 2019 behind us by enjoying the fraternalism and friendly banter on display at the Glasgow football (soccer) derby a couple of days ago …
Bring on the 2020 season.
Happy New Year when it comes!
• As with all blog-type posts on bagpipe.news, the views expressed here are not necessarily the views of The National Piping Centre.