From the archives: SPA 1984 – and controversy at the Worlds

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Bellahouston Park, 1984 and Strathclyde Police runs through its set. Front rank, L-R: P.M. Ian McLellan, Harry McAleer, John Wilson, Angus J. 2nd rank: Jim MacLean, John Winter, Wilson Brown, Barry Donaldson. 3rd rank: Alasdair Ross, Neil Strickland, Sid Spence, Jim Wark.

Following on from the Scottish Pipers’ Association’s (SPA) successful centenary night at The National Piping Centre Otago Street, today we feature an item from the December 1984 Piping Times.

Angus J. MacLellan was President of the SPA back then and in that edition of the PT he wrote a report which was essentially a write-up of that summer’s events.

Interestingly, he remarks on the increasing size of drum corps and the ‘political’ situation he refers to at the end is in fact a reference to a controversy at the time about a South African pipe band which had been formed four years previously. Glasgow City Council threatened to cancel the Worlds that year unless the band withdrew. Further information on this at the bottom.

Summer 1984
By Angus J. MacLellan

The long, beautiful summer of ’84 is well and truly over and we are now settled into the winter routines and, of course, for the members of the Scottish Pipers’ Association that means the ‘Club’ gets going again. In an effort to stimulate members and friends around Glasgow, may I once again present one of my occasional newsletters, hoping it will remind you that the ‘Club’ is still going, and encourage all pipers and enthusiasts to come along whenever possible and enjoy a night’s piping.

At the various Highland Games there were reports of first-class performances, and members whose names regularly appeared in the prize lists were Anne Johnston, Catherine MacInnes, Fred Morrison, Roddy MacLeod, Ronnie McShannon, Tom Johnstone, Robert Wallace, Hugh McInnes, Stuart Shedden and James Begg.

British Caledonia Airways Pipe Band at the 1984 Worlds. Front rank: Harry McNulty, Joe Wilson, Ronnie McShannon and Unknown. Also in the band were Roddy MacLeod, Tom Johnstone and Allan MacDonald.

On the pipe band front, Shotts & Dykehead were the front runners in the early part of the season, winning the first three Championships – European at Glenrothes, British at Bathgate and the Scottish at Aberdeen. Strathclyde Police, who were runners-up at each of these Championships, came back strongly in the second part of the season, winning the World Championship in Glasgow for the fourth year in succession; then Cowal, and ending up, once again, Champion of Champions. P.M. lan McLellan’s record with the Strathclyde Police is truly remarkable.

As in the solo piping there was a strong overseas challenge to the home bands, and who at Bellahouston could not fail to be impressed by the performance of the 78th Fraser Highlanders (third overall), and the Clan MacFarlane pipe bands, both from Ontario, Canada? As always, there was strong representation from Ireland, with the RUC being consistent prizewinners in the major championships.

In Grade 2 there was a constant battle for honours between Pipers’ Whisky, Glasgow Skye, and Bucksburn, with a similar situation in Grade 3 between Oban and Lochaber & District. However, at the World Championship the Scots Guards struck a major blow for the Army Bands, with the 1st Bn. winning Grade 2, and the Training Depot taking Grade 3.

It is interesting to note that at some of this year’s Championships the entries in Grades 3. and 4 were so large they had to be run in two legs, with six from each leg going forward for a final play-off a problem for organisers, but a healthy sign for piping and drumming. The size of some of today’s drum corps is frightening compared with only a few years ago.

One sad footnote. Bellahouston was an excellent venue for this year’s World Pipe Band Championships (helped by the weather, of course) but after the ‘political’ scene surrounding this year’s event*, will we see the competition back there? We’ll have to wait and see.

May I once again take this opportunity to ask, plead, encourage or whatever, all pipers and piping enthusiasts to come along to the Club whenever possible.

By the way, there is a possibility, owing to circumstances, that we will be looking for new premises, so if anyone has ideas, we would be interested to hear from them. Keep your eyes and ears open, and we’ll let you know as soon as anything develops.

Angus J. MacLellan, President.

* The ‘political scene’ Angus referred to was also mentioned in the RSPBA’s Pipe Band magazine that autumn which stated the organisation’s view: “In our extremely reluctant acceptance of the conditions imposed by the politicians we have nullified one of the first objects of our Association –  ‘To create and maintain a bond of Fellowship with all Pipe Band Personnel throughout the World’.

“It was indeed a sad day when the events and competition of the World Pipe Band Championship took second place to the events which preceded them. In reflecting on these tragic events let us not forget the supreme sacrifice made by the Richmond Avenue band personnel who, in order to allow the Championships to go ahead, withdrew. When one considers the sheer hard, dedicated work that must have gone into the massive fund raising efforts necessary to raise the capital to finance their dream trip only to have their dreams turned into a nightmare at the last possible moment.

“The pressures on the band must have been tremendous and I feel that we owe them all a debt of gratitude for the brave decision they took.

“Let us hope and pray that never again will we find ourselves in the position of being faced with such an ultimatum.”

The controversy was also a topic of discussion in the wider press.