Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band playing into the cicrle at the 2019 British Pipe Band Championships at Paisley.

Things look increasingly bleak for hopes of a return to a normal competition season this year, whether in the pipe band world or in solo piping.

It’s only mid-January yet several major non-piping outdoor music events have already been cancelled, including, yesterday, the massive pop music festival held at Glastonbury in England. Meanwhile, in the United States of America, the incoming Democratic Party says the previous administration left it without even a vaccination plan with which it could continue. It is safe to assume that no American bands intend to travel abroad this year. From what we hear, the same is true for Canadian bands.

Even in New Zealand, one of the very few countries where life has pretty much returned to normal for a while, there is a degree of hesitancy, with promoters and the pipe band association wary of potential big financial risks amid so much uncertainty. There are a number of smaller contests going ahead in New Zealand over the coming months with the next big band competition being the national championships in March.

Despite having handled the pandemic relatively successfully, though, we hear that there are still fears that New Zealand may even enter another period of lockdown. Its borders remain effectively closed and most bands there aren’t looking seriously at travelling. The message seems to be: the bands based in one of the few parts of the world to have handled the pandemic successfully are not looking to travel until at least 2022.

As we in the United Kingdom can see, the roll out of the vaccination is not without logistical challenges for each of the four administrations and this may mean the UK as a whole will be into the summer before its entire population receives both jags. Unfortunately, while the UK is leading the world in terms of vaccination, it is also leading it with both Covid deaths and excess deaths. (Excess deaths are the best measure of how a country has dealt with the pandemic overall. In the UK as a whole, this figure is now 100,000+ since the pandemic began, a sobering statistic. The figure for Scotland is c6,500).

Once both vaccines have been received, protection takes about three weeks to kick in. Domestically, therefore, September looks like the month when some activity may take place. Peebles, Pitlochry, Chatsworth … that may be about it for the bands.

march to the field, Oban 2017
Oban 2017. The annual march through the town to Mossfield Park for the light music competitions at the Argyllshire Gathering is led by the previous day’s winner of the Gold Medal and Silver Medal.

As far as solo piping is concerned, it is clear that promoters need to think now about how their respective events can go ahead. Oban, Inverness and London feature large overseas entries but if few competitors are allowed to travel – or are preared to travel – the competitions will be greatly diminished. Some UK-based competitors may be able to enter a hoped-for in-person event but how can the organisers of these competitions even consider going ahead without the expected overseas contingent?

For the Argyllshire Gathering it may mean another year of the MacGregor Memorial being held online and this should be welcomed. The 2020 contest was a success. The Scottish Piping Society of London is actively considering holding the Bratach Gorm and the B Grade competitions virtually (broadcast live from Glasgow) but what of Oban and Inverness? If the senior competitions do not go ahead at all then this means the Glenfiddich will once again have no qualifiers.

The next few months will be crucial. Let us hope things progress quickly in the spring.

The Lowland & Border Pipers’ Society (LBPS) intends to hold its popular annual competition online for 2021. The date for the competition is Saturday, March 27 and the categories are: Seasoned (over 65s), Novice, Intermediate, Open Smallpipes, Open Border Pipe and Solo Pipe and Song. 

The competition is open to members of the LBPS but for logistical reasons the Society is restricting the number of entries to ten per category. A spokesman for the Society said a large overseas entry is expected but entries will be taken only on a first come, first served basis. Full details in due course.

The Society also intends to run its annual Pibroch Weekend online and has once again secured the services of the legendary piper, Allan MacDonald to teach at it. The date for this will be in late April or early May.

The LBPS’ 2020 competition cancelled last March just as the UK went into lockdown.

Among the many tributes that were expressed after the death of Pipe Major Tony Crease on January 4, was one that appeared in his local newspaper, the Darlington and Stockton Times. The tribute has been sent to us from a reader in Yorkshire who used to play in the Pontefract Pipe Band. Our correspondent writes: “Tony gave some of his time to the Pontefract Pipe Band when Bill Bell was the Pipe Major [up to 1969 – Editor]. He was always good to us and was happy to give tuition. Many of us in the band were influenced greatly by Tony.”

The newspaper report mentioned the RSDG’s success with Amazing Grace but it focuses on the work Tony did creating Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve inside Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, England. It says: “On his return from Iraq in 1992, after the Gulf War, Major Crease was posted to Catterick Garrison. Looking for somewhere to exercise his two Border collies, he came across part of the training area fenced off during the 1970s and had an idea that was to be his long-lasting legacy.

“Hitting on the idea of a nature reserve, he applied to the Ministry of Defence for permission to use the area, and was initially given 28 acres.”

From the outset it was clear to Tony that the public should be allowed access. A management group was quickly established and statutory designation followed, the first in the UK to receive this legal protection.

The reserve now encompasses 100 acres and has been developed as a mix of 12 different habitats. More than 500,000 people have visited the reserve. The reserve is Tony’s most lasting legacy.

From the archives:

The 1972 World Pipe Band Championships (held at Hawick):

Grade 1 – 1. Edinburgh City Police; 2. Red Hackle; 3. Muirhead & Sons; 4. Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia; 5. City of Glasgow Police.
Grade 2 – 1. Dysat & Dundonald; 2. Dumbarton & District; 3. 2nd Batt. Scots Guards; 4. Paisley; 5. Glasgow Skye Association.
Grade 3 – 1. Knightswood; 2. Johnnie Walker; 3. Dingwall RBL; 4. Hawick; 5. Cumbernauld Caledonia.
Grade 4 – 1. North Irish Militia; 2. Hawick RBL; 3. Dalzell Steelworks Caledonia; 4. Kirkcudbright & District; 5. Birmingham Scottish.
Juvenile – 1. Port Glasgow BB; 2. 214th Glasgow Company BB.
Novice Juvenile – 1. Uddingston; 2. Ballingry School.