Pure employment

Yesterday we happened upon the Toronto International Busking Festival, a three-day event held downtown on Front Street at St. Lawrence Market. It was loads of fun and brought back memories of busking on Princes Street in Edinburgh for a few years in the late 1980s.

What a good time that was. Any piper who hasn’t at some point put out the box and played is missing the experience of pure employment. I used to say back then that it’s the most honest form of work. You play, and people pay you what they think it was worth. If they didn’t like it, they move on. If they stop to listen, they pay you something if they can. If they don’t have any money, then at least they clap or tell you how much they liked it.

One busker yesterday – a contortionist who, after squeezing himself through a flaming, unstrung squash racket, balanced a running lawnmower on his chin while the audience threw heads of lettuce at the whirring blades – said as much during his act. Contrary to what many may believe, buskers are very proud people who busk because they choose to. People who enjoy their act but then just walk away are rude, and have the full contempt of the busker. We gave him $10.

But I remember the summer of 1987 when I was in full busking mode, usually working with a great piper who is now the pipe-major of a very good Grade 1 band. I was seeing Captain John MacLellan weekly for light music lessons, and Mrs. MacLellan would often pass us on Princes Street and place a pound coin or two in the box, saying, “Don’t tell the Captain I’m giving you the house-keeping money.”

As it turned out, John MacLellan was one of the judges on the Gold Medal at Inverness. When I approached the bench to compete he said with a wink, “I hope you brought your pipe box,” which of course was going through my head during the whole tune.

I didn’t mind then and I don’t mind now. As with this blog entry, I talk freely of my time as a busker – getting paid basically to practice – and stress the honesty of the job to anyone who cares. And I always, but always, pay buskers what I think their work is worth, pure and simple.


Travel issues

A few readers have suggested that a Blogpipe thread on the travel woes of pipers and drummers trying to get to or from Scotland should be started. One Grade 1 pipe-major even said that he’d like to see for once a Scottish band experience travel that wasn’t just a bus to a contest.

Here’s the link to the Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band plight: http://www.piperanddrummer.com/features/default.asp?articleID=6181.

Feel free to chime in with your tails of pipe band travel.


Dark clouds ahead?

Three CDs, two DVDs, a BBC TV show, £6 for a program, £7 to get in the gate, £12 to listen to the Grade 1 contest, stowed-out and sold-out beer tents . . . and the World Pipe Band Champion receives £1000.

What’s wrong with this picture?


Unqualified disaster

While those not at the contest know of the massive spreads between the two piping judges in the Grade 1 qualifying contest at the World’s, it occurs to me that those actually on the field probably don’t yet know the details.

Good thing. If they did, there might be a riot.

Here we go again. Judges being so far apart that it boggles the mind. Yes, yes, it’s all subjective, but come on. This is the World Pipe Band Championship, and if judges can’t be reasonably close in their opinions, then what hope is there? If there must be only four judges (there should be at least twice that number), then they must be allowed to discuss their thoughts before they put in a final mark.

But they’re not allowed, and so another fine mess and another year of second-guessing and bitter grousing will help people all winter nurse their wrath to keep it warm.

Here’s a prediction: if this problem is not solved – either by expanding the panel, or re-introducing consultative judging – even more non-UK bands will opt out of the 2007 World’s than the 60 per cent of North American bands that stayed home this year. It’s just way too much effort and money to commit to such a questionable process.


Caber fare

The Glengarry Highland Games apparently are selling advertising space on their cabers. An insurance company seems to have purchased the space. Someone I was with on the field at the contest suggested that it might be prime for a Viagra spot.



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