One Great Day: Bill Livingstone recounts the day of the 1987 World Pipe Band Championships

Published: January 31, 2013
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Bill Livingstone prefaces his piece:

I have been asked to provide my memories of that amazing day in 1987, and that’s what this essay is. There is so much more to the 78th than this narrow snapshot of one day in the life of the band. If I ever finish the memoir I’m working on, the complete story will appear, but I should note that I started it in January 2012 in Barbados, and while I am somewhere around 22,000 words in, there’s still a lot to say – more to say perhaps than people will care to read. As Donald MacLeod said, “Whatever Moreover,” almost presaging the teen-speak of today.

1987 and all that

By Bill Livingstone  

In the BBC Radio Scotland broadcast after the 1987 World Pipe Band Championship, presenter George McIlwham opened the program saying, “Saturday August 15th dawned dull and grey, but as the 78th Fraser Highlanders came up to the start line, they looked relaxed and confident. This brilliant band was seeking to win the prize, which they came so heartbreakingly close to winning last year.”

This likely is not a perfect quote of Mr. McIlwham’s words, but I have heard them so often on the endless replays of this broadcast that I shamelessly listened to, I’m fairly sure I have it pretty much right. And if that betrays a certain amount of pride – pride, mind; not smugness nor self-satisfaction – I plead guilty as charged.  

We had arrived in Scotland on Friday, August 14, 1987, by ferry from Northern Ireland, following our concert in Ballymena, the full event soon to appear as the record Live in Ireland – in fact a record that became the largest-selling pipe band recording ever produced.

We came to Glasgow to rain or drizzle, and ensconced ourselves in Woolfson Hall, attached to the University of Glasgow. It had been a very long day, involving a bus trip from Ballymena to Port Rush, a ferry crossing to Stranraer, with a further bus trip to Glasgow.  

In the continuing wet weather, we dropped luggage in to our rooms, and had a quick run through on the paving stones in front of the entrance to Woolfson and, while it wasn’t great, we had played so much in the previous week, that I had no real concern about the pipes coming back, so called it after a short practice.

I gathered everyone into a huddle and laid on them a pitch that my friend Andrew MacNeill had given me 10 years earlier. Andrew was a great piobaireachd guy, a man who gave me bags of help and support in my solo career. Prior to my performance in the Gold Medal at Oban in 1977, I confessed to Andrew that I was so nervous I wasn’t sure I . . .

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  1. uilleannonlooker

    had been to cowal a few times as a teen and I couldn’t bring myself to buy live in Ireland as the cover just looked too naff” to me. One year

  2. StuLiddell

    Great memories Bill. That was quite a group we had. So close. Funny memory I had was running into Big Luke in the morning. As he was getting ready to catch the bus to the airport, he said, you’re up early. I hadn’t t been to bed yet. What a party!

  3. gramps

    Great memory. I was so chuffed I bought a copy of the Scottish Banner which had this as their front lead. I still have that little paper. We were so fortunate here in southern Ontario to have had the chance to see and hear the Frasers, the Clan, Guelph, McNish and so many other really fine bands that to my parochial mind it was like okay world welcome to our show”.”

  4. Tbone2

    Thanks Billy, for the memories…years of them. It was a special group and we’re all still great friends. And for what it’s worth, on the day of a major, for me, you are the best P/M in the world.

  5. MarkBowles

    After all these years I recon Live in Ireland remains the benchmark for dynamism, musicality and drive as a pipe corps and whole ensemble. Few pipe band recordings have come even close, despite (maybe because of?) advances in technology. Thanks Bill & co for inspiring a generation of pipers around the world! Certainly inspired us down under.

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Do not be frightened to throw out synthetic reeds. Like everything else they have a shelf life and you can hang on to them for too long. If your drones start to become unsteady – bite the bullet.
Euan Anderson, Edinburgh