January 31, 2013

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

could even play. He told me to shut up, and to smarten up, forced a large dram down my throat, and said, “You silly bugger. Don’t you realize that they’re the ones who are anxious – they’re frightened of you, and that you’re here.”  

I repeated this sentiment to the band, with suitable amendments, and I don’t think I even gave credit to Andrew or attribution to him for this bit of wisdom – just pretended it was my own.

The bus ride the next day to Bellahouston Park (where the World’s was held for many years until it moved to Glasgow Green) was relaxed and easy, with some folks dozing, Bruce Gandy paying practice chanter, and most not even dressed yet. But as our bus pulled in to Bellahouston, suddenly everyone was wound up like a spring.

Once we got the pipes out, as always, there was some sense of relief, of tension releasing a little, of actually doing something. We were last to play, so the waiting was very difficult, because pipers want – demand, really – the reassurance of hearing the bagpipes, and realizing that they haven’t completely gone to dog-doo. So we began to tune up.

And now for some true confessions. I was keenly aware that Simon Fraser University were very much in the hunt, and playing at a wicked level with some seriously good tone. I knew we had to at the very least match them, so I dispatched one of the pipers who was not going to get on the field that day, to where they were tuning up, and had him use our tuning metre to get a good reading on their pitch, with instructions not to get noticed doing it.  

He must have used good tradecraft, because he came back with the precious intelligence – “they’re at 474 cps.” We were not. We were not by a fair bit, and given the cold wet conditions we were going to have to do some fancy footwork to get there. Some warming, pinching, and re-seating of the odd reed did get us to the desired pitch. It’s funny to hear today that 474 cps on a bagpipe tuner was then considered a bright pitch, whereas today 486 is quite common.  

We were playing on a paved roadway with trees lining either side, providing dubious shelter from the on again, off again rain. We peaked at exactly the right moment, just as the witching hour arrived.  

This whole tune-up process happened in the most electric atmosphere, as Michael Grey has said, everyone in the band on the edge of losing self-containment – just a breath, a heartbeat away from freaking out.

So we began our march down the road, almost vibrating from the tension, and with our pipers who didn’t make it on the field, and a . . .


  1. 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!

  2. 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”.”

  3. 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.

  4. 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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