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

Published: January 31, 2013
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number of supporters marching ahead of us carrying capes, brushes and valium.  

The crowd of people parted like the Red Sea, as we came to the first arena for the medley event – relaxed and confident indeed, Mr. McIlwham – this was all simply putting on a good face, by a relatively terrified crew.

Command given, away cleanly, I’m thinking, “Hell, this is going to be good – maybe even easy.” And then in the second part of “Up to the Line” – a sudden shrieking discord as a piper cracked, playing a high-G for an F. Great combination. Nothing intrusive about that. We somehow survived it, and pushed on even as the rain came on. It started heavily in the reel section as we tackled the first one, “Bundle and Go.” I remember thinking – this is horrible – it was a very tricky arrangement for me to play, featuring a lot of intricate top-hand work, which on a wet and slippery chanter is a significant challenge.  

The Medley and MSR events were run consecutively, 20 minutes apart, with a tuning circle between the two events. Those 20 minutes was one of the most frantic times of my life. My pipes were drenched, with water literally running down the drone bores, and accumulating on the reeds. They had to be completely torn down, dried with brushes, reassembled, and all with the rain lashing down, making the whole process seem redundant and futile, almost a cruel joke. And when the bagpipe laundry had been accomplished, we had to regroup as a band and bring the pipes back up to pitch.

Because we were the last band to play this whole affair happened in unremitting relative quiet. The previous band had completed its MSR, and there was no one behind us. So we were the sole focus of the entire crowd.  

It was a wild and stressful experience, but we somehow managed to salvage the sound. Composure was no longer an issue with what we had just struggled through.  And then it was another parting of the crowd as we entered the MSR arena.

As we reached the fifth part of “Blair Drummond,” and the bottom-hand work was slapping out with great clarity and precision, I actually thought, “This is what it feels like to be winning the World Championship – remember this.”  

But there was still a huge hurdle ahead – it was eight parts of “Charlie’s Welcome” in the drenching rain. It was a triumph of will and ingenuity to get through it unscathed – chanters were wet from top to bottom, fingering anything was a challenge, birls threatened to become blobs, and every gracenote on low-A or low-G, which happens repeatedly in this tune, presented a trap for a squeal or a chirp. Pipers selectively omitted grace notes to avoid the risk.

I learned later that all of Jake Watson’s drones had stopped, and he was plotting an escape that would avoid the inevitable trailing drone at the end as the bag deflated. Somehow he contrived to stop the chanter with all of us at the finish, but still keep . . .

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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.

  • For namesakes
    Sat, 16 May 2015
    Having a tune named after you is a wonderful gesture. I can’t think of a more thoughtful and kind gift than a piece of music inspired by life and friendship. I’ve been thinking about this custom for a few weeks … Continue reading …
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Pipers: The golden rule when working with a reed is, “You can always take material off the cane, but you cannot put it back.” So, remember, when removing the slightest amount of material, blow the reed again.
Tom McAllister, Jr.