August 22, 2023

An explosive open letter to the RSPBA written by the pipe-major of an active Grade 1 band

Sunrise at the gates of Glasgow Green.

The decision not to include one of the 16 judges’ rankings that came to light immediately following the announcement of the Grade 1 results at the 2023 World Pipe Band Championships on August 19th has become a full-on communications fiasco, the scale of which is unprecedented in pipe band history.

pipes|drums duly reported the news and allegations surrounding the matter, and, despite requests for on-the-record comment, we have been successful only in hearing from sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Such is the unfortunate but understandable fear of criticizing associations that permeates the piping and drumming world, which, we believe, leads to continued exploitation and outright disregard of the contestants and their wishes and needs.

One association even recently put out a clear threat warning its members that comments that “bring the association into ill-repute” could result in expulsion. Such is the bullying environment with which competitors are often faced.

Loathe to send directly to the RSPBA for fear of reprisal, we were asked by the pipe-major of an active Grade 1 band if we would publish this open letter addressed to the association’s director, on condition that the piece be run verbatim and that the author only be identified as “the pipe-major of an active Grade 1 band.”

We will assume that RSPBA defenders will discredit this letter because it is not signed, just as those who publish their critical anonymous opinions online have been sweepingly labeled “social media extremists.” We hope that someday, we don’t know when, we’re going to get to that place where we really need to go, we’ll walk in the sun, and the author of the letter will feel safe to come forward.

We agreed to the conditions of anonymity and to publish verbatim. The open letter follows, separated by the horizontal lines:


An Open Letter to the Directors of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association:

The pipe band community, represented by bands, musicians, and enthusiasts from around the world, collectively holds grave concern regarding the recent decision to nullify Adjudicator Nat Russell’s results from the Grade 1 MSR of the World Pipe Band Championship on 18th August 2023. This unprecedented act, accompanied by an absence of transparency, threatens the trust and integrity upon which our community depends.

First, it’s important to express heartfelt congratulations to People’s Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia on their victory. Their achievement represents a significant moment in the pipe band world, and it’s vital that they and the entire community can fully enjoy and celebrate this accomplishment without reservation. Thus, the need to provide a fulsome account of the events surrounding the decision to eliminate Mr. Russell’s results.

There is deep concern with this unexpected decision, particularly given the substantial time and investment that is placed in the preparation and participation in attending the World Championships. Bands have committed significant resources, collectively amounting to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, to participate in this esteemed event and did so with the understanding that they would benefit from the evaluations of a complete panel of judges, including Mr. Russell.

Upon entering the competition, bands were provided with terms of entry subject to the rules, regulations, and policies of the RSPBA. The unexpected and unexplained deletion of Mr. Russell’s results and the lack of transparency in this process have led to a belief that there has been a violation of those very rules, thereby nullifying the terms of entry, including the waiving of intellectual property rights.

Grade 1 bands and the broader pipe band community require immediate clarity on the following:

  1. Transparency of Mr. Russell’s Results: We ask for a detailed explanation of the circumstances leading to the decision to delete Mr. Russell’s results. We believe that a clear and transparent explanation is owed to all participating bands who have invested significant time, effort, and resources into this competition.
  2. Provision of Mr. Russell’s Score Sheet: We request bands receive their score sheet created by Mr. Russell to fulfill their rightful expectation of receiving complete evaluations from all appointed judges. This document is an essential part of every band’s evaluation process and continuous improvement, and its absence significantly impacts their ability to assess their performance.
  3. Reference to the Relevant Rule or Policy: Please outline the specific rule or policy that has been invoked in making this unprecedented decision. If no such rule or policy exists, we request an explanation of the legal or administrative basis upon which this decision was made.
  4. Account of the Discounted Results: Provide bands access to photographic evidence of Mr. Russell’s original summary table and its impact on the overall result.
  5. Reimbursement of Entry Fees: Refund band entry fees as the RSPBA failed to adhere to the rules governing pipe band competitions and failed to provide crit sheets and assessments from a full panel of adjudicators.
  6. Discussion on Rights and Compensation: In light of the RSPBA’s breaching of entry terms, which includes each bands’ waiving of intellectual rights, we must collaboratively determine suitable compensation for the broadcast on the BBC and all other production, promotion, or display of each band’s music and likeness, for which the RSPBA now bears responsibility.

This situation merits careful examination and resolution, not only for the bands but for the reputation of this prestigious competition.

The maintenance of trust, confidence, and integrity in our shared pursuits must remain paramount and any prolonging in addressing the above reduces the amount of trust in subsequent statements and actions by the RSPBA related to this matter.

The community looks forward to your prompt response.


Should the RSPBA wish to respond, as always, we welcome it, and will afford them the same verbatim publication if they so desire.

As with every pipes|drums story, we encourage readers to express their reasonable and respectful opinions or views by using our Comments feature below. For liability reasons, these are reviewed before they are published and must adhere to our stated policy. Because comments on social media cannot be reviewed before they are posted automatically on those publishing sites, we generally turn them off for that reason. Thank you for your understanding and for reading pipes|drums.




  1. It’s not that explosive, the person is not asking amy more pertinent questions than you have already done. Does active in Grade 1 mean that their band competed on Saturday? That is not clear. They are “kite flying ” with their talk of reimbursement of entry fees and compensation on rights etc. They should catch themselves on. Their open letter, which is anonymous, is completely meaningless.

    1. **Rethinking Pipe Band Competitions: Is It Time for a New Direction?**

      For years, the world of pipe band competitions has been a cornerstone of camaraderie, musical excellence, and cultural preservation. However, recent controversies surrounding judging results and the removal of Natt Russell’s assessments in a Grade 1 competition have raised questions about the integrity and transparency of these events. With the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) at the helm, some enthusiasts are wondering if it’s time for a new direction – a potential rival pipe band organization akin to the LIV in the golfing pro circuit. In this post, we’ll explore the challenges faced by the pipe band community and consider the feasibility of establishing an alternative platform to ensure fairer and more credible competitions.

      **The Legacy of Pipe Band Competitions**

      Pipe band competitions have a rich heritage, celebrating the intricate artistry of bagpipes and drums while fostering a sense of community among players and enthusiasts. These events have allowed musicians of all ages and backgrounds to showcase their skills, receive valuable feedback, and grow as performers. The RSPBA, as the primary governing body, has been responsible for setting standards, organizing events, and overseeing judging panels. However, recent incidents have exposed underlying issues that need to be addressed to maintain the integrity of these competitions.

      **Questionable Results and the Natt Russell Incident**

      The world of pipe band competitions is not immune to subjectivity and varying interpretations of musical excellence. The recent removal of Natt Russell’s judging results from a Grade 1 competition has ignited conversations about the fairness of the process and the potential biases that can seep into decisions. While individual opinions will always play a role in artistic assessments, the credibility of these events hinges on transparency, consistency, and the belief that results are based on genuine musical merit.

      **Drawing Inspiration from the Golfing Pro Circuit**

      The golfing world faced a similar predicament until the establishment of the Premier Golf League (PGL) and the rival LIV Golf Entertainment Tour. These entities aimed to address concerns about prize money distribution, sponsorship, and the overall structure of the sport. Similarly, the idea of a rival pipe band organization could bring fresh perspectives, improved transparency, and enhanced judging procedures to the forefront. An independent body could prioritize clear evaluation criteria, standardized judging practices, and a renewed focus on nurturing emerging talent.

      **Challenges and Considerations**

      While the concept of an alternative pipe band organization is intriguing, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges that come with such an endeavor:

      1. **Establishing Credibility:** Building trust within the pipe band community and gaining recognition on par with the RSPBA would require time and effort.

      2. **Logistical Complexities:** Organizing events, coordinating judges, and ensuring consistency across competitions demand significant logistical planning and financial investment.

      3. **Avoiding Fragmentation:** The pipe band community is tightly-knit, and the introduction of a rival organization could risk dividing the community rather than uniting it.

      4. **Sustainability:** Securing long-term financial support and maintaining a sustainable competition circuit would be crucial for the new organization’s success.


      The recent controversies surrounding pipe band competitions have sparked important conversations about the direction of the community. While establishing a rival organization similar to the LIV in golf is an enticing idea, it comes with its share of complexities. Whether the pipe band community decides to reform the existing system from within or venture into uncharted territory, the central goal should remain consistent – to uphold the highest standards of fairness, transparency, and musical excellence. As enthusiasts and musicians, it’s up to us to shape the future of pipe band competitions and ensure they continue to inspire generations to come.

      1. A simple, fair and transparent method of PERMANENTLY resolving these continual disputes in this toxic pipe band atmosphere of distrust, bitterness, resentment, jealousy and hatred as well as settling a multitude of old scores and which was worked very well in Scotland for hundreds of years by the clans:
        After the adjudicators have announced their preliminary results, put the top six bands in each grade of competition into a field and allow them to kick the shit out of each other for one hour. At the end of the hour, award one point to each band member that is still standing. The band with the most points wins!
        To improve transparency even further, adjudicators and RSPBA committee members should be allowed to join so that they can fight for their respective favourite teams in this final “Desperate Battle”.
        Special prizes could be awarded to band members who “knock out” key members of rival bands, such as the pipe major, etc.

  2. What’s explosive about this? It’s exactly what I’d expect any reasonable person to ask for. Nobody is challenging the results; people just want to know what happened and why.

  3. I wonder what real power we pipe bands have, when we complain and demand certain actions be taken. Is the RSPBA legally responsible to us? Probably not. Is the RSPBA an association and we are the volunteer associates? If so, with no other competitive associations out there, it seems we really have zero power, except to make noise (no pun intended). Not that we should necessarily be silent, but in the long term, if we worked gradually with the RSPBA towards an agreement designed to address these concerns, with written transparency protocols, penalties etc., a better partnership could be established.

    1. Perhaps it is a time to call for a Vote of Confidence for the full Board and Leadership of the RSPBA, with the full membership voting. Compaining has been going on for years; if you want different things to happen, change the situation. Choose people with an intent on transparency, with the perspective of the band.

    2. You are correct. Bands and players are powerless despite being the financial engine that drives the entire global community. We are the paying customers…yet that concept is lost on the policy makers and adjudicators. They don’t care about anything other than their egos and wielding what little power they have.

  4. While not relevant to the original topic of Nat Russell’s perceived “breach” (whatever that is), the unknown P/M delved into a topic that can hardly be thrown in as an afterthought to the scores/scoresheets/judging issue which is in the current forefront in the minds of the piping world.

    I dare say that indiscriminate demands included in the current judging matter such as:

    “1. Discussion on Rights and Compensation: In light of the RSPBA’s breaching of entry terms, … we must collaboratively determine suitable compensation for the broadcast on the BBC ….”

    could ultimately result in the RSPBA (and/or the BBC) to decide to no-longer produce and/or present the live-stream of the WPBCs, rather than get into the demands (other than monetary – although this is surely a major one!) that would surely materialize when considering compensating bands for use of their name, image, likeness and product. Think not? Miss BBC Pipeline post-Worlds wrap-up? Right, wrong or indifferent, the RSPBA (like many in the piping world) is seemingly an organization that adheres to long-held “traditions” – whether those traditions be proper and correct (most are) or antiquated and ripe for change (it would seem some are). We do know this. Significant change will not take place in a public forum – or possibly in any forum or format – and surely will not take place in a shot-gun approach, airing a multitude of issues and long-term complaints with the running of the RSPBA. Am I saying don’t make them? Absolutely not. Have at it. We will wait in harried anticipation a response to an undisclosed P/M’s indirect demands to the RSPBA via – that admittedly the RSPBA has “not responded to us for well nigh 20 years.”
    Maybe try a new way. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” — Henry Ford

  5. There’s a reason so many adult top players leave the game. The corruption, lack of transparency, inequitable treatment of bands and players are all inconsistent with accountability often found in the adult word. The associations are terrible custodians of the idiom with their corrupt and toxic cultures. It’s a shame that the organizations charged with promoting and growing the art are most often the overriding cause of its stagnation. People with money and lives and other commitments and stresses don’t see the value in continuing to poor into the black hole of the impotent egos dictating the outcomes. And this is not just an rspba problem. These types of failings are rampant across all associations.



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