Grade 1 Bleary & District of Northern Ireland will take another competition off, Pipe-Major Nigel Davison has confirmed, ending hopes that the band might return to the field for the 2019 season.
The band enjoyed a rapid rise through Grade 2 before being promoted to Grade 1 after the 2015 season, when the band won three major championships and finished second to Johnstone in Grade 2 at the World’s.
The band had shut down for seven years before returning as a Grade 2 operation in 2013, but in 2016 found itself searching for a lead-drummer when David Brown departed after the band’s first year in Grade 1.
Bleary announced in the autumn of 2016 that they had secured Eric Ward as lead-drummer, after the famous percussionist was suddenly dismissed from the Grade 1 Glasgow Police after serving with the band for 21 years.
Davison confirmed that the band would not compete in 2019, but said that some members expressed interest “to make a move for the 2020 season.” He also confirmed that Ward is no longer involved with Bleary. At publication time, Ward had not responded to a request for comment about his current plans.
Bleary & District is the latest top-grade band to announce its hiatus or outright dissolution. Late in 2018, Dowco Triumph Street of Vancouver and Vale of Atholl of Scotland, both in Grade 1, revealed that they disbanded, while the Grade 1 Toronto Police announced that the band would likely not compete in 2019.
Toronto Police Pipe-Major Sean McKeown has since confirmed that he has been unsuccessful in finding a suitable lead-drummer, and that the band has officially cancelled plans to compete this year. He emphasized that the Toronto Police Pipe Band organization remains overall strong, with bands in Grade 2, Grade 3 and Grade 5. The Vale of Atholl organization continues to operate in the Perthshire region of Scotland, with a successful teaching program and a competing Grade 4 band.
The transition to Grade 1 is often seen as the most difficult for any pipe band to make. With rare exceptions, bands will take several years to reach the top half of the top grade, and retaining personnel can be especially difficult when groups are accustomed to winning, but then have to adjust.
Several bands were recently returned to Grade 2 by the RSPBA.
Johnstone of Scotland is a recent infrequent example of a band making a successful move to Grade 1. After being upgraded in 2016, the band remained strong and in 2018 qualified for the 12-band Grade 1 Final at the World’s, ultimately placing eleventh in both MSR and Medley events and eleventh overall.
Officially, there are now 25 Grade 1 bands in the world, 23 of which are competitively active. The Western Australia Police of Perth, Australia, are not permitted to travel outside of the country. Approximately 18 bands are expected to enter Grade 1 at the World Championships.