May 28, 2019

Opinion: Clean Break – a call for change – Part 1

Editor’s note: Over the last 35 years, pipes|drums has tackled myriad previously taboo issues in the piping and drumming world. Rather than sweeping important matters under the carpet, we believe that only by asking questions, debating perceptions and realities, and confronting tough topics will the piping and drumming world progress and improve.

We have always welcomed the fair opinions of our thousands of readers through formal articles and comments, and that stance will continue to be a core tenet of the publication. We are independent, and averse to being influenced by any association or individual. We sell nothing but the subscriptions and advertising that allow us to bring you quality original content.

The opinions that we publish are not necessarily those of pipes|drums. They are presented to stimulate constructive dialog and debate, to ask questions, to seek answers. We are unafraid of any competition or political repercussions. If some can’t handle opinions contrary to their own, or feel that their self-serving interests are threatened, so be it. 

We are delighted when readers approach us with editorial ideas and even more when they offer to contribute, and such was the case when veteran pipe band drummer Scott Currie offered and provided us with the following piece, the first of two parts. We hope that it creates pause for thought, constructive dialog and eventual improvements.

As always, your opinions are welcomed.

RSPBA headquarters at 45 Washington Street, Glasgow.

Opinion: Clean Break – a call for change – Part 1

By Scott Currie

The arrival of the outdoor pipe band season hasn’t come around quickly enough for many, and the great music and good times that it brings will create a convenient short-term distraction from the bigger picture: the world of pipe band competition appears to be disintegrating before our eyes and we’re doing nothing to stop it.

Recent viral controversies have included Grade 1 bands being ignored following a consultation exercise, bands in New Zealand bands being propped-up by an influx of temporarily-registered players from outside the country, and videographers being blamed for falling attendance at competitions. These instances are symptomatic of much broader problems influencing perception that the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association seems to be either completely oblivious to or simply doesn’t care about them. Either way, we’re on a path that will not end well for competing pipe bands as we know it, and another 12 weeks of beer tents won’t defer what the future will inevitably deliver in Scotland, as it has elsewhere in the pipe band world.

There’s seldom a day that has passed in the last 18 months where I haven’t spoken with a piper or drummer who no longer has a good word left to say about the RSPBA. Players feel badly let down by a system that no longer works for them and only appears interested in take-take-taking the fruits of their labour of love for piping and drumming.

“The red herring doing the rounds is that the absence of a method of capping player numbers
is responsible for bands going to the wall, but there’s a stronger case to show
that it’s players becoming disillusioned with competitive performance in
their droves that is contributing to the decline.”

Some might call it exploitation. It’s sad, but it’s true. And that sentiment is shared all around the world at every level. The red herring doing the rounds is that the absence of a method of capping player numbers is responsible for bands going to the wall, but there’s a stronger case to show that it’s players becoming disillusioned with competitive performance in their droves that is contributing to the decline. Look around you, we can all name at least a handful of pipers and drummers who we know could and should still be playing, but have had enough and just don’t want to anymore.




  1. Very interesting and well put together article from Scott who has very bravely put his head above the parapet to say many things that have needed saying for many years. One or two comments I would like to make in relation to the article as follows: Scott is well aware that the problems within the managerial structure of the Rspba are nothing new and have gone on for decades with absolutely no sign of any change. The problem is that a coup is required to remove these people, and replace them with those who have the pipe band movement at its heart, and in particular the most valuable asset of the organisation, the players. Therin lies the problem, the power lies with those who contribute least. Who is going to be brave enough to stage that coup and risk everything? No one, and you know why, because the very people who could and should back them, the players, will slink off into the night for fear of opening their mouth. The Rspba are mostly pretty pathetic and clueless but they are not responsible for all the ills within the organisation. I agree with Scott’s comments on capping players, this is not the easy solution that many think it is. Piping and drumming is a hobby with in the main, no financial inducement, therefore people will come and go around bands as they please. Loyalty is basically a dirty word now. That sense of community is mostly gone. A really exceptional player/players in a wee country band will be spotted, tapped up and will nowadays throw loyalty out the window and join the massed ranks of the larger grade 1 bands, thus helping to wreck their own band, contributing to a general depression within that band, in losing their best player/players, and sooner or later it goes bust. Do the grade 1 pipe majors who ruthlessly pick at the bones of a pipe band corpse like a vulture, not realise where this will end, or do they not really care. Those large bands standing in a huge circle while practicing tomorrow in Lurgan do not generate the awe and wonder that they once did, and for many it is just a profoundly depressing spectacle because we all know that this is helping to disintegrate the entire pipe band movement. Do the various pipe majors, some of whom who are lauded like greek gods, ever give that as much as a passing thought? Nah, thought not. So Scott you are bang on with your criticism of the organisation with its desperate need for reform, no question, but I feel that what also merits serious discussion is the elephant the room, that being the self inflicted destruction of the pipe band movement by those who claim to love it the most, the players.



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