Published: May 28, 2019

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


The canary in the coalmine for me is the recent news that Bathgate Highland Games can no longer field a pipe band competition. Thirty years ago, Bathgate Highland Games easily attracted large entries that included as many as a dozen Grade 1 bands. Now it has none. We only had a dozen Grade 1 bands competing in the British Championships at Paisley. Why? The demise of contests on the once magnificent provincial circuit is not a new phenomenon, however. In my view, if Bathgate Highland Games can go belly-up for pipe bands, then nothing is safe any longer, major championships included.

The decreasing number of bands and the downturn in events typified by the Bathgate situation is similar in many ways to what has been going on elsewhere in the world. As history has proved time and time again with any empire, there is a cycle of growth, domination, stagnation and demise. The rot starts in the centre of power, but the fall begins remotely until the central seat of power eventually collapses.

“We are seeing . . . the beginning of the final stages of collapse
of the pipe band competition scene and if we don’t do something now to stop it,
then we risk losing everything as we know it in the not too distant future.”

I believe what we are seeing is the beginning of the final stages of collapse of the pipe band competition scene and if we don’t do something now to stop it, then we risk losing everything as we know it in the not too distant future. Canada, the USA, South Africa and Australia were once strongholds brimming with famous Grade 1 bands. Look at them now, Canada has three functioning competing Grade 1 bands left, the USA has one by virtue of City of Dunedin being upgraded by their home organization, and the others have none. New Zealand seems to be relying on temporary players flying in from overseas to bolster the ranks of their Grade 1 bands. The home circuit in Scotland will be the last to fail, but it seems to be on the same slippery slope that we’ve witnessed elsewhere. Just because we’re in Scotland does not make us immune from the obvious collapses that have occurred elsewhere.

Piping and drumming in itself is in an extremely healthy state, possibly never stronger than it is now, but I believe that the infrastructure that facilitates the competitive scene is broken beyond repair and the people who managed to get it into the state it is now are not the right people to manage their way out of the situation.

If you don’t listen to people, if you don’t accept criticism, if you ban members who talk openly about things they are unhappy about, if you refuse to be transparent in your decision-making, and if you refuse to accept that you are ever wrong, then the writing is on the wall.

Scott Currie is a four-time World Pipe Band Championship-winning drummer, now retired following a 30-year competitive career between 1987 and 2016. He lives in Uddingston, Scotland.

Stay tuned to pipes|drums for Part 2 of Scott Currie’s “Clean Break – a call for radical change” appearing tomorrow.


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  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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