Our final excerpt from Bill Livingstone’s memoir, Preposterous: Tales to Follow, is from the chapter “Bagpipe Follies: A Potpourri of Funny Incidents.” It details the 78th Fraser Highlanders’ skirting with being disqualified at the 1994 World Pipe Band Championships. The near-miss was not known to the band until hours after they had played . . .
It was about 1994 and we were competing at the World Pipe Band Championships with a medley which opened with waulking songs. This is highly authentic and traditional Gaelic music, which was invented to accompany the tedious work of waulking, or shrinking and thickening, the newly woven tweed. This form of singing flourished in the Hebrides until the 1950s.
The typical song follows a call-and-answer pattern, and is delivered in a highly rhythmical and pleasing way, with verses sung in both Gaelic and Gaelic-sounding vocables. The rhythm is pronounced and very strong in order to help co-ordinate the beating of the tweed with both hands and feet. Have a listen to the Frasers on YouTube – WPBC 1994 – it’s great stuff. We were aware that opening a medley with this music was likely to cause some jaws to drop. In order to comply with the rules, we realized that we would have to start with two three-pace rolls and an introductory “E,” and so we did. Of course to be true to the ancient idiom, we had to play in 2/4 time at about 60 bpm. I found it thrilling and absolutely captivating to march into the circle at that pace, looking and feeling for all the world like a dignified group of French Foreign Legionnaires.
After our performance, the hours passed, we had some fun and laughs together, and then as the sun was sinking another swagger-stick man (not the same one, but cut from the same stiff cloth) came striding up to our bus, where the entire band was gathered in preparation for heading over to the March Past. This fellow approached me and in a fairly booming sergeant-major’s voice declared, “Well pipe-major, you’ll be pleased to know your band was not disqualified.” Baffled, I asked how such a step could even be considered. “Well, your introduction and opening tunes.”
“REALLY!? That’s crazy – we played two three-pace rolls and an introductory “E,” as required” “Yes, well, the decision stands – your band will not be disqualified.”
Now my question was then, as it is now, if we’re not disqualified, why this need to come to me and announce a negative finding? The answer of course is that the RSPBA makes the rules, and any perceived attempt to skirt them will be squashed, and will be seen to be squashed.
There’s a bit more to this story. It reflects the attitude of the RSPBA and its complete failure to honour its mandate – to promote and encourage the culture and advancement of pipe band music. The unfortunate corollary to this is that the role of the World Pipe Band Championships has taken on a stultifying influence on pipe bands and their music. The relentless pursuit of the World’s has pipe band music becoming ever more narrow, formulaic, unimaginative and risk averse.
There is a wonderful postscript here . . .
Readers can find out what happened next in Preposterous: Tales to Follow, available from www.williamlivingstone.com.
You can read the previous three exclusive excerpts here:
And Iain MacInnes’s review of the book here: An elegance of phrasing
We thank Bill Livingstone for sharing these excerpts from his book exclusively with pipes|drums readers.