February 02, 2020

Roll call: 2020 World’s Grade 1 entry likely just making threshold for qualifier

The march past at the 2019 World Championships. [Photo: Alister Sinclair]
The 2020 World Pipe Band Championships are a little more than six months away, and the format of the Grade 1 competition will likely return to a qualifier system, but if one band decides not to attend the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association will once again be looking at a different approach.

Last year, pipes|drums canvassed the world’s Grade 1 bands and discovered that only 15 were likely to attend the 2019 contest. Since at the time an entry of 22 bands was the trigger to hold qualifying heats, the information prompted the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association to consider various options. Ultimately, the association elected to hold two days of competitions, with all four events counting towards the final aggregate.

A pipes|drums survey of pipe-majors of Grade 1 bands competing in the 2019 World’s indicated strong support of a one-day contest.

The 2020 event looks more promising, with 18 bands so far planning to enter and, after the RSPBA lowered the Grade 1 qualifier threshold to more than 17 bands. The tipping point for all other grades remains 22 or more.

Despite not currently having a pipe-major, the Glasgow Police Pipe Band has confirmed that it fully plans to enter the 2020 World’s. The band is in a state of transition following the resignation of Pipe-Major Alisdair McLaren, and is currently searching for a suitable replacement. The group reportedly has undertaken a sponsorship with the Police Federation, the employee support arm of Police Scotland, and most sponsors of bands expect them to make as many public appearances as possible.

After the 2019 season, the RSPBA moved Grade 2 Champion of Champions Closkelt of Northern Ireland to Grade 1. It also upgraded World’s Grade 2 winners St. Thomas Alumni of Houston, members of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association. The EUSPBA subsequently also elevated the band. Both will make their World’s Grade 1 debut in August, along with Florida-based City of Dunedin, which was upgraded after winning Grade 2 at the 2018 World’s, but elected to compete only in North America in 2019, winning, among other prizes, the North American Championship at Maxville, Ontario.

Expected to attend (18)

  • 78th Fraser Highlanders, Canada
  • City of Dunedin, USA
  • Closkelt, Northern Ireland
  • Field Marshal Montgomery, Northern Ireland
  • Glasgow Police, Scotland
  • Glasgow Skye Association, Scotland
  • Inveraray & District, Scotland
  • Johnstone, Scotland
  • Lomond & Clyde, Scotland
  • Manawatu Scottish, New Zealand
  • Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia, Scotland
  • Police Scotland Fife, Scotland
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland
  • ScottishPower, Scotland
  • Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia, Scotland
  • Simon Fraser University, Canada
  • St. Laurence O’Toole, Ireland
  • St. Thomas Alumni, USA

Confirmed not attending (six)

  • 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel), Canada
  • Auckland & District, New Zealand
  • Canterbury Caledonian Society, New Zealand
  • New Zealand Police, New Zealand
  • Toronto Police, Canada
  • Western Australia Police, Australia

Of note, the Toronto Police are still searching for a suitable lead-drummer and Pipe-Major Sean McKeown confirmed that the band is still on hiatus. The Western Australia Police are also searching for a pipe-major while Pipe-Sergeant Stuart Robertson is currently the interim leader. The band does not typically compete outside of Australia.

The RSPBA recently announced its allocation of judges for its five major championships. Assigned to the World’s Grade 1 events:

Qualifying rounds

Group 1

  • James Wark, Scotland (piping) – former pipe-major of the Grade 1 Strathclyde Police and member of the band for several decades.
  • Ken Eller, Canada (piping) – pipe-major of Grade 1 Clan MacFarlane of Ontario for two decades and a member of the 78th Fraser Highlanders for more than 10 years.
  • Sandy Steele, Northern Ireland (drumming) – snare drummer with Grade 3 Dromara in the 1960s and ’70s.
  • Alan Ronaldson, Scotland (ensemble) – piper in the Grade 1 Edinburgh/Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band, and RSPBA judge for more than three decades.

Group 2

  • Maurice Rhodes, Scotland (piping) – piper with Grade 1 Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia for many years, and part of World Champion-winning bands led by Robert Mathieson.
  • Harry Stevenson, Northern Ireland (piping) – former pipe-major of Grade 1 Robert Armstrong Memorial of Northern Ireland, and decades on the RSPBA judges panel.
  • Harry Russell, Northern Ireland (drumming) – snare drummer with the Grade 1 Royal Ulster Constabulary of Northern Ireland for many years.
  • Tom Brown, Scotland (ensemble) – former pipe-major of the Grade 1 Dysart & Dundonald of Scotland, and long-time member of the band, including when it won back-to-back World Championships in 1977 and ’78.



  • Robert Shaw, Scotland (piping) – former pipe-major of the Grade 2 Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Pipe Band.
  • Peter Hunt, Scotland (piping) – decades as a piper with the Grade 1 Power of Scotland/ScottishPower and one of the world’s top solo competition pipers for many years.
  • Stuart Coils, Scotland (drumming) – years of service with the Grade 1 Strathclyde Police and ScottishPower bands.
  • Jim Baxter, Scotland (ensemble) – lead-drummer of now defunct Torphichen & Bathgate, which rose to Grade 1.


  • Ross Walker, Scotland (piping) – pipe-major of Grade 1 Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia for more than two decades and a member of the band for more than 30 years.
  • Brian Switalla, New Zealand (piping) – one of New Zealand’s top solo pipers and the former pipe-major of the Grade 1 City of Dunedin (New Zealand) and a former member of Grade 1 Field Marshal Montgomery.
  • Lee Innes, Scotland (drumming) – former lead-drummer with now defunct Grade 1 Dysart & Dundonald.
  • Jennifer Hutcheon, Scotland (ensemble) – a member of Grade 1 Red Hackle, Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia and Polkemmet for many years, and past pipe-major and director of the Craigmount High School juvenile pipe band system.

Like most associations, the RSPBA does not make biographical information on judges readily accessible, and details here are from our own knowledge of adjudicators’ backgrounds.

After more than three decades, both Sandy Steele and Alan Ronaldson will reportedly retire from RSPBA judging after the 2020 World’s.

Inveraray & District was the winner of the 2019 World Championship.



Glasgow Police again issue APB for new pipe-major
January 29, 2020


RSPBA finally confirms Grade 1 World’s format
July 9, 2019


All performances will count for Grade 1 World’s
April 28, 2019


RSPBA polling Grade 1 bands on World’s format
February 27, 2019


One-day 2019 World’s likely a non-starter
February 19, 2019


World’s Grade 1 probably only 15 bands
February 16, 2019


Leadership changes for New Zealand’s Canterbury Caledonian
November 16, 2019


Grade 1 Toronto Police still searching for L-D
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