February 27, 2019

RSPBA polling Grade 1 bands on World’s format

A typical Saturday Grade 1 World’s crowd. [Photo: Alister Sinclair]
Eleven days after pipes|drums first reported that only 15 bands at most are likely to compete at the 2019 World Pipe Band Championships, the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association has decided to poll band leaders for their opinion on whether the event should be two days or one.

A message from RSPBA Chairman John Hughes arrived in in-boxes on February 27. Acting on behalf of the organization’s board of directors, Hughes wrote:

This email is in connection with the 2019 Grade 1 World Pipe Band Championship and requires an urgent response from your band.

Since 2013 we have been running the WPBC over two days. The primary reason for this was that we were unable to fit all of the required performances across all grades into one day. In 2014 we established a specific qualifying event for Grade 1 only on the Friday because of the numbers involved.

However, from the information available, it appears that the number of Grade 1 bands entering the Worlds in 2019 is likely to be lower than it has been for many years.

As an organisation driven by its Membership, the Board of Directors feel it is important to ask the bands directly impacted by any change for their input.

As a result, the Board of Directors would like to ask you two questions.

1. Will your band be entering the 2019 Grade 1 World Pipe Band Championship?

2. If it was feasible to have all Grade 1 bands who have entered the 2019 WPBC play their MSR and Medley on the Saturday, with both the MSR and Medley being drawn on the Line, would your band support the option to remove the Friday qualifying event for 2019?

Could you please respond directly to myself by Wednesday 6th March 2019, at the latest, with the response from your band to the above questions.

This information will then be presented to the Board of Directors for consideration on Saturday 9th March 2019.

Thank you for your support in providing this vital feedback.

Whether the organization will share the results of the survey publicly is of course to be seen, and, if there is strong preference to make Grade 1 a one-day event, it’s unknown if the association will or even can act.

According to sources close to the association who spoke on condition of anonymity, changing the format of the event would, according to the RSPBA’s bylaws, have to be made at the organization’s annual general meeting, motions having to be made at least six weeks in advance. The association’s AGM is on March 9 in Glasgow.

The Grade 1 format for the World’s is an exception to the normal RSPBA rule that calls for a qualifying round when 22 or more bands have entered in any grade.

RSPBA member bands originally expressed desire to have all bands compete in a qualifying round, replacing a “league table” system in which the RSPBA previous four championships would determine pre-qualifiers, along with any non-RSPBA-member bands that gained a prize at the previous year’s World’s.

After pipes|drums broke the news of the probable small Grade 1 entry, commentary on social media platforms was often fiercely critical of the RSPBA.

“The most prestigious event in our game has been allowed to turn into a farcical white elephant due to, amongst a number of organizational failures, a repeated failure to listen to the people who matter most: the competitors,” said Scott Currie in a comment to a post on the pipes|drums Facebook page. Currie is one of the world’s most accomplished tenor and bass drummers.

Currie went on to call out the association for, in his opinion, making members fearful of expressing their opinions: “The truth is that bands are afraid to speak their minds publicly now in fear of repercussions on the field or by other measures. It’s now considered career suicide for a P/M or L/D to express their views or even get involved in a discussion on anything of this nature publicly, so they just won’t.”

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the Friday-Saturday format costs Scottish bands incrementally more than it would for those travelling from abroad. Visiting bands are generally in Glasgow for the previous week, while members of Scottish bands are forced to take a day of holidays and cover additional travel and accommodation expenses. Making a two-day World’s a Saturday and Sunday event is reportedly too unpopular with religious pipers and drummers who hold Sundays sacred, as well as an additional difficulty for visiting bands, whose members would then have to tack on an additional day of vacation.

“It should never has been a two-day event,” said Gordon Stafford, the former pipe-major of the now defunct Grade 1 Torphichen & Bathgate Pipe Band of Scotland. “It was never necessary and resulted in extra costs for all the bands on a Friday. To continue with this is stupidity of the highest order.”

The current two-day format for Grade 1 is part of the package presumably sold to Glasgow Live, the local organization that works with the RSPBA to stage the spectacle, erecting seating and selling tickets for both days. While the best bands on the planet compete on Friday, attendance by the paying public at Glasgow Green is sparse, making the environment relatively stark and sleepy compared with the vibrant scene with some 220 bands in total competing on the Saturday.

The rights to broadcasting the competitions on Saturday are sold to BBC Scotland. While the Friday events are also typically streamed live, the broadcast is not officially by the BBC.

The current pipes|drums Poll indicates that 80% of readers responded Yes to the question, “If only 15 bands are in the event, should the Grade 1 World Championship be held on a single day?”

Stay tuned to pipes|drums for more on this developing story.


Related coverage

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


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






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