Trailing Drones
March 23, 2016

Trailing Drones: All ire, all the time

Harry’s just done the full-on St. Patrick’s pub tour, and the head still feels like a pail of wet tattie scones. The Guinness flowed fulsomely, feeding fearless fools fully, and by the time “The Minstrel Boy” and “The Wearing of the Green” were played for the last time, the band had raised enough for new spats and hackles, and we are finally going to be able to get the full leopard skins for the bass-sec . . . er . . . em . . . I mean mid-section. They are right pumped about that. Harry sees the possibility for a few practical jokes at the games next summer, but he’ll keep that quiet at the moment.

Harry reads on p|d just like the rest of you (even those perpetually angry folk you who claim they don’t) and he was pretty interested in the new “fashion brogues” style on display by the band in the St. Patrick’s story. The good news about this method of lacing the brogues is that you can really pin your sgian dhubh to the leg so it won’t fall out on the dance floor. Harry’s thinking Henrietta might look pretty good in the actual fashion sandals, but she says she’d rather be found drunk in the High Street wearing just a football jersey.

Harry reminds her it wasn’t that much fun last time.

Not Harry, hairy, or, sadly, Henrietta.

The DVD of the 7887 Concert at Celtic Connections is rumoured to be coming out soon, and Harry also hears that the current 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band (in case anyone forgot around all the vintage Frasers revival hoopla that it still exists) is considering a re-release of the original Live In Ireland album, to which of course it owns the rights, along with the record label and music publisher. Let’s see where this goes.

On the subject of uniforms, Harry’s eyes grazed across a practice photo of the Dowco-Triumph Street’s “Glasgow Team” hard at work, and there was one piper for each of Harry’s toes (10). That got him to thinking about the cost of said team: kilt (£300), jacket (£200), sporran (£100), sheepskin bag (£200), G1 chanter (£100), glengarry & cap badge (£50), band tie (£15), flashes and band hose (£25). Altogether £990 per player times 10 is £9,900 or near enough $20,000. Add to that the cost of flights, practice space, time (time travel?), and you have a pretty major investment for any band.

Any mug who says, “There’s no money in pipe bands!” hasn’t been keeping track. Don’t get me wrong. I think what DTSPB is doing is necessary if they want to break through with enough quality numbers. The shrivelled-up Denny & Dunipace Grade 1 band is a cautionary tale, and let’s hope that the venerable Cullybackey indeed is able to field a competition band this year.

Lads and lassies, unless the powers-that-(RSP)be do something about the numbers business, the future of Grade 1 pipe bands is here, and except for those at the top, it is one grim scene.

On the subject of keeping track of numbers, Harry hears that there has been some internal financial drama in the Irish Pipe Band Association, and all bets might be off for the All-Ireland Championships being held in Eire for the foreseeable future. The Northern Ireland branch of the RSPBA has had its own share of drama this winter with the association voting to put out long-time organizer and contributor Mervyn Herron. Herron apparently ran afoul of the wrong people with regard to his support for the Spring Gatherin’ last year, and rumour is he was, um, organized out of a position that the majority of bands and band members would strongly support him to retain. Thirty years of hard, successful volunteer work, now get tae . . . Jings, thanks a lot. And one wonders why there’s a shortage of good people stepping up to volunteer their services to pipe band associations.

Good to see a bit of resurgence in the area of printed music collections. Two efforts coming out this spring: Colin MacLellan’s homage to his great father, Captain John A. MacLellan’s piobaireachd compositions, and the fourth collection by Bob Worrall, who will launch his book officially at Piping Live! with a strong cast of players whose tunes are well represented in the collection.

And back to the topic of “There’s nae money in it” – it appears that our little world is getting wise to the whole streaming thing. I say the days of just going ahead and streaming or recording bands and soloists for broadcast are winding down, as we all wise up to it. Case in point: the Uist & Barra Invitational Solo Piping Competition apparently applied the brakes to its streaming effort at the eleventh hour when they realized that, hey, maybe they should ask permission, which they did. There was almost certainly the usual “We’re barely breaking even” guilt trip about not being able to compensate anyone for their hard work. But competitors are wising up to the fact that all this streaming is flypaper for websites and brands, and those who make the sticky stuff deserve their share, however small it might be. And, please, spare me the sh^te about how the whole thing might collapse if you actually pay people. If that’s the case, you’re in the wrong business, and go get people who know what they’re doing.

The lists are out for Oban and Inverness and Harry notes a bit of a logjam in the Gold Medal with quite a few folk holding a place without either a strong shot of winning or the will to retire. Always hard to say when the stars will align for anyone, but maybe it’ll get to the stage when the demand merits having to “re-earn” your place, in the same way Harry’ll soon have to re-do the driving exam? Interesting to see Gold Medallist Wilson Brown (Northern Meeting 1996, “Nameless – hiharin dro o dro”) with his name in the list for entrants to the Clasp, 20 years after winning the Gold Medal and not a few winters past his last solo competition appearance. Ever since Old Johnnie blazed a trail in his sixties (not to mention Messrs. MacPherson and Livingstone) folk are not about to give up when the tunes still feel good.

Henrietta says she isn’t giving up anytime soon. “As long as it still feels good!” she coos like a well-played cane tenor in a Duncan MacDougall drone.

She’s dead keen on the yoga. Harry? He’s dead keen on hearing your scoopage, moaning and conspiracy theories, so keep them coming.



  1. On behalf of the Irish Pipe Band Association, I would like to assure the pipe band fraternity that the All Ireland Pipe Band Championships will most certainly be taking place in Malahide, Co. Dublin in July 2016 . Could I also point out that what we know as the Great Highland bagpipe , Scotland’s national instrument as you describe it , has been played in Ireland since at least 800 A.D. We do of course accept that the pipe band is a Scottish invention and we Paddys are delighted to be part of this fantastic culture which is now shared in many parts of the world. Isn’t that why we have a World Pipe Band Championships every year ?

  2. Harry,
    You should run a contest and provide free live streaming.
    Then let us know how you were able to break even without sponsors.
    Pipers want it all for free.
    Maybe Bernie Sanders can provide that.



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