Triumphant and Victorious – 1979 a historic World’s, 40 years later
We can list milestone years in pipe band history: the debut of the competition medley in 1964. The first use of ensemble judging in the 1970s. The Strathclyde Police winning their sixth straight World Championship in 1986. 1987 we know by now all too well. 2010 and it went to Ireland with St. Laurence O’Toole.
But perhaps it was 1979 that was the most history-altering year of all. That was the year when, on August 11, for the first time ever, not just one but two non-Scottish bands gained a prize at the World’s when Triumph Street and City of Victoria placed, respectively, fifth and sixth, becoming the first “overseas” bands to make the list since Worcester Kiltie of Massachusetts took a third in the early 1970s. Worcester followed the first-ever overseas band to get a World’s prize, City of Toronto gaining a fifth in 1966 at Bught Park in Inverness under Pipe-Major Chris Anderson and Lead-Drummer Tim Orr.
Remarkably, both Triumph Street and City of Victoria were rivals from British Columbia, Canada, putting western Canada on the map for good, eventually opening the way for Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and their six World Championship victories.
Similar to our piece last year in sync with the twentieth anniversary of Australia’s Victoria Police winning the 1998 World Championship – another definitive milestone in pipe band history – 2019 is the fortieth year since the twin feats of City of Victoria and Triumph Street, two bands that sadly, like Australia’s Victoria Police, no longer compete.
By any measure, 1979 was an odd year for pipe bands in general. This was during the extraordinary heyday of the Grade 1 Dysart & Dundonald of Fife, Scotland. Dysart had upended the idea of what a top pipe band could be and the band, now largely unknown by a new generation, set the table for others.
Led by instructor-Pipe-Major Bob Shepherd, Dysart rocketed through the grades, from a Grade 3 outfit in 1970 to winning back-to-back Grade 1 World Championships in 1977 and ’78. They did it with almost total homegrown talent that gained a reputation – deserved or not – as a ragtag group of ruffians in the age of punk rock from working class families who thumbed their collective noses at pipe band convention.
Rather than slavishly adhere to complicated and bothersome things like playing prescribed doublings in all tunes, or even having three drones going in all or even most bagpipes, the band evidently took a chanters-first approach to winning. It was less about risky and difficult subtleties and more about impact and clarity – a tenet that in many ways holds true today. What use was musical playing when chanters were way out of tune?
Dysart bucked pipe band mores, much to the chagrin of established greats like Pipe-Major Iain McLeod of the Edinburgh/Lothian & Borders Police (in 1979 he was pipe-major of Grade 1 Babcock-Renfrew) and the McAllisters of Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia fame. Dysart had little use for spit and polish, Shepherd and Lead-Drummer James King leading a one-band rebellion against the establishment.
And not only was Dysart winning the World’s, they were cranking out a studio album a year (seemingly recorded with only a handful of their best players), creating and borrowing new material at a prodigious rate.
The band can even be seen as being the inventors of the modern pipe band concert. It wasn’t the 78th Fraser Highlanders that started the trend; it was Dysart & Dundonald who strutted their stuff in full-length shows on-stage, beginning in 1979, and the first band to perform a “pre-World’s” concert, in 1981, at Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
We retrace this history because Dysart were very much in sync with the times. All over the western world, “the establishment” was being challenged, with punk rock, outrageous fashion, the sexual revolution and an explosion of technology.
And the pipe band establishment for some reason, somehow, some way, allowed Dysart & Dundonald to happen.
But not for long.
This also was the year that Triumph Street brought home The Sash!
Quite an accomplishment and I believe the first time it crossed the pond.
What a fantastic article. Brings back brilliant personal memories. My first World’s. First time I got drunk. My own band had a terrible performance which in hindsight was not a surprise when the standard preparation was to drink all night, the night before the competition, and then to wonder why the judges placed you nearly last. It took a few years for the penny to drop, when we eventually had enough sense to actually perform well enough to win a world title. As for 1979, my first ever journey on a plane, stayed at Nottingham University, being starstruck by Strathclyde Police, something that continued up until recently, how exotic it was to hear this Canadian outfit called Triumph Street, recording and listening and then learning to play in our own band Kilworth Hills, and I’m sure many other bands did.. A simple but very effective tune. Also hearing their strange accents around the park. It was an innocent time! You are so right about Dysart, the Sex Pistols of the pipe band world. The urban rumours about these lads out of care homes and juvenile prisons who could play like demons. I remember listening to banjo breakdown over and over on the following years LP. You may not have liked them but they were the first band in my opinion that you could describe as innovative and have surely been influential to some who came after them. McLellan, the Bruce Springsteen of pipe bands, “The Boss” was just at the beginning of complete domination of the pipe band world culminating for me in the greatest MSR of them all, Hugh Kennedy, The ewe wi the crookit horn, Mrs McPherson of Inveran. Hairs standing to attention. Then back to Wollaton Park Nottingham. I’ve never returned to Nottingham by the way. A two day world’s? Whoever thought that would work? As far as I remember Boghall won Grade 2 that day and have remained in Grade 1 ever since. Some achievement. Loved all the info on the tunes the Canadian bands played and the programme cover. Some memories. I was 16 by the way. Far too young to get drunk for my first time! Thanks.
Great article and great memories of hearing City of Victoria and Truimph St- what a sound off their Hardie Chanters. Slight correction for Howard- Monktonhall won Grade 2 that year, although Boghall won all the other majors that year,
I don’t believe Worcester ever made the World’s prize list and Toronto in 1966 came 5th or 6th, not 3rd.