Triumphant and Victorious – 1979 a historic World’s, 40 years later
For those lucky few who participated in the 1979 World’s, the memories continue today.
“I have many memories of just being together with the band, daily practices and feeling good about how the band was sounding, especially the pipe section,” Fisher says. “I remember the excitement of people who were hearing the band for the first time, asking where did they come from, that sort of thing. We were happy with our performance, and I remember standing with our pipe-sergeant, Steve Geddes, who was really excited about the band’s chances, watching the Glasgow Police playing and, if I remember right, it was pouring rain. They sounded so good. It was a lesson, just like every time you listened to them. I also remember Triumph Street winning the drumming, which was amazing for the time, however it was understandable, as they were fabulous. From listening to Triumph Street every summer on the West Coast I knew how great they were.”
“The Polis” were flying high, and about to embark on their extraordinary and still unparalleled run of 12 World Championship titles in 14 years. They were turning heads like no other band, particularly for tone.
“I think what I remember most was hearing Strathclyde police playing that day. I was young and was just trying to do as I was told. Others were handling the details and I was in the circle watching,” says Gandy.
For others, fondest memories aren’t necessarily competition. Jamie Troy says his are “being guests of the Sheriff of Nottingham on the Friday night at the city chambers and playing down from the castle through the streets with our sound cascading everywhere.”
Similarly, Aumonier adds, “I recall a very welcome reception by all the other bands. Prior to the competition we were hosted by the Sheriff of Nottingham at a civic reception. After the results, the other competitors were kind and congratulatory to us. I sensed they knew it was a bigger deal than I was certainly feeling at the time.”
Hal Senyk’s fondest recollection is actually the return trip: “A happy, alcohol-fueled bus ride home, without the customary postmortem, fulminating over the sheets or reviling of the judges.”
The bands would continue their trip, taking in contests at Rothesay, the Cowal Championships, Edinburgh and Shotts, and when Triumph Street returned to Vancouver, there were celebrations put on by the city, the band toasted for their accomplishment. “When we got home we were feted at the Pacific National Exhibition by Don Bellamy, who arranged to have the reader board sign outside the grounds read ‘Triumph Street Pipe Band returns in Triumph – World Champions,’ ” Skalazub remembers.
And what about the likelihood of a band today appearing from out of virtually nowhere to capture a prize at the World’s? The closest thing to it in recent memory is the eighth in the Grade 1 final that Spirit of Scotland achieved in 2016 although, strictly speaking, it was the second time at the World’s contest after their 2008 debut, when the band placed eleventh.
“[It would be ] a very difficult thing to achieve with the standard of today’s top bands,” Troy said.
“Given the current standard of the top six Grade 1 bands, it will be difficult to take a significant prize on the first go, Senyk concurs. “There would need to be a lot of good public relations, and some spectacular YouTube material circulating to build up some hype. Given the size of Grade 1 bands now required, with the infrastructure and funding required, I don’t see it a likely prospect.”
“I don’t know if a Grade 1 band can win a prize in its first attempt these days,” Aumonier remarks. “It hasn’t happened in 40 years. The standard today, throughout the grade, is astonishingly good. We should not lose sight of that. Certainly, it is feasible for a band to win a prize in its first year. But the standard is high, experience is incredibly important, and everyone is vying for the same thing. City of Victoria had played in major Canadian events and the Intercontinental Championships in 1977 and knew what had to be done. So, it could be done, but a lot has to go into it in years leading up to it.”
“Nothing is impossible,” Gandy said. “If a new band formed in Scotland made up of let’s say half of Field Marshal Montgomery and half of Inveraray & District, I think you could expect them in the prize list that year. But in most cases, it would be a monumental task as the top bands are just so absolutely amazing these days.”
It’s all relative. From a wide-eyed collection of pipers and drummers from British Columbia in the age of punk rock, to today when the World Pipe Band Championships is only extraordinary because of the influx of close to 100 non-UK competitors, 1979 was a watershed year in the annals of pipe bands.
It was the beginning of something much, much bigger, prompted by two groups that were ready to travel nearly 5,000 miles to test their mettle and learn from the experiences. Even though Triumph Street would not capture another prize at the World’s, and City of Victoria managed only another sixth in 1981 (after winning the all-band qualifier event), each made history by blazing a trail, inspiring others to follow, bringing the world to the World’s.
We thank Peter Aumonier, Ken Eller, John Fisher, Bruce Gandy, Colin Magee, Hal Senyk, Allan Skalazub, Jamie Troy and Steven Young for their help with this article.
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Triumph Street at the 1979 World’s
June 24, 2019
Willie McErlean, 1931-2014
April 25, 2014
Hal Senyk awarded BCPA Life Membership
March 31, 2011