January 28, 2021

World’s on schedule despite UK music festival cancellations

A band marching into the circle at the 2019 World Championships. [Photo Alister Sinclair]
The recent outright cancellation of the 2021 Glastonbury Music Festival that had been scheduled for June in Somerset, England, due to the UK’s COVID-19 situation was something of a wakeup that things might not get back to in-person normal any time soon.

But according to Glasgow Life, the civic organization that licenses the event from the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, the World Pipe Band Championships are so far on schedule for August 13-14 in Glasgow.

When asked whether the Glastonbury cancellation will influence any decision regarding the World Pipe Band Championships, a Glasgow Life spokesman said, “No it doesn’t. Glastonbury and the World Pipe Band Championships are very different kinds of events, with different audiences and very different site requirements, which mean they aren’t comparable.”

Glastonbury is held on a farm and attracts upwards of 200,000 people. The World Pipe Band Championships are held on the expansive Glasgow Green. Attendance figures are not made public, but estimates of around 25,000 have been made.

The 2020 World’s was officially cancelled on April 3, 2020, in the wake of the pandemic spread of the novel coronavirus. The development, rollout and administration of several efficacious vaccines have given hope to pipe bands around the world that enough immunity and safety protocols would be in place by summer in the northern hemisphere to allow a return to in-person pipe band events.

It’s one thing scheduling and holding pipe band competitions, but bands will need enough practice time to get into adequate playing shape. Many bands have shut down completely since March 2020, not even getting together online.

The World Championships is differentiated from the other four RSPBA major championships in that about a third of its contestants are non-UK bands. While each of those bands might be competition-ready, travel restrictions and quarantine rules will inevitably weigh on their decision or ability to attend the World’s or any other international competition.

The first of the 2021 majors, the British Pipe Band Championships, is scheduled for May 22nd in Paisley, Scotland. Last year’s British was not cancelled until March 16th, and then by the Renfrewshire Council, which licenses the event from the RSPBA.

“The band is walking the line of optimism and pragmatism,” said Doug MacRae, pipe-major of the Grade 1 78th Fraser Highlanders of Ontario, Canada, a band that until 2020 had competed at 36 consecutive World Championships. “I think it’s reasonable to assume the entire pipe band community would like to see the World’s take place. Though, even if the event proceeds, we’re all at the mercy of our home country’s inoculation schedules and travel limitations. The challenge for our band, and likely others, is the international make-up of our membership. Should the World’s take place, we will need to evaluate the time we have to rehearse in-person as a full band, how we’re doing, and then decide what’s best for the team.”

The Grade 1 Manawatu Scottish of New Zealand tries to get to the World’s every other year. The band had been planning to compete at the 2021 World’s, but changed their mind last year when it became unrealistic to make the nearly 19,000 kilometre, two-day, $175,000 trek to Scotland. Despite New Zealand being a model for efficiently dealing with the virus, and its summer 2020-’21 pipe band season taking place, with bands able to practice in-person for many months, other factors come into play.

“To be able to put up to 40 individuals through such a process smoothly and in a timely manner is therefore completely unrealistic.” – Stewart McKenzie

“Manawatu will definitely not be attending the World’s this year, even if it does go ahead,” said Manawatu Pipe-Major Stewart McKenzie. “There are too many risks and logistical challenges associated with international travel still to contemplate it. We’re thankful we’re able to practice and compete, although it’s not a key factor in decision making. As an example of the logistical challenges associated with international travel to and from New Zealand, anyone returning here needs to quarantine for two weeks in a dedicated, approved Managed Isolation and Quarantine facility, of which spaces are very scarce. If you do not have a space booked, you can’t return. Many Kiwis wanting to return are stuck for months overseas waiting for a spot to come up.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today announced that quarantine-free international travel is unlikely for the entirety of 2021.

“To be able to put up to 40 individuals through such a process smoothly and in a timely manner is therefore completely unrealistic,” McKenzie added.

While Canada has not fared as well as New Zealand in keeping the coronavirus at bay, the country has done better than the UK and the United States. After a second surge of cases and deaths over the last two months, numbers are coming down. Even so, the Canadian government is expected to announce strict new measures limiting or prohibiting international into and domestic travel within the country. Mandatory testing and government-administered quarantining are also expected to be put in place.

If permitted at all, a band trip to the UK even in August could mean pre-flight testing of every member, another test on arrival, and a two-week quarantine at each person’s expense in both Scotland on arrival and in Canada on return.

Asked whether there is a specific date to make a decision about whether the World’s will go ahead or not, the Glasgow Life spokesperson commented, “All partners involved are following updates to guidance closely, but have not set a date by which decisions on the event have to be made.”

About his band setting their own date to make a go/no-go decision, MacRae said, “We have not set any deadlines for decisions. In turn, we are going week-by-week, staying positive, and looking forward to safely returning to competition.”

When asked if decision dates have been set as to whether the World’s and other major championships would go ahead or not, RSPBA Chair John Hughes had not responded at publication time.

To think that this time last year pipers and drummers were still expecting that the 2020 competition would take place as always. But with the prospect of the 2021 pipe band competitions not being feasible, there is doubt even about 2022.

“We would like to attend in 2022,” Manawatu’s McKenzie said, “but we will take a wait-and-see approach.”



2020 World Championships cancelled
April 3, 2020

Fourth RSPBSA major championship cancelled
April 2, 2020

UK Championships latest RSPBA major to be cancelled
March 20, 2020

European Championships cancelled
March 18, 2020

Renfrewshire Council grounds British Championships
March 16, 2020






Forgotten Password?