August 09, 2007


Feel free to paint this with your favourite band's colours!This will be a funny time for a lot of bands now staring the 2007 World Championships in the face. Reality will start to sink in, as bands realize that where they are right now in terms of tone and playing is as good as it will get before the contest.

I think a lot of members of UK bands still see the event as just another Major, but bigger and with more competition at the top. Many of them don’t seem to have the edginess that the “overseas” (how I dislike that pejorative) pipers and drummers possess. After all, it’s back to their own beds and families and pubs after the contest, and there’s security in that.

I remember 1988. The year before, the band I was with had won the World’s. For some bizarre reason, we stayed in a little village called Kinross, which seemed near Orkney we were so far off the beaten path to Glasgow. Isolated and bored, the band started to eat away at itself with way too much introspection and worry, and not enough distractions and fun.

The night before the big contest where the band was to defend its title, we all sat in this weird morose manner in a little wood-panelled room at the wee country hotel (that continually ran out of hot water and had to put five of the tallest pipers in an attic room with feet draped over the end of lumpy mattresses) dreading the next day. When morning came and the bus pulled out with windscreen wipers on full, someone had the bright idea of putting on a special mix tape of really sad Gaelic songs. We wouldn’t admit it then, but, in hindsight, we were doomed.

That said, when I was doing the World’s thing, there was usually this prevailing preposterous Pollyanna attitude that’s required of anyone on a team. Even if the band had about as much chance of actually winning the contest as the RSPBA has of actually responding to a pipes|drums inquiry, bandsmen – including me – would inevitably pick it to finish first when it came to making their first prediction in the annual pool.

I used to coordinate that pool, similar to the one currently going on the site, where each entry cost £1, and people could enter as often as they liked, and the winner took the entire pot, which could approach £200. People would start off with a “my band first” pick, and as the week went on, they’d start to sneak in their true predictions, once they realized the kind of money that was building up.

Most band-members’ ultimate objective is to win the blessed World’s. But, for those 15-odd bands that this year have nae chance, every one of their pipers and drummers will have different goals. Some will be devastated with a fifth-place; others will be ecstatic. Some may just want to get through the Qualifier. Some will aim to improve over last year. Others will simply want to play as well as they can personally and let the chips fall where they may. Many just want to have a good day out and get to the beer tent as quickly as possible.

A few years ago at a sweltering Piping Centre, Bob Shepherd and Alistair Aitken presented a seminar on the evolution of pipe bands as part of Piping Live! It was very interesting, with some outstanding archival recordings. I’ll never forget that, at one point, Shepherd – who of course is a prominent judge on the RSPBA panel – made the alarming comment: “Only three bands have a chance of winning tomorrow. That’s a fact.” He added that if someone quoted him, he would deny he made the statement.

Shepherd wasn’t judging the next day, but his saying such a thing showed a lot of courage, if not dubious tact. He was right, of course, and it showed up in the 2005 World’s results.

Passion can often cloud reality. This stuff means so much to us that we sometimes think that if we just believe in it strongly enough, it just might come true. Everyone has their reasons for doing what they do, and cheers to dreams becoming truth.




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