February 13, 2009

Digging a hole where the rain gets in . . .

I buried Paul!The current news of the RSPBA’s handling of “international” judges has captured the interest of pipes|drums readers. And why not? The competitive pipe band world (at least the non-Breton one) has been built on the Scottish model.

Over its history, the World Pipe Band Championships (Cowal pre-1947 included) were pretty much the same thing for more than 50 years. There was little growth and change in size or playing standards. Probably at least 95 per cent of the entrants were from Scotland. The rise in pipe band standards in the Commonwealth countries just happened to coincide with the availability of relatively cheap jet travel, so non-UK bands gradually gravitated to Scotland to test their mettle.

There is little argument that the expansion of the World’s is due to the influx of “overseas” bands.

I still think that the RSPBA – even three decades in to this crazy expansion – still doesn’t know what’s hit them. They have not adapted well to this change, and, some would say, have even tried to resist it, even by putting it down.

The City of Glasgow has figured it out. The National Piping Centre has figured it out. Piping Live! has figured it out. Why the RSPBA hasn’t is difficult for many to fathom. Thousands of people are saying, “Here, please take our money. All that we ask in return is a fair shake.”

Even when things have not been perceived as fair (e.g., recording rights, judging representation, threats of suspension to top overseas bands and judges), non-UK bands have still come, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this year things will be different. I wonder if the latest action – or inaction, as the case may be – is the final straw. One senses a groundswell. There’s a very angry mob that might have had just quite enough.

But I think that there is an element who feels, “Fine, stay home if you don’t like it. It’s our contest, so you’ll play under our rules, and we will set those rules as we see fit.” It’s as if they would be perfectly happy to return to 1965.

The current pipes|drums Poll is revealing. At the moment a total of 14 per cent have said Yes to the question “By suspending international judges, has the RSPBA done the right thing?” Of course, 86 per cent feel that the RSPBA made the wrong decision. If we look at the data behind the entries, countries of origin can be counted.

Responses from Canada are a tiny 3 per cent saying Yes. Those from the USA are higher, at 8 per cent. Australia is in line with the average, with 14 per cent responding Yes.

But, the UK response is a very different story. Some 35 per cent of responses from the UK support the RSPBA’s decision. While that’s far short of majority, it’s way above the average and miles more than the Canadian opinion.

There’s a massive divide that may not be possible to bridge. Could this be the end-of-the-tether for many bands? Will the RSPBA be able to dig itself from the hole that it’s dug? The next few months will tell the tale.


  1. Before they can dig themselves out of the hole, the have to realise they are in one. They don’t get it. Would foreign bands staying home send the message? Not in the short term likely. And maybe that’s okay for the RSPBA. By their actions they appear not to care about having foreign participation. But what about the Scottish bands? Do they want to win a world championship that doesn’t include the best of foreign competition? Based on the success foreign bands have had, how could a championship contested without them not be diminished and tarnished? There is at least 65% of the UK pipe band community that thinks the RSPBA are behaving like knuckleheads. Come…on, time to for the UK bands to grow a pair and speak up. If foreign bands do boycott, stagnation will set in and eventually destroy what is a vibrant week long festival that is valuable to the pipe band world and the city of Glasgow.

  2. the rspba is a joke,all they want is scottish judges to give scottish bands a chance to win the worlds.shotts won the worlds in 2005 which they only won because of the 60th anniversary,and when was the last time a scottish band won grade 2 at the worlds?.the rspba are scared of loosing the championships from scotland and going to austrailia,canada,usa,even maybe the north pole.as will carling(ex england rugby union captain)said about the english rugby union that its run by 57 old farts,its the same about the rspba,they are scared of progress

  3. This issue is a bit like a fight outside the bar. Right now the bouncers are turfing out a few people, and most watching are indignant and side with the turfed patrons, but no one is leaving the line, and everybody is still paying to get in. Inside, the music is still going, the drinks are flowing, and the people are dancing. People will talk about it, but nothing will change. The club knows that, too, and this is why they can be as arrogant and mean-spirited as they like.

    The bands who are in the running for top prizes are going to go regardless of who is or isn’t on the panel. If any of these bands were really altruistic about fairness, or the system being right, they would never have gone the first time. No what what kind of time-frozen relic holds the clipboard, it’s still fun to play, and still fun to have the chance to win. That will drive it.

  4. It’s like pro baseball, as long as people keep paying admission, the powers that be will continue destroying the integrity in pursuit of the dollar and ego. I posted on the dunsire forums suggesting a boycott of the RSPBA. My post was pulled by a Scottish moderator. The world doesn’t need the Scottish version of a World Championship anymore. We don’t need their pipe makers, we don’t need their reeds, we don’t need their kilt makers, we don’t need their judging. All have suffered in recent years at the hands of prolific international competition. We should all stop paying hommage and making the yearly trip to piping Mecca. It is really a depressed place full of miserable folks who litter the streets constantly anyway. Save for a few districts within cities, it’s a wholly unenlightened region of the Earth. Lets stop giving them our dollars to be subjected to bad weather and suspect judging all at a poorly laid out venue. If you want to visit the land of your ancestors, take a vacation with your family. But stop making me go there just to validate myself as a player in a competitive band. There must be some better stick by which we can measure ourselves. The RSPBA must reform or die.

  5. First, we have MAP. Presented as a solution to the RSPBA’s problems with their Grade 4A and Grade 4B musicianship, but applied globally. Then the Best Bass Section (Mid-Section) awards at the RSPBA majors were removed……both of these moves were to say the least “controversial”. But, given the lack of “political” clout of Mid-sections and of Grade 4 bands, the RSPBA was able to kind of force it down everyones throat, so to speak. Kind of the “we know best” arguement one uses with children.

    Now, the RSPBA wants to suspend Greg Dinsdale, Ken Eller and Bob Worrall from Ontario, and Nat Russell, Brian Niven and Sam Young from Australia. These are 6 of the most highly respected and successful people both in Scotland and internationaly. These are the Creme de la Creme of the International piping world. And by some myterious paperwork machinations in the “Heart of the Pipe Band World”, these men of unquestioned achievement and integrity are being found unworhy. I guess it is the “Heart of the Pipe Band World”, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the brain.


  6. It seems to me the power to make a meaningful boycott of the Worlds lies with the premier bands in Grade 1 and possibly Grade 2. If the likes of SFU and the 78th decided that they were not going to attend the Worlds anymore until the RSPBA put a halt to these protectionist strategies for eliminating international judges, their absence would surely affect the legitimacy of the World Pipe Band Championship as such. This seems to be the only way to hit the RSPBA where it hurts, so to speak. 40 non-UK grade 4 bands boycotting won’t have the same effect. Granted there is a financial loss for Glasgow if those 40 bands don’t attend, but I don’t know if that matters much to the RSPBA. Asking these premier bands to lead the charge is, of course, asking for them to make a major sacrifice. On the other hand, if enough of the world’s Grade 1 bands collectively agreed that it was time for a world championship event that truly moved around the globe, I think this whole dynamic of the RSPBA acting with impunity could change in a matter of a couple years.

  7. The answer is simple. If we can get the mules to stop digging their heels and move forward, we can get with things.
    1) Amend the ruling to allow for 1 year grace period for international judges to gather up scoresheets.
    2) Based on that, redo the judging assignment.
    Ce n’est-pas tres difficile.
    Just do it!

  8. What a tremendous loss for Glasgow, Scotland and the UK if bands from overseas were to stop coming to the Worlds in Glasgow. And what a loss for musicians. As far as I can see, it has been the overseas bands which have recently been setting the standard to which others can feel inspired to aspire. If the likes of SFU, 78ths, Bagad Cap Caval et al weren’t coming for the Worlds, I would seriously wonder about attending the event. These bands bring a high standard to the event, they bring MUSIC, professionalism, and greatly contribute to the quality and standards of the event. The judges named above do likewise. I am afraid that some of the Grade 1 judges quite simply are not qualified ,imho, to do the job. I have been alarmed by conversations with two of them, impressed by a third. I have the advantage of not being a top player – none of these judges think I know anything about anything. But one of them described to me, his attitude towards judging piping competitions in the USA. I was appalled, that given what he had just described, he could accept the fee. I also heard him take a group of players through their set for a competition. From a musical perspective, he talked a load of rubbish, but no-one present questioned him, or knew there was anything amiss in what he was saying. How does he become a Grade 1 judge? It makes no sense at all to me. Except that such people are in with the bricks and part of the club, and become VERY defensive in the presence of anyone who DOES know what they are talking about. So I think, therein lies a tale.
    Another judge was describing his thoughts on Grade 1 playing and judging. Although I repect him in many ways, in one important area, a personal prejudice is influencing his scoring. Bring in overseas judges (and of course its impossible to generalise as there will be good and bad whether overseas or at home)- but if we think of the calibre of Bob Worrall, – Scottish judges like the first described above, are going to be SERIOUSLY threatened by his professionalism and expertise. They are not going to want anybody like that within ten miles of Glasgow Green. It’s a great pity, because it deprives all of us here in Scotland, of the kind of opportunities for development, that we can benefit from. And if people stay away from the Worlds they probably also stay away from Piping Live, because many make one overseas trip to take in both. It seems there are two ways to go. One is down the pan, ending up with a small parochial event attended by a few Glaswegians, and the other way is up, embracing the great exponents of piping from around the world (including Scotland of course), welcoming them on board with open arms for the open mindedness they bring with them, the fresh and enlivening attitude they display in their bands and themselves, and the abundance of experience and knowledge they so willingly want to share with us. Is the association a Regressive Smallminded Product of Bad Attitude, or can it yet be a Regenerative Searching Progressive Beacon for our Art? I sincerely hope it chooses the latter route from the crossroads it now finds itself at. And also that it thinks of the future and not just a couple of days ahead.

  9. As Andrew has said, the RSPBA haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe an international boycott is what’s needed for them to wake up. Or probably they’ll be waken up by Glasgow City Council and businesses after lost revenue caused by the boycott.

  10. RE: “Regenerative Searching Progressive Beacon for our Art?”
    Really! For little old me? Why thank you very much!
    Interesting comments about the “Pride and Prejudice” of some judges. Kinda takes me back to the bias discussion.

  11. I quite agree w/Iain MacD – if RSPBA are in the 70’s, Glasgow Green is Studio 54, and a whole lotta bandsmen just can’t wait to see if they get a chance to be let inside to dance w/all the cool kids. Regardless from where the bouncer heralds. If you’re there to win, and been winning…you’re likely not too concerned about who’s holding the clipboard.

    YYZ Cops are giving it a miss for Lorient this year, yeah? Maybe if more do that it will change, although I think more likely it would make some folks happy the furriners begged off. Besides, iin my experience, we bandspeople are notoriously bad at engaging in collective action for a cause. Every once in awhile, but not often…and never when it’s big chips in the game.

    I’m sorry – I don’t intend to be depressing. EVERYONE HAVE A NICE WEEKEND! 🙂

  12. Ummm…boycotts are a way to go but remember that is what the RRSPBA ultimately what they want to happen.

    All of their actions are sending a clear message. They don’t actually want North American judges and are quite aware that this action could provoke a boycott . I contend though, they don’t really care. Even if every non-Scottish band including the defending World Champions, SFU, stayed home, so what? Better chances for a Scottish band to pick up the big prize.

    In fact, the RRSBPA is trying to correct our uppity behaviour and are informally but not so subtly, reprimanding those who they fear will take the art form too far away from “The Scottish Idiom”.

    So if you feel that this is a slap in the face, it was meant to be. I believe the old boys are probably at the pub laughing at how upset everyone is over this and saying “if they don’t like, just don’t come”.

  13. Contacts for Offering Suggestions on RSPBA Decision-making and the World Pipe Band Championships

    Ian Embelton
    Chief Executive. RSPBA
    Fax +44(0)141 221 1561

    Scottish Parliament

    Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP
    The Scottish Parliament
    EH99 1SP

    Linda Fabiani MSP
    The Scottish Parliament
    EH99 1SP

    Glasgow City Council

    Chief Executive
    George Black FCCA, CPFA
    City Chambers
    G2 1DU
    Phone: 0141 287 4739

    Head of Public Relations and Marketing
    Colin Edgar
    City Chambers
    G2 1DU
    Phone: 0141 287 0901
    E-mail: colin.edgar@pr.glasgow.gov.uk

    Homecoming Scotland

    Linda McAllister,
    Trade Marketing Manager, North America & Australasia

    Claire Dickson
    Marketing Officer

    Fiona Stewart
    Marketing Officer

  14. That makes perfect sense, Kelly. I have often suspected it, but is refreshing to hear someone else say it aloud. Overseas bands have been kissing Scottish butt for way too long. An while a select few excellent bands have earned resepct and won the big prize (although who’s to say how long overdue), most feel the pinch year after year. Last time I was there (2007), our band’s bus (grade I) got the absolute worst assigned parking spot in the park. All the local grade I’s were tucked up nice and close to the business side of the park. It’s a little thing, but over time it all starts to add up. Or the time in 1989, the grade II band I was in had placed the year prior. We were told the night before the Worlds by a Scottish Grade I PM that we had gotten our due the year prior and to not expect to make it out of the qualifier. But have a good holiday. as if we were there for a vacation. Lo and behold, despite a good run, we were left out. How did this Scottish Grade I p/m know that our little American grade II that had made some noise the year prior was already off the list?

  15. I agree with the general sentiment thats been expressed across this board that unless the top bands boycott the Worlds then nothing is likely to change, and im similarly cynical as some others are about whether this will happen as i get the impression that alot of bands who are placing well will continue to attend regardless of what draconian decisions the RSPBA makes.

    It’s constantly frustrating that international players and judges are still being excluded or “discriminated” against at major British championships due to their nationality. Some of the best talent, and alot of the advances that have been made in the playing and development of pipes and drums have come internationaly but we still have an old boys club who wont let us sit at their table.

    It about time the RSPBA ditched their cravats and got with the times

  16. I thinks it’s clear that the RSPBA’s decision was pedantic at best if not outright conspiratorial. But boycotting is not the answer. It rarely is. Unless the UK bands join in the protest, it’s pointless. Even though their majority is small, it’s still a majority. And until forward minded bandspeople in the UK step up to get involved in the RSPBA, no positive change will come.
    And I reiterate that it’s ridiculous to generalize the RSPBA’s actions towards UK bandspeople, or the UK as whole. And it’s also foolish to minimize Scotland’s position as the epicenter of the art. Most of the successful bands and soloists from the Commonwealth and the US have no more than two degrees of separation from Scotland. Either they learned from a Scottish player or learned from somebody who did. Bands have leaders from Scotland or who went to Scotland to learn and play in top bands.
    Fractioning the pipe band community, or letting a few out-of-touch individuals do so, will only weaken the art.

  17. Ironically enough, the RSPBA’s first “Worlds” was a boycott of the previous “World Championship” held annually at Cowal. The first “world champions” were the Bowhill Colliery PB, who became champions while many of the “big” names continued on to Cowal.
    A boycott wouldn’t work. All the big players have too much invested. I can think of a few bands whose actual existence as a Grade 1 band would be in question without the annual goal of “The Worlds.”
    What if every piper, drummer and band who cared about this contacted all the people above, and sent a fax to the RSPBA? Would the pressure and interest cause movement? Could this be the wedge issue that gets the RSPBA to move in other areas, too? What role can actual RSPBA member bands play? What could they do to make THEIR association more responsive to issues with respect to the organization of the Grade 1 at the Worlds, the judges, the recording rights,etc.?
    Are Scottish bands not able to remove RSPBA officials and employees when they are not responsive to the membership?

  18. Iain MacDonald your moderate approach is admirable. But methinks that all of this is likely to be just a sad reflection of the way things have always been in Scotland whether it is pipe bands or Scots society in general. People have not exactly flocked to settle in Scotland like they have in other countries. They are not made to feel welcome and that my friends is one of the reasons why the population has decreased. Even the Polish immigrants are now leaving. I wish it was not so because I love the land of my forebears (but only to visit.) Their isolationist attitude is in I’m afraid the blood.

  19. Getting rather sick of how a story about judges is frequently being used to slate the Scots. Sam MacLeod, I’m sorry but I’ve never read such a lot of rubbish in my life!

  20. It’s a real shame that this is what the art has come to. regardless of the rspba’s intentions it looks bad. basically, a boycott is only going to work if everyone is involved- in particular all grade 1 bands not just the ‘foriegneers’ as this will ahve the ultimate impact. but of course this wouldnt happen. either a different organization needs to miraculously appear, led by people with an age bracket under 55 who are willing to accept change! Or top scottish bands/bands people need to speak up and voice their opinion. the crap part is, you don’t know who is friend or foe… who wants this and who doesnt…
    in the meanwhile we’ll all sit back here whingin about all the happenings but not actually doing anything about it- how can this change?

  21. As one famous Pipe Major said in an interview, going to the worlds makes absolutely no sense. Spending well over $50,000 each year to go play in a contest does not make any sense and is bordering on lunacy whichever way you look at it. But we still do it because we’re all nuts about what we do. The RSPBA takes this for granted and gets away with stuff that would see them vanish overnight out in the real world of business. They are akin to a private golf club, run by old and out-of-touch duffers in tweed jackets and blazers, singing “God save the Queen” at lunch etc.

  22. The RSPBA survives not because it is a well-run and successful organisation, but simply because pipe band people are generally too passionate and dedicated towards what they do, and can see past all the inequitable treatment and ridiculous decisions the RSPBA makes…….year after year.

  23. One should not judge the majority based on the actions of a few individuals. The words that are commonly associated with doing so are racism and prejudism. Surely we are better than that.
    Remember that the discussion here centers around a small group of individuals making an error in judgement while enforcing a policy.

  24. I am not a member of the RSPBA, but it would be interesting to hear what members of the association think about all this. It’s also very unfortunate that in a year when all the major organisations in Scotland are promoting ‘Homecoming’ Year, the RSPBA seems to be putting people off coming to Scotland.

  25. I’m also greatly angered by some of the rubbish I’ve read lately and it doesn’t relate to the actual concerns of why this situation has occurred and what possibly can be done to resolve the issue in a fair and reasonable manner. Instead some folk go off in a tangent and throw mud at Scots in general and that’s unfair. Without bias, I think the Scots have proved their worth and courage around the world. This whole situation is but a hiccup in a bright future. Let’s not panic and cause further grief to ourselves, ohters and the art by submitting foolish childlike comments.

  26. In the end, this is a Due Process issue, between the RSPBA and the 6 international Judges. If the published and copywrited reports are to be believed, then the RSPBA didn’t follow and enforce its own rules. Therefore the issue here is the RSPBA’s adjudication of it’s own absent “oversight” or lack of organizational control. I haven’t seen anything yet that would inidicate that the RSPBA’s decision in this matter isn’t quite arbitrary and patently unfair to the 6 international Judges. There have been some intemperate comments posted on both sides, but I would refer back to the Sunday Times article, to try and keep this in perspective…



  27. Janette – Individuals are not members of the RSPBA, only bands. This is, in my view, one of the biggest problems with the organisation as it means individuals can’t state their views without it being seen as reflecting on their band (rightly or wrongly). I would like to see individuals becoming members in their own right and bands only having an affiliate membership of some sort.

  28. Calum, that suggestion could never work in my opinion – It’s a “Pipe Band” association not a piper and drummer association – As it stands there is enough dissention and politics in small associations/societies without causing further confusion. Best bet is to leave it to the bands to take a consensus and then approach their district association representative and let him/her take it back to the headquarters of the associations headquarters. It’s still being democratic but with a more practical and reasonable approach.

  29. It works in Ontario. Has for years.
    The motions are divided into categories separating solo type issues from purely Band issues. Votes for solo affairs are open to everyone whereas Band motions are voted apon by each band’s designated representative.
    The motions themselves are created at the individual branches and forwarded to the annual AGM of the provincial body for consideration at the annual open meeting which every member is entitled to attend.
    Perhaps some of that thinking could be applied to the RSPBA and its affilliated branches?
    However, that being said…….
    Great Britain as a democratic nation does not have all of the rights, rules, parliamentary procedures and freedoms that everyone enjoys officialy documented and written into a formal constitution. The former U.S.S.R. on the other hand has one of the best pieces of legislation ever written guaranteeing a vast arena of rights, freedoms and due process. In fact, this document existed during the Stalinist era!
    It’s not the paperwork or procedures, its the behavior of the people implementing them……….

  30. I don’t see the difference – I believe that the R.S.P.B.A. has various branches throughout Scotland whereby these branches represent the various pipe bands within the counties etc. I also believe that each pipe band representative has the right to attend the district meetings and relay the sentiments of his or her band’s membership and in turn these comments/suggestions etc be brought in front of the R.S.P.B.A. office. What is done with it is perhaps another story and no doubt what your suggesting. Ontario hasn’t written or mastered the perfect solution and I have no doubt there are skeletons in it’s closet also. It would be a great pity if we don’t give this situation sufficient time to correct itself, rather than coming across as re-inventors of the wheel.



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