Trailing Drones

Short-shorts? Harry’s got short-shorts!

Published: June 8, 2017

It’s the time of year when Harry’s YouChube pipe band addiction overlaps with Henrietta’s Netflixation, and the old BT internet is near smouldering with the heat. Maybe not as smouldering as Henrietta after four hours of Outlander, but still pretty warm. (Caution: what you are about to read is satire. If you have a low tolerance for such things, feel free to move along.)

Harry’s all revved on the latest batch of pipe band videos, and it was clear the weather was either for or agin you at the British Championships at the end of Glasgow Airport runway, or under the M8 motorway. Grade 1 and Grade 1B are very interesting at the moment, with some of the fresh faces in the grade(s) making big steps up the charts. The North American scene usually gets interesting at Georgetown in Ontariariario, although Henrietta pines for the days when Toronto Police blew the lid off the medley can. That was the first time the punters cheered mid-medley since the days of Jimmy Stewart going all Rambo on the Toronto & District bass drum.

One unusual trend in the majors is a larger Grade 1 entry than Grade 2. Is it a sign of something amiss in the grading, or a result of the trend to huge bands? More Grade 1 player-members than ever at the moment, and Harry wonders if maybe things are a wee bit out of balance? It’s just not healthy when a higher grade is smaller than the one below it. Still, seeing Johnstone and Police Service of Northern Ireland in the charts above Simon Fraser University and Glasgow Police tells me those bands are likely on the right track.


And there’s Dowco Triumph Street of Vancouver, Belfast, Glasgow, Aberdeen and who-knows-where else. While the band didn’t make the British list, it must have been pleased with their eighth and, even more so, placing ahead of their obsession/nemesis SFU. I understand that now the minority of band members actually live in British Columbia. With Dowco’s apparently successful formula, I predict (but don’t hope) that bands with a membership across countries and continents with no apparent home base will be increasingly common. But will this Vancouver mainstay shift its official base to the UK? Might be the first band ever to do that. This is not a criticism, just a fact. As the Nobel Laureate says, the times they are a-changin’.

Speaking of “The Dowco,” as they are being increasingly referred to, even by themselves . . . have they forsaken one of the greatest names ever devised for a pipe band in favour of an obscure – but obviously much valued – sponsor from the steel industry? You see, this is the risk when you agree to a sponsor’s name being added to a well-established and cherished identity. Let’s hope that Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonian don’t start referring to themselves as “The Peoples.” Or what if ScottishPower one day merged with them to become “Power to the Peoples”? That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!


Big Grade 1 bands, and all playing at a great level, but why no shots from Shotts at Shotts? Only Glasgow Skye (Grade 2) in the grade 1 event at Shotts Highland Games. And Police Scotland Fife couldn’t make it out to the local Markinch Highland Games. The 78th Fraser Highlanders don’t attend the Toronto Indoor Games. Is the focus on championships and prep so great that bands won’t get out to the local games? Only 15 pipers and five snares available? Perfect! Get out there and support the local events, give the weans something to aspire to, and have some laughs playing tunes under less pressure. All this fear of not having full complement of players and sound creating rumours that you’re no good. Here’s the thing: if you’re good, you’re good. Judges generally get it right these days. But credit though goes to the aforementioned Peoples Ford Boghalls, which supported their local West Lothian Highland Games in Bathgate. Chieftain of the Day Susan Boyle approved.

The kids travelling to Maxville for the annual big show are going to be short on Grade 1 inspiration, with just one entered. A Grade 1 contest somehow just doesn’t have the same allure with a single band. Streaming that one should be smooth sailing.

However, if you’re at the local games and think you’ll create a wee following streaming live on Facebook, Harry thinks you will eventually be shut down. Without the permissions and paperwork, it’s not legal. Media companies pay licenses to broadcast events, and even though composers and performers currently get nothing back, the money is going somewhere, and all this live streaming is going to cut into somebody’s pie. Facebook is reportedly ready to start cracking down on copyright content going out on Facebook Live.


Pie-throwing seems underway on social media with new drumhead banter. If you’re one of those people who thinks there’s nae cash in pipe bands, Harry’s a quick study with the math to help you along. Ten snare drummers in a Grade 1 corps, times one new drumhead at £60 = £600 and maybe three heads in the season = £1,800 per band, times 30 Grade 1 and 2 bands equals £54,000. Then, keep piling on the numbers as lower-grade bands swap out equipment to get “that” sound! So, it makes sense that there’s some sparring going on, because the financial rewards are pretty solid. Harry has an excellent head joke here, but he won’t batter you with it. Wouldn’t want to create any tension, or stick his nose in where it’s not welcome. Wait – Harry loves that!

The 70th annual Glengarry Highland Games this year will be honouring the contributions of one William J.R. Livingstone, and Harry sends his best wishes. Henrietta still gets all melty at the thought of P-M Bill warming up the 78th Frasers in those ’80s short-shorts with no shirt and deep, dark island tan, cigarette dangling, like some dreamy mustachioed movie star. Okay, even Harry was a little turned on, but he swears it was “The Mason’s Apron” and not the shorts and that glistening bod. Either way, Harry’s saving pennies for the soon-to-be-released Livingstone memoir by himself, and hoping for some great scoop. As he does.

Got scoop yer ain sel’? Send it to Harry and he promises to give you no credit in his memoir. Unless you want it. Fair is fair.



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UPCOMING EVENTS January 1, 2018Waipu Caledonian Society Highland GamesWaipu

April 25, 3015Master Class Seminar 2015Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Pipers should avoid memorizing their music until the tune can be played from start to finish, fluidly, without error and at full speed. Once you memorize your music, it will become your reference every time you play. If your memory of the music has flaws in it, through repetition, you will permanently cement these flaws in your playing. Memorization is similar to the wood stain that would be added when building a bookcase – it would be the final touch to a finished product.
John Cairns, London, Ontario