Trailing Drones

Trailing Drones: post-World’s crash n burn

Published: August 23, 2016

By Harry Tung

Well. That’ll be that. Harry enjoyed another two days ‘trolling The Green, ducking for shelter on Friday, duck the root word. After a summer of fun and frolics, concluding with the big week in Gleska, it’s a comedown for me. I’m only human. Or am I? It’s been a while and there’s much to catch you up on. Remember, this stuff is satire, not saltire, but, as they say, many’s a true word . . . so let’s see what’s in the old Harry malebag.

Wow. What an event. The World Pipe Band Championships continue to astonish even me. Runs like clockwork. The stewards are amazing at striking a balance of tough discipline and warm ease. They know bands are on edge and they get the tone just right. Special credit has to go to the really tall guy who looks like he’d crush you like so much Ronnie Lawrie jelly, but he’s always got a smile and a quip for pipe-majors as they approach the trigger. I could go on, but let me also talk about a few other items.

One day we’ll look back on all this and laugh. Or cry. Isn’t it time that the panel of judges in the top grades was expanded? Four people deciding the fate of these huge and hugely expensive bands is offering too much power, and risks one judge derailing a title by his/her one opinion. Inveraray & District was denied the Wold Championship mainly because of one slightly out-of-kilter piping placing. Yes, that can be said of most results, and the “what if?” scenarios are unending. But it’s time to take after the Breton Bagad Championships and have 10 or 15 judges. This mitigates the risk of rogue judging and lessens the power of each judge. And, while we’re at it, throw out the high and low scores from each of the three sections of judges. There’s way too much riding on these events to put it in the pens of single people.

I seem to recall one Ian Duncan allegedly being threatened with suspension from the RSPBA judging panel for competing with a Grade 6B band that he was teaching in Germany. This was strictly against the association’s rules. When Duncan got wind that he was going to be disciplined, he resigned in protest. Sad situation, that, with yet another Grade 1 leader being alienated from the organization. Anyway, that’s one standard applied. Now for the other: the current, actively competing Leading-Drummer of Grade 2 Lomond & Clyde judged at Bridge of Allan this year. Not only did he adjudicate, but he judged Grade 2. Now, I’m not saying that I condone or condemn either side, and I am sure that the guy is a fine and upstanding fellow who I’d imagine simply judged what he was assigned to, but double-standards like these happen too often at UK events.

They don’t, you say? Well, then how about the recently implemented rule that family should not judge family? Call it what it is: The Gordon Parkes rule, which has seen the drumming Parkes no longer assessing his brother, Pipe-Major Richard Parkes‘s band, Field Marshal Montgomery. Anyone who knows either of the Parkes know that they are some of the finest and most forthright, respected peeps out there. Not about them or their integrity. But wait! What is this now? We have RSPBA other adjudicators judging their close relatives playing in bands at the World’s. Ach, well, we all know those bands don’t really need to qualify, so it doesn’t matter, right? Well, no. It matters to many. A lot. There are other examples. Again, the point is not if you agree or disagree with the no family judging rule, but selectively applying it is ridiculous. Again, this is not about the judges and their integrity or honesty, it is about associations following their own rules and policies. You’re out of order! This whole courtroom is out of order!

Still not convinced? Then there’s the clampdown on media making videos of competing bands or the march past or the Grade 1 announcement. Strictly forbidden. In fact, an official walked up and down the pool of media at the prize-giving like a prison guard, reminding press photographers that they’d better not be taking any video . . . or else. (Or else what?!) So that’s standard one. And standard two is turning a blind-eye to the hundreds of social media (media being the operative word) videographers capturing performances and celebrations to post to their collective . . .


hundreds of thousands of followers. Harry isn’t passing judgment on anything but the wrongness of the double-standards.

And let’s talk about the World’s prize-giving / march-past / snore-fest. Good. Holy. God. Incredible. The sun had just about gone down at 8:30 pm when the final award was announced. This after all manner of drum-majors and grades. Six prizes in each category. Every recipient has to come down to get their trophy and photee, often traversing a half-kilometre of drunken pipers and drummers before reaching the stage. Giant gaps of dead time, while bored and increasingly agitated musicians grind their teeth. C’mon. Streamline this affair. Dispense with the endless river of individual bands doing the march past. Learn how to construct flights of massed bands and bring them on in four or five groups. Or it seems to me that the straightforward announcement on the Friday of the Grade 1 qualifying bands works well. Just make the announcement for the BBC cameras, have only the first-prize winners come up to get their award. Move on. That alone would shave an hour off the ceremony. Get the poor tired and hungry kiddies home by 8!

And don’t get me started about the rain on Friday. Here we are again, the greatest pipe bands on earth competing for a spot in the greatest competition on earth. What on earth? Yeah, let’s soak them with unrelenting rain and handicap them by wreaking havoc on their fickle instruments. I’ll say it again: put the Grade 1 contest indoors. Even the playing field as much as possible by at least equalizing the conditions. Stop the ignominious Glasgow Green galumphing about in soggy ghillie brogues and let’s get real about this so-called World Championship. “Luck of the draw” – that’ll be right!

That’s enough on that. To be sure, the World’s and the RSPBA do good and smart things, like keeping the results of the qualifier competitions confidential until after the Saturday is done and dusted. Their intentions are good. But these double standards and inequities are unacceptable and should be corrected. Why do they continue to do 95% of things right, but then screw up the simple stuff – by not following their own rules and policies and interpreting laws seemingly to suit themselves?

And I hear there was a PPBSO judge who put a drum section back in his rankings. Why? Apparently because the lower-grade band had players with experience in Grade 1. One would normally think this is a good thing. But not this time. The judge seemed to invent a wrongheaded rule that somehow if you are a lower-grade band and have good players then you’re not allowed to win. That’s some dang complex thinking, right there.

And one last thing. The most successful pipe band competition drummer in history retires, and there is zero acknowledgement by the association at Jim Kilpatrick‘s final competition? WTF?! I mean, nothing? Not a word? I really hope that they make this right. At least his band, the Spirit of Scotland, marched on last at the march past and had the class to put the drummers and Kilpatrick at the front of the band, with what was left of the crowd and many of the bands applauding in appreciation. A word to associations: at times like these, be sure to drop petty past grievances and look at the big picture and do the right thing and honour those who deserve and have earned it.

So, what’s your scoop? If it’s in jest, just say it. That’s my motto. Send your dirt along to me and I’ll keep your name out of it. Going to dry out now.



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