Year in, year out, the bells toll for New Year, and yer auld pal Harry’s been thinkin’ hard on the 2016 Raspberry Awards. That was some year, 2016. Harry lost a couple of elections and a few friends, but he’s ever the optimist. Ach, an’ away, the sun still rises, the coos are still milking, and you can still get blackwood pipes, for a few quid extra. All they famous folk yer greetin’ about, well it’s no a plot or a cosmic coincidence. It’s called “Baby Boomers meet Demographic Realities.” Buckle up, there’re more to come.
Fair warning: if you’re the type of person who reads Harry and then loses yer heid on Facebook, stop here. This column is for adults. Or, what the hell. Go ahead and lose it and give us all a chuckle. Again.
Mind, a raspberry can be sour or sweet. A good one can go down well; a bad one can come out sputtering and wet. Mine’s is a mixed basket of fruit, so we’ll take the bad and the good.
So let’s get on with my Raspberries for 2016 . . .
The Second Coming Award
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
Harry thinks that the City of Whitehorse Pipe Band story was a breakdown from the centre. Here is a big, solid band, built on the hard work of leaders, band members, committee, funders, fans, and the whole thing melts down from the inside out. This story leaves an apocalyptic landscape of abandoned kilts, drums, saddened musicians and families, and a whole association wondering where to go from here.
Harry grabbed popcorn and a comfy seat for this one just like everyone else, but the popcorn goes stale pretty fast on these events. When Harry was shopping for Henrietta’s Christmas a few years back, he had his hand on a copy of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and the concepts in that book are all applicable to this situation. Harry suggests a thorough read. Of course, he didn’t buy the book for Henrietta. She woulda shoved it up his bahookie in jig time.
Henrietta says she hasn’t experienced the second coming since back in the days when the post was delivered morning and afternoon. Those were the days.
The Henry-David-Thoreau-Different-Drummer Award
Still with highfalutin literary types, it was the 19th century American writer and philosopher who said, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.” Apart from the obvious application of this (“What drum corps were they playing to in that medley?”) it’s clear that some pipe-majors start hearing a different drummer before the old one has gone. Is Harry wrong in thinking that the drama around drumming leadership changes has increased like the clamouring for a pint at last call?
For the win: Both the Glasgow Police and the Los Angeles Scots apparently surprised their lead-drummers with a leadership change in 2016. The Polis announced Eric Ward’s departure only to have him refute it (déjà vu all over again) and the LA Scots maintained pace on the speed of their revolving door by announcing a new lead-drummer apparently before the current one had been notified.
The Change-With-the-Times Award
Harry was saddened to hear this fall that the Canmore Highland Games in Alberta has closed the gates for the last time. Our Henrietta had one or two favourite games, and this was one of them. Not caring much for the sounds of piobaireachd on razor-thin F’s and High G’s at 8:30 a.m., Henrietta often made an appearance at the Games like HM Queen Elizabeth II at Braemar – showing up warm and fully breakfasted, the lingering smell of bacon and roasted tatties wafting off the coat, and taking in the warming heat of the afternoon sun. Once there, she’d enjoy the glorious display of kilts and tartan on a background of mountain scenery, and wander among the trinket booths, try on a Jimmy Hat or a Tam-o-shanter, and maybe stop by the Highland dancing to watch the mothers and daughters scrapping over costume changes.
Harry makes this award, because he thinks that all Highland events should pay attention to this story, and the lessons it holds for us. Here was an admittedly smashing event in perhaps the most scenic games location in the world, and it died a slow, painful, but actually preventable death. Harry’s view is that the committee (and all committees like it) need to think more broadly about their goals, and about how they have to keep changing things not to achieve the same results, and no keep doing things the same way to achieve the same results. Over time, the Canmore Games became a stale version of its former self. It went from drawing 20 bands to a low of about six at one point, with many Alberta bands no longer supporting the event, preferring to travel to California over playing locally.
In awarding this Raspberry to the Canmore Games, Harry cautions other event managers to heed the lessons: get new people on the committee regularly; look at new ways of engaging more and new people and bands; think of fresh ways to do the same things; don’t be afraid to change things up, drop an established practice or seek input from key players. Like Henrietta said the time she arrived home with the Buckfast and the handcuffs, “You have to find ways to make the old seem new again.”
The Deked & Duped Award
This one goes to Harry’s old employer, BBC Scotland. Here they go again, exploiting the performers that put on the show. Not only are no bands compensated for producing the world’s best pipe band music at the World Championships, but to make a “show” of it the Beeb once again worked to keep up the suspense of who would get the big prize by putting a fake camera crew in front of Inveraray & District, while training more discreet cameras on Field Marshal Montgomery, who the BBC knew was the winner. Really? Really?! I get the fact that the announcement is a big deal, but this is not a reality TV show. Or, wait, maybe it is. Whatever it is, find a better way. The otherwise fine people at BBC TV clearly have no appreciation or care for the trials and pressures and passion that pipe bands put into their craft. To win the World Championship is hard, hard work. To lead the runner-up band into thinking they had actually won, and then for the Big Enchilada of the RSPBA, Ian Embelton, to snatch it away in his grand announcement is cruel (and, sadly for pipers and drummers, usual) punishment. Okay, okay, bands will most likely continue to agree to be exploited and uncompensated for their music and entertainment value for the Beeb’s viewers, but godammit, we deserve better. Figure it out.
The Environmental Awareness Award
This award to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) for their listing of African blackwood, the main hardwood used in making bagpipes. Although the bagpipe trade is not the largest user of this wood, it is significant, and the numbers have grown over the last 30 years because of the expansion of piping worldwide. There are more makers than ever before, and all mostly using wood from the same sources. Is it time to start all new players on poly pipes? Harry wonders what are the environmental consequences of using more plastic? (Hey, how about a bagpipe recycling station for disgruntled plastic pipe pipers at Glasgow Green?) Harry’s all questions and no answers on this one, but he does support the protection of endangered species. To the pipers wringing their hands that it’s all so unfair, give yer wee heid a shake. There are other solutions out there without seeing things go extinct. Henrietta is known to like a bit of wood on occasion, and she recommends this site to learn more about African blackwood. Harry’s all about the maintenance of old pipes, so read up on your preservation techniques, and keep those MacDougalls gleaming like they did in the cottage window that time the sun came out in Aberfeldy.
The Not-Before-Time Award, Year Two
Last year Harry awarded this to the Solo Piping Judges Association for proposing guidelines for conflict of interest at solo competitions, and he suggested that maybe it was time for something in the pipe band world also. Mere weeks later, the oft-eviscerated Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association announced that relatives could no longer judge family members in the World Championships final [loud cheer], and late in the year the Solo Piping Judges Association came back to formalize the previous year’s thoughts, despite a significant push-back from members of the panel who felt things were good enough as is. Harry thinks those dissenting voices should form “The Victorian-Edwardian Attitudes Piping Association” to lobby for getting things back on track.
The Me Thinks the Judge Doth Protest Too Much Award
Like everything in piping and drumming, it got back to Harry that some “senior” Scottish solo piping judges (well, one in particular) and a few gathering organizers are allegedly using intimidation tactics on active pipers and select others who are seen to support said ban on teachers judging students. Reportedly gone so far as cornering folk in toilets and veiled threats about “consequences” on the boards if they don’t shut up. Here’s a solution: just refuse to play for these bullies. Stage a grassroots boycott – strength in numbers, and that. Stand up to the bullies and they’ll slink away like they always do.
The King Bullies Award
It’s impossible maybe to unravel the tangle that saw 30-year volunteer Mervyn Herron essentially pushed out of the RSPBA’s Northern Ireland branch for no apparent reason except for maybe, possibly, maybe supporting the Spring Gatherin’ event in Belfast. Let’s see here . . . lifetime supporter encourages branch to get behind an all-good something that might just be a positive change. Suddenly Herron’s out in what might have been a kangaroo court-like move. Harry’s heart goes out to the guy. To be sure, to be sure, the pipe band world can be a cruel, cruel place. But let that be warning to anyone who tries to rock our little boat! We like things just the way they are, so sit down and stop rowing!
The First (and Last) Amendment Award
Free speech? Sure, you’re free to speak, but be aware that the Victorians who are still trying to figure out how to wind the Victrola are watching on the Internets machine and the twitters. Don’t dare express your concern about a result or a judge’s decision or your association’s possible lack of vision. You might well be suspended for your free speech. These folk with the skin of an onion will dangle you out there as an example for all that pointed, fair comments are not to be tolerated. Shut up and the Victorians will look after things over cucumber sandwiches in their grand tent. Here’s the thing, Victorians: it’s not going away. You are being watched and you will be held to account. Your boat is leaking and no attempts to plug the holes and bail the water will save you. As the Nobel laureate said: The times, they are a-changin’.
The Gonnae-No-Dae-That Award
Harry likes a wee retro TV from time to time, and “Chewin’ the Fat” gives a few chuckles on a dreich weekend night in the hoose. The ongoing sketch that featured the “Aonoch Mhor Lighthouse” keepers launched the phrase “Gonnae no dae that” and that’s Harry’s response to the story about Richard Baughman using an iPhone to read a drum score at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2016. Like the impish lighthouse keeper who drills holes in the chamber-pot, draws on magazines, and constantly pranks his pal, Harry thinks the iPhone stunt was just that, a wee attention grabber with no real point beyond the attention it attracted, and the controversy it stirred on social media. Gonae no dae that!
The Harry Tung Back-on-Track Award
Harry loves a great turnabout, and he was fair chuffed to see the once again venerable College of Piping in Glasgow turn its back on years of foostie negativity by appointing Colin MacLellan as Director of Piping. MacLellan taught at the College as an 18-year-old, and this past August was brought on to head the College’s teaching program, to start to rebuild the public face of the College. This is a happy story for piping generally, for the relationship between the two major Glasgow institutions, and for the College specifically.
Well, those’re the Raspberries for 2016, and a big, wet raspberry to you all, just for laughs. Harry’s all ears to your thoughts, responses, story ideas and Facebook rants. Happy Hogmanay from Harry, his partner in grime, Henrietta, and all the correspondents who make his column tick with their bits o’ pearly wisdom tossed.
Now then, let’s see how many courageous peeps “Like” this on the Facebooks. Hmmm. Didn’t think so…
Happy New Year!
Got scoop, dirt or just want to get something off your chest? Be sure to keep yer auld pal Harry informed with your anonymous tips!