I just read comments on the occasionally entertaining and usually selacious “Beer Tent” about the little story about Gordon Lee joining SFU. I thought the piece was totally benign, no matter which way it was sliced, but there’s always someone – and usually someone who’s afraid to put his name to his or her thoughts – who’s convinced that I have some secret agenda or intentionally try to misrepresent the “facts.”

The fact is, I personally could not give a rat’s arse about what any band or piper or drummer does. I don’t care where a band comes from. I have no predilection towards any group, whether I once played with them or not, or any country or city that I may or may not have lived in.

All I personally care about is that bands and soloists – all of them – play well and keep building their respective scenes. I only care that people play and compete and perform and judge fairly, and that everyone gets whatever they fairly deserve.

I do my best to acquire the facts and report news as I feel is appropriate and commensurate with the actual news value. I’m not a mind-reader and I don’t spend all day investigating reports or conjuring up stories. In general, what you see on Piper & Drummer Online comes from incoming tips and bands and soloists sending their news. If you don’t read about something, it’s usually because no one bothered to send it in or because it’s not, in my judgment, news.

It’s too bad that some in the piping and drumming world are bent on thinking there’s an ulterior motive to everything. Generally speaking, you’ll find these people doing the most complaining and the least contributing.


Walking out

The news that the Royal Burgh of Stirling Pipe Band’s drum section effectively walked out with only a few weeks before the first big contest of the season can’t help but be surprising. I don’t know the circumstances around it, but I do know that there is something of an unwritten rule in pipe band etiquette that, after about February, if you’re still on a band’s roster you should see the season through, even if it means grinning and bearing it.

(That said, if you can’t commit the time, or if family or illness get in the way, you have to do what’s right for you and the band. No use muddling through music and letting people down.)

But, if you have the time and health, you should stick with it and do your best to help the cause. I don’t know what the RBS players intend to do, but walking out to join another band for the season should really be treated with total disdain. In fact, I fully support rules that keep quitters from joining another band for at least six months.

That’s probably too draconian for some associations. But just as there is an unwritten rule that you don’t jump ship months, much less weeks, before the season, there should also be a rule that bands don’t welcome those ship-jumping players. Pipe bands can be overly desperate to build their rosters, even if it means turning a blind eye to the circumstances. In this age of mega-sections, who can blame them for succumbing to the temptation?

But, really, a band’s reputation for adding band-hoppers to their roster should suffer just as much as the players’ reputations themselves. The world’s best bands of course perform well, but they also do so with their integrity intact. The models for pipe band success are those bands that build their rosters with dignity and respect. Occasionally, that means saying no to a band-hopper who has left even their fiercest competition in a lurch.


Made to be broken

There seems to be a bit of a groundswell of emotion about St. Laurence O’Toole’s entry to the Scottish Championships going awry, and most of it seems to be in favour of the letting the band play. I posted a poll on the site to see what the temperament might be, and, sure enough, about 75 per cent think that SLOT should be allowed to compete.

I’m the first to support the enforcement of rules when it comes to competition. It drives me crazy when competitors seemed to try to circumvent them by turning up late and being allowed to play at the end in a solo event when I was there at the crack of crow’s pee, respectful of an early draw. But you generally know who to believe and who to suspect by their track record. There are people who have made a career (or at least a reputation) of “hiding behind bushes” trying to slip in later.

When more serious issues like SLOT’s come up, I think that good judgment should prevail. Has the band ever done this before? Is there any reason to suspect fiddling the system? Do the negative aspects of not allowing them to compete outweigh the positive? Are there in fact any positive aspects of keeping them out of the Scottish?

Ultimately, in a case like this, I think the competing Grade 1 bands should be asked if they have any problem with making an exception. I would be shocked and amazed if a band insisted that the decision should stand. After all, who wants a prize when there’s a figurative asterisk by it in the minds of those who care? There’s plenty of time before the event to contact the 12 pipe-majors. If the majority thinks the decision should stand, then fair enough. But if my hunch is correct, and the bands want an exception made for SLOT, then the association should do the right thing and make an exception based on the evidence, the band’s history, and common sense.