Something like a phenomenon

Sign here.Although the RSPBA’s decision to drop best bass-section prizes occurred several months ago, it only came to light in the last few days after people actually had the common sense to ask and seek answers. But what happened within only hours of learning the truth about the policy change is fascinating.

Bass- and tenor-drummers are the most connected people in pipe bands. They’re all over the net, communicating with Blackberrys, text messaging and over social networking sites. Not a day after the story ran on pipes|drums (a story that the RSPBA has yet to comment on, by the way), an online petition was posted and hundreds of people had enlisted their support for overturning the shift in policy.

Whether this petition will ultimately influence the RSPBA’s Music Board and National Council to act, I don’t know. But I do know that it will get their attention and at least start to understand the thinking of the constituents that they purportedly represent. To mix metaphors, it’s an online Boston Tea Party for mid-sections, and has opened a big ol’ can o’ tenor drummin’ whoop-ass.

What really amazes me, though, is that all this action is occurring over largely symbolic awards. The Best Bass-Section prize so far has no bearing on the ultimate pipe band result, after all. It’s a token, traditional acknowledgement that one aspect of a band was the best. People aren’t even sure which RSPBA judge decides who gets it. The prize is something for them to hang their glengarries on. It’s obviously important to mid-section players, but I doubt that many or even any pipe-majors obsess over carting off the Bass-Section trophy.

Meanwhile, courts of international law have determined and, after appeal, determined again that those who perform on live commercial recordings are entitled to fair compensation. That means that every piper and drummer who has played on CDs, DVDs and even vinyl LPs should be rewarded in some agreed-to manner. This fact was made clear on pipes|drums almost two years ago and, since then, what has the pipe band world done or even said? Nothing.

What is it about our pipe band world that makes some of us hell-bent on restoring a symbolic trophy, while others stand idly by when money that is rightfully theirs is pocketed elsewhere?

Some might say it’s fear. But why should a band’s bass- and tenor-drummers have less to fear from rocking a political boat than the leaders of the world’s Grade 1 bands? It’s all political and competitive hot-water. But the issue of whether there should be a best bass-section, best drum-corps or best-anything-that-is-not-the-pipe-band-overall prize is debatable. There are pros and there are cons. There is no clear right or wrong.

The issue of performers’ rights is not debatable. It is a matter of right and wrong. It’s a matter of upholding the law or not. And the fact that bands are so far unwilling to stand up for their legal rights, or even start an online petition, confounds me.

Beat it

I buried Paul!John Lennon, when asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world, famously responded, “The best drummer in the world? He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles!”

Poor Ringo. He recently commented himself that every time he’d leave the recording studio for a cup of tea or something he’d return to find Paul McCartney (of Heather Mills fame) sitting at his kit trying out his drums.

McCartney was the Beatle Lennon was referring to, and it was Paul who allegedly played on most Beatles tracks from The White Album on, although none of the four to my knowledge ever confirmed it. There are rumours that Paul can be heard berating Ringo for his poor playing on “Hey Jude.”

I was thinking about that as American Idol contestants massacred Beatles songs for a second straight week, altering lyrics to suit their gender, cramming as many choruses as possible into one-and-a-half minutes, turning the poignant “Blackbird” into a shrieking festival.

Everyone thinks they can be a drummer. It’s easy. You don’t have to cover any holes, after all, and there’s no troublesome bag to coordinate, no reeds to finagle, no moisture to control. But comparing Ringo-esque drumming with pipe band drumming is impossible. One is keeping a minimalist beat so as not to obscure the melody; the other is adding dynamics and intricate enhancement to the tune itself.

Still, how many times at a band practice do you find pipers fiddling around with drums? There are always one or two pipers in every band who think they can take the bass at a moment’s notice. Easy!

And what piper hasn’t at least once strapped on a drum at a massed band or march-past? There’s not a band on earth that hasn’t received stick from its association for instrument-swapping monkeyshines.

Drumming: You know it don’t come easy.

Old school tie

Far out!
I was looking through some things recently and found this, my picture from my senior year of high school. The year was 1981, which makes me about 74 now.

Note the middle-parted hairstyle and the typically aloof demeanour. I recall wearing shorts when this was taken on a brutally hot Saturday afternoon, so I had on only two-thirds of the ill-fitting poly-wool-blend three-piece-suit. At 17 I had Midwestern dreams of great piping and pipe bands (still do), so note the now-vintage Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia tie.

As I’ve written about before, the tie was given to me by Alex Duthart in 1979 after I harangued him for it at a piping school. At least some things never go out of style.