Enemy lines

Up to the line and under the ice.I’ve noticed a lot more cross-band friendliness over the last decade. In fact, it seems that competitors in most competitive genres no longer get too worked up over rivalries – not like they used to, anyway. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing or a completely ambivalent thing, but it is a thing.

Thirty years ago I know that Major League Baseball players (here he goes again with the baseball) would hardly speak to one another. Back in the 1970s and even ’80s a guy would get on base and he wouldn’t even acknowledge the opposing team’s infielder. This was serious business. They were the enemy, and professionalism then meant you don’t consort with the other team. In fact, you’d punch them out given half the chance.

Same with pipe bands. There was a time when members of other bands would not be allowed in your band hall, the scores for the music were secret and you were quite sure that the competition had horns under their hats.

I heard the other day that an established Grade 1 band had the pipe-major and leading-drummer of a top Grade 1 in for a weekend workshop. A few weeks ago someone with more than 40 years pipe banding experience told me that he recently felt uncomfortable when a young member of a rival band sat in and listened to his practice, oblivious to the old-school etiquette when years back you’d have told the kid to Get tae . . .! before he could even sit down.

What’s caused all this Milquetoast laid-backness?

In pro sports, the age of free agency and big contracts has meant that a player staying with a single club for his/her entire career is rare. This year’s opponent might well be next year’s teammate.

So too in pipe bands. Where once it was common for a player to stay with the same band for 20, 30 even 40 years, today it’s extraordinary. The erosion of pipe band loyalty has been bemoaned for a few decades now. Robert Mathieson discussed the loss of loyalty in his interview, accepting the migratory attitude of modern players as simply the way people do everything these days.

I don’t know. It still irks me to see ballplayers yucking it up at first base during a close game, just as it seems strange when I see blatant camaraderie between competing band-members. But perhaps the Facebook generation has learned, thankfully, that life is too short for such trifles.

Grandest finale

Flock-truckerMassed bands and march-pasts are necessary penance for those who play in pipe bands. After a day of anxious competition, relaxing over a drink or two is all everyone really wants, and to be pulled out of the beer tent for the grand finale (for spectators, anyway) is an inevitable duty.

I haven’t played regularly in a pipe band for some time now, but I can’t remember many awards ceremonies at which the result wasn’t fairly well known, including last year’s World’s. Leaks happen, and the well connected will have their sources.

Memorable prizes and celebrations aside, funny things often occur at massed bands and march-pasts. I’ll never forget in the 1980s at Cowal on a bright, sunny day, as the bands filed on interminably long, a few bandsmen who’d had one or two pints before going back on the park couldn’t hold it any longer so executed the canny one-knee-on-the-ground maneuvre, shielded on one side by the bass drum and empathetic bandsmen on the other to get some relief right on the parched Dunoon ground. I posted something about it last year, actually.

Another memorable time was maybe 1989 at the World’s. The prizes were being announced in the usual tedious manner. They came to Grade 3, and went in order. I could hear a Scottish band just behind us clearly disappointed not being announced first, with some groans after anxiously awaiting the announcement.

And when they learned that they weren’t first-runners-up either there was more grumbling, which grew a bit louder when they weren’t even third, and even more contentious when they weren’t fourth or fifth. A few oaths were murmured from their ranks.

But when the Grade 3 band wasn’t even sixth – out of the list entirely when they thought they might even have won the thing – it really took the cake and someone from the group just couldn’t take it any longer and let out an almighty scream at the announcer. It can’t be printed here, but, let’s just say sounded something like, “Truck my flock!!!”

Yes, fond memories of some of our grandest finales and finest moments.