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The Highland Bagpipe by Gary West

The World Pipe Band Championships have been one of the key events of the piping and drumming calendar since the first official contest was held in Edinburgh in 1947. Before that, the title was associated with the winning band from one of the largest Highland games events, the Cowal Gathering in Dunoon. But with the founding of the Scottish Pipe Band Association immediately following the end of the Second World War (now the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association), the world title became officially sanctioned, with the first accolade going to a mining band from Fife, Bowhill Colliery. Since then, "The Worlds," as they are affectionately known, have been held every year, and have now grown into one of the largest and most popular musical gatherings within Scotland, drawing bands and spectators from right across the globe. With up to 240 bands involving around 6,000 competitors, this must surely be one of the largest competitive musical events of any kind, anywhere in the Western World.

For the first 40 years after Bowhill's victory in 1947, the world title in the top grade went to Scottish bands only, with four of them in particular dominating the contest. Glasgow Police, Edinburgh Police (later Strathclyde and Lothian and Borders Police respectively), Shotts and Dykehead and Muirhead and Sons each won the title multiple times, with the "six in a row" achievement of Strathclyde Police between 1981 and 1986 remaining a record to this day.

But in 1987, we Scots were brought face-to-face with the new reality that perhaps other nations could now do it just as well as us. Indeed, at least one could now do it better! That year, on the sloping green banks of Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, a band from Ontario in Canada shook our world and our confidence by stealing away our title, taking the trophy out of the country for the first time ever. Little did we suspect, however, that this victory by the 78th Fraser Highlanders was a sign of regular things to come.

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2013 issue of Scottish Life.

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