Lament for Melrose pipe band competition

Galashiels Junior Pipe band take part in the novice/juvenile section of the competition
Galashiels Junior Pipe band take part in the novice/juvenile section of the competition

‘COMPLETE madness’ on the part of Scottish pipe band bosses is being blamed for the decision to scrap the highly popular Melrose Pipe Band Championships after 17 years.

Those behind the Melrose contest, held every August, have told TheSouthern that a switch of date for the Edinburgh Pipe Band Competition, from July to the day immediately after the Melrose championships, meant the Borders event was no longer viable.

Ian Graham steps down after 16 years as chairman of the melrose pipe band championships.

Ian Graham steps down after 16 years as chairman of the melrose pipe band championships.

It was just a few days before Christmas that TheSouthern first reported the decision by the Melrose championships’ founding chairman, Ian Graham, pictured right, and his entire committee, to call it a day and step down.

The decision cast some doubt over the future of the championships – run under the auspices of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) – but recent agreement by the Rotary clubs of both Melrose and Galashiels, to take over organisation of the 2012 event, with backing from Mr Graham and his former committee, looked to have secured things for this year at least.

However, Mr Graham contacted us this week with the shock news that the Rotary Club plan was now in tatters, after he could no longer recommend the championships go ahead on Sunday, August 18, in the town’s Gibson Park.

It followed his discovery that RSPBA chiefs agreed to a request from the capital city piping event to shift its date to the day following Melrose’s own contest.

“Two competitions held by the same branch of the RSPBA, on the same weekend, as well as being the weekend between two major competitions – we and others we have spoken to, think it complete madness on behalf of the Lothian and Borders branch of the RSPBA from the point of view of band and spectator commitment and cost,” said Mr Graham.

“We felt it would threaten the Melrose competition and both the Rotary Clubs and ourselves thought it would be too great a risk carrying on with the event.

“For that reason we have decided to cancel the event for 2012.”

Mr Graham says the very successful Highland dancing contest, which is held on the same day as the Melrose Pipe Band Championships will also be cancelled for this year.

However, he added that the Highland dancing contest will again be held in Melrose next year, and if there are no pipe band championships, it will be held indoors.

But, John Hughes, chairman of Lothian and Borders branch of the RSPBA, says it is a complete over-reation by those behind the Melrose event.

He pointed out that the promoters of the Edinburgh contest were within their rights to change the date of the contest as the July date was no longer available and there was no other contest planned on August 19 within 50 miles.

“There have always been contests on the Sunday following the Melrose contest. There are contests every Saturday and Sunday from May to September and all survive perfectly well,” said Mr Hughes.

“It is also worth pointing out that the bands who support Melrose are primarily from the Borders and East Lothian, and the feedback we currently have is that they will continue to support the Melrose contest, irrespective of what other contests are running that weekend. I think this situation is a complete over-reaction by the organisers of the Melrose contest. It would be a pity to lose the Melrose contest as it is well supported by the local community and a good number of bands from the area, and I don’t see any reason why this would change,” he added.

“Any decision to cancel the contest is being taken by the Melrose contest organisers and not this branch.”

But Mr Graham, a drummer with Melrose’s town pipe band, says the decision by the Lothian and Borders branch of the RSPBA to sanction the change of date had done the Melrose championships no favours and the end of the event would be a big loss.

“We would like to thank everyone who has helped over the last 17 years – I can honestly say 99 per cent of the Melrose people were right behind us and showed willingness to help us whenever they could,” he said.

“It was a great event which brought a lot of publicity to the area. It also gave a great deal of pleasure to competitors, spectators, organisers, sponsors and to the many visitors to the Borders.”