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Glasgow World Bagpipe championships

Piping Hot Glasgow

For those with a love of bagpipes, Glasgow is a mecca, with the World
Championships and Piping Live! festival every August just the beginning.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

It is a sound, a sight and an ambience like no other. Even before you reach the gates of Glasgow Green, you are gradually enfolded in the all-pervasive hum that laces the air. Once in the Green, the experience becomes immersive. You pass through intersecting ripples of bagpipe sound and the whump and rattle of drums as innumerable pipe bands tune up.

In the piping calendar, the World Pipe Band Championships, held every August on Glasgow Green, is the clash of the titans, as bands -- some 230 at last count -- from across the globe converge on the city, with Scotland's pipers and drummers competing against often formidably talented and fiercely determined counterparts from the Commonwealth countries, the United States and elsewhere.

A famous early 19th-century painting of Glasgow Green by John Knox depicts lightning striking the obelisk of the Nelson Monument that dominates the park. On this day of days, however, the monument is partly obscured by giant screens showing the action in the Grade One arena, and it is strathspeys that crackle in the air. Gulls tumble under ominously shifting stacks of grey cumulus and a sudden squall rakes audience and players alike, but Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia earns a roar from the crowd for playing on defiantly. It takes more than mere elements to dismay a world-class pipe band.

Spread over two days this past two years, the Worlds, as it's affectionately known, has become more than just a pipe band event. As well as the jousting between bands, there are competitions for drummers and Highland dancers, plus heavyweight sporting events. And since 2004, to make the most of the vast numbers of band members and their supporters who descend on Glasgow for the Worlds every August, generating an estimated 10 million per annum into the local economy (about $15 million), the championship has been preceded by a week-long festival showcase -- Piping Live!

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2014 issue of Scottish Life.

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