Reflections on the Worlds 2022

Where to begin?

Probably the best place would be with congratulations to Field Marshal Montgomery on a well-deserved victory. Increasingly it feels like any one of about five bands could lift the Grade One title and it is therefore hard for even a die-hard fan of any particular band to claim " we wuz robbed" - although I suspect that such people can still be located.

If the response of the crowd on the day was anything to go by, it seems that the victory was well-received and the march off seemed more hectic than ever with hordes of well-wishers wanting to express pleasure at the result.

What about the contest itself? Well, the two day format seemed even more ridiculous than it already was. Day One was sparsely attended, but poor planning led to stupidly long waits to get onto the Green. Once on, we were again treated to half the site closed off, no food village and a tremendous sense of anti-climax as the day completed. The absence of any "closing" event means that Day One is always going to have that element of "was that it?" about it. Perhaps they should have looked at doing to Seventies tribute thing at the end of Friday, rather than on Saturday when I think no one really cared about it.

Clearly, there was no need for the two day format. But was there ever?

When it was being sold to the community, we were told that it was to give all the Grade One outfits a chance to play two sets - that was when it was still the "qualifying" for Saturday. That left the non-qualifiers out of the "Worlds" day itself, which lessened the event. Then it was a matter of "keeping the Bands honest" by ensuring that each Grade One Band had to play both of their MSR and Medley sets. That's fair enough, but I'm not sure that we really need a complete second day for that. In every other Grade (unless qualification is required) each Band plays once - but in Grade One, they play FOUR times. That seems odd. If the other grades all had to play both MSR and medley sets in their finals, I think the Grade One system would be more justifiable.

There is also a risk that one bad performance (or some suspect judging in one set) might knock an otherwise clear winner out. Are we not in danger of handing the crown to a band based on consistency, rather than brilliance? As a World Champion, I don't think that one would want to be remembered as "the most consistent over four performances that year". Let's be honest, most people will recall a World title win on the basis of a stunning medley - not the MSR and not the "B" medley. I have no doubt that this would draw howls of derision from the MSR purists, but there you go - I am happy to be shouted out for being right...

The fact that this two day format has remained for a number of years without any apparent improvement and without any great fondness for it does not reflect well on the organisers.

Next- the weather. Bonkers. Glasgow has never been that warm. I was there from Tuesday and aside from some light mist that burnt off early on Saturday, all I saw was glorious and intense sunshine. I don't think there was much that anyone could do about it, but it drives home the fact that the Green is very exposed. Usually the element we are seeking shelter from is the rain, so we shouldn't complain when the greater risk is sunstroke.

I heard some suggestions that the reason for almost empty stands around the main arena was the weather. By all means, tell yourself that if it makes you feel better. The reality is that the crowd levels were considerably lower than in previous years and the prices were too high. Those of us who run businesses know only too well the financial strains placed on us by government action under cover of the health scares, but they really needed to keep prices down and encourage people back to normal activity.

Certainly the stands would not have been hospitable places in the heat, but they are equally unpleasant in hail. Whatever the weather, they are too dear. I heard some more grumbles about whether they are even a good place to listen from anyway. The Grade One arena, stuck in the corner, seems set up to facilitate the broadcasters and VIPs, but not the enthusiasts. Listeners are much too far away to hear reliably and this in turn encourages many to stay away. As my YouTube videos attest, I have always been a fan of the tuning park, but if I wanted to play at judging, then I would be better sitting at home in front of the telly than fighting through a crowd of chattering bystanders.

Given a clean sheet, I think that shifting the arena away from that corner and allowing a fully circular crowd to develop would be much preferable. Perhaps something like the way they organise crowds at golf would be the answer. They manage to get large numbers relatively close round each green and combine standing spectators and those in stands. Of course the other thing we could learn from them is the need for quiet during performances. I will never understand why people will fight their way to the front of the crowd only to ignore whatever band is playing in favour of gossiping with their pals. There is a beer tent (and a city centre) for that. Please go away.

That's the complaining mostly done - what about the Bands?

I'm not going to start pontificating on the finer points of the performances. No matter what they say, most of that is wildly subjective, so my thoughts are no more valid than any other punter. What I will say is that I thought the standard was perhaps not quite what it had been two years ago. It's hard to say exactly what it was, but it seemed there was a little ring-rustiness or a "looseness" to some of the bands.

The top outfits were still massively impressive but some of the "lower half" sounded like they were maybe three months off where they would like to be. This is still quite the feat bearing in mind the disruption that the past couple of years brought, so I really am not complaining. It was great to once again be close to a collection of some of the finest musicians on the planet and an honour to be able to record them. Personnel changes were evident and I hope that the missing faces are still playing somewhere - but I fear more than a few may have stepped away.

Gordon Brown's retirement was a talking point and the choice of Kerr McQuillan as his replacement will be interesting to watch. Honestly it is nice to see a new Grade One leading drummer as it sometimes feels like musical chairs with the same faces popping up in different bands.

The winners? Field Marshal were extremely strong and Richard Parkes has lost none of his attention to detail in the break. Actually, they were probably the closest to having picked up where they left off. Inveraray seemed a little off the boil - although I wondered if they had taken on a little much with the pre-Worlds concert. Typically the concert seems to help the performing band, but this was a strange year and it would not be ridiculous to think that this might have been unwelcome strain after the hiatus. Don't get me wrong, they were great - but the players seemed somehow more serious and less joyful than they had been. Maybe we're all just getting older and grumpier? I know I am.

As usual, I spent much of my time amongst the Grade One outfits as they readied for battle. It was great to be back in that environment and to feel the music in my chest again. The lower grades got little attention from me, but I was conscious that the numbers were low. A glance at the programme made it clear that a lot of Bands simply didn't show up. Whether this is a post 2020 blip, we won't know until next year. I hope that it is. I fear that we have lost more bands for good. Two years of stagnation can't have had a positive effect and getting out of the weekly practice routine will inevitably have led to people replacing band night with other things.

I have spoken to some people who were missing from the Green this year who expect to be back next year. We should not under-estimate the extent to which the global government scare tactics employed over two years were off-putting for people considering going to crowded events. With luck, and with common sense hopefully now prevailing, those missing persons should be back.

Glasgow looked well in the sunshine and it was hard not to feel that the city was smiling on the bandsmen as it welcomed them back. We will always have 2022 to look back on when we next stand in hailstones, wondering why we do this...