Monday, September 01, 2008

The Skirl o' the Pipes

Richard Thomson over at Scots and Independent has an interesting post all about his weekend with the Huntly Pipe Band. It reminded me of just one of many incidents I was involved in with a pipe band - back when I had a proper job, although quite how proper job and working with a pipe band appear in the same sentence I'm not so sure. British Caledonian Airways was, because of its Scottish heritage, in love with all things tartan, which of course meant that the female staff uniforms were just about the best there has ever been. The site of a girl standing at the top of the aircraft steps, ‘somewhere in Africa’, in her crisp white blouse and her kilt has been known to make many a grown up ex-pat go weak at the knees. Anyway I digress, because what BCAL also had was its very own Pipe Band. At the drop of a hat, or the start of a new route to some far flung corner of the world, the Pipers were dispatched to stir the hearts of everyone to hopefully make them buy more tickets.

When a new route was started the Pipe Band became a focal point of the airlines activities in the new destination city. The Pipe band were clever, they always learned a new tune with particular links to that city for playing at events and so on around the new route start up. When BCAL began flying to Houston they played The Yellow Rose of Texas while walking along the main street of the downtown area. Next thing you know they are all over the TV with local stations oooo-ing and ahhhhh-ing over this wonderful new Scottish/British airline.

When BCAL began flying to Atlanta I was asked to ‘keep an eye on them’ during their time in the city while the more important BCAL employees got on with the job of schmoozing the local big-wigs and the guests on the inaugural service, which included the late Labour Party leader John Smith. A huge reception was planned in the ballroom of the Omni hotel, so the band and I went through what it was they were going to do. Most of the talk surrounded how they were gong to walk around the balcony area before descending the steps of the ballroom to properly entertain the one thousand or so guests. We didn’t talk about what songs they were going to play. That was my big mistake.

That night, with the great and the good of Atlanta, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, assembled in the ballroom, it came time for the band to enter. I was standing next to BCAL's chairman, Adam Thomson. First we hear the muffled strains of the pipes, they are playing Scotland the Brave as the enter the top level of the room. As they got to the staircase and started to descend to the room in which we were standing the Chairman turned to me and said.
“Well done Richard, aren’t they marvelous.”
As I was about to reply the pipers and drums segued into the special song they had learned especially for Atlanta.
“Oh my God.” Was all I could say.
“What? What is it?” says a worried Adam Thomson.
“This song, you know what it is don’t you?" I asked him
"No, No, what is it?
"It’s Marching Through Georgia, the song the Union troops whistled and sang as they burnt Atlanta during the American Civil War.”
I thought he was going to have a seizure. I was lucky to survive that one, because somehow it became all my fault.


Dragonstar said...

Oh dear! Major woopsie time. You must be a talented survivor Richard.

Richard Havers said...

Not at all....I switched jobs!

Richard Thomson said...


Mind you, it could have been worse. Given the more popular lyrics adapted for the tune of Marching Through Georgia, you could have landed yourself in hot water in parts of Scotland too.

Still, nothing tops the now notorious SNP ceilidh in the Albert Halls after a Bannockburn Day in the 1970's. Jordi Pujol was there from Catalonia and the band, in a spectacularly unhelpful attempt to foster Scottish/Catalan relations, struck up with Y Viva Espana.

Given he'd seved time for his activities in one of Franco's jails, I understand he took it fairly well...

Anonymous said...

I have two tales of inappropriate songs being played by bands on international occasions. Frank Carson tells the one about the Northern Ireland football team being treated to a rendition of 'The sash my father wore' pre-match in the eastern bloc. Apparently in one of the former Soviet republics where a Scottish team were playing (I think football but maybe another sport), the band struck up a very earnest version of 'Donald where's yer troosers?'

Richard Evans said...

A great anecdote Richard!

What I do remember of British Caledonian was their great TV ad featuring a Brian Wilson classic song rejigged as "I wish they all could be Caledonia Girls!". Brilliant!

Richard Havers said...

RT, great story! It just underscores the need for a modicum of research! Ditto Rab, lovely stories.

Mr. E. The day the advertising man came back from the ad agency with a tape of that commercial I was the first one to see it. He wanted to try it out on me before he showed the board. i loved it.

r morris said...

By the way, as an historical aside, my great grandfather marched through Georgia with the Union Army, took a bullet at the Battle of Atlanta and was crippled for the rest of his life. He died in 1918.
You are fortunate not to be beaten by a stars and bars.

r morris said...

By the way, as an historical aside, my great grandfather marched through Georgia with the Union Army, took a bullet at the Battle of Atlanta and was crippled for the rest of his life. He died in 1918.
You are fortunate not to be beaten by a stars and bars.

Richard Havers said...

The verbal lashing I got may well have been only sightly less damaging!

Tamara Jansen said...

Thanks for the chuckle!