Belfast Telegraph

BBC hits sour note with cuts to popular music programme

By Rebecca Black

Concerns have been expressed over BBC Northern Ireland's output after it emerged that the popular Pipe and Drums programme has been reduced from 16 shows to just six in two years.

UUP leader Robin Swann, who plays in a pipe band, said he was disappointed that it appeared BBC NI had reduced coverage of the local pipe band scene.

However, a spokesman for the BBC said pipe band music is a "long-established and valued part of BBC Northern Ireland's specialist music output", and said scheduling changes are kept under regular review.

"I must express my disappointment at the news that the BBC has decided to further reduce its coverage of the local pipe band scene by only scheduling the Radio Ulster Pipes and Drums programme for a six-episode summer series," Mr Swann said.

"Two years ago there were 16 programmes, last year this was reduced to 12 and now it has been reduced further to six.

"This is not an expensive programme to make, and if the issue is down to audience figures, then I would ask what steps the BBC has taken to publicise the programme and grow the audience?

"Northern Ireland has dozens of pipe bands, stretching across every county, and they are particularly strong in my own constituency of North Antrim.

"Some are world champions, and all are a key component of Ulster Scots culture, part of the fabric of many communities and bring enjoyment to many thousands of people. I am a member of a pipe band myself.

"Rather than reduce coverage of pipe bands, I believe the BBC should be seeking to enhance it, by looking at the stories behind many of these bands, how and why they were founded and how they have endured to the present day.

"I will be contacting the BBC to seek an explanation for the reduction in programmes and to encourage them to look at expanding coverage rather than reducing it."

Valerie Quinn, chair of the Ulster Bands Forum, said she does not feel the quality of music is adequately recognised by BBC NI.

"The quality of musicianship within the bands in Northern Ireland is second to none, we have world champions throughout all the genres, and it's absolutely not recognised enough by the BBC through it's radio programmes or TV programmes," she said.

"When the active membership of participants is over 30,000, and that's not including their relatives, friends and others with a general interest, there is obviously a large interest in the sector and the music produced by them," she said.

"We very much feel the quality of musicianship is not recognised, Sir James Galway started in bands. The talent that is there from a voluntary organisation is astounding."

A BBC spokesperson said: "Pipe band music is a long-established and valued part of BBC Northern Ireland's specialist music output. We have made some scheduling changes in order to accommodate other specialist music strands, including choral and contemporary Christian music. All of this is kept under regular review and is complemented by a range of other programmes which reflect the diversity of music making at community level."

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