At the tender age of five we moved to Kinross from Edinburgh and not long after the move, not that I remember but have been told, we were in town during the folk festival and the local pipe band were playing, as they marched away I followed. My dad asked if it was a set of bagpipes for my Christmas and I said no a drum! My parents made some enquires and a couple of years later I joined the Kinross and District Pipe Band where I started to learn to play the drums. After much time learning round the table on the practice pads and being banned from setting the table at home, I remember the excitement of playing on a drum for the first time barely able to lift it. I can remember the first time out with the pipe band in Kinross and Milnathort, I was in primary six at school and myself and Billy proudly marched with the band in our school uniforms, I say marched as I don’t think either of us were quite able to play and march much, in fact we probably were actually jogging to try and keep up but we were now part of the band. My next outing and first proper outing with the band was to Newburgh gala and this time had my band uniform and I was now indoctrinated into pipe band life, unfortunately for my parents and sisters that also meant them too as playing in a pipe band is more than a hobby it is definitely a way of life. One year whilst on holiday round about Nairn way I think, one of the majors was in Aberdeen so mid holiday it was a pipe band competition for the day, I then came back to Milnathort with the pipe major to go to another competition on the Sunday and he took me to Aviemore on the Monday to meet back up with the rest of my family, as I said it was a way of life and also a huge commitment.
I can’t quite remember my first competition with the pipe band but I do remember my first solo competition. It was 1982 at the Fife solos held at Ballingry high school and I came second in my age group, such an achievement, I was over the moon and the medal with a piper on it didn’t even dampen my spirits, well maybe a wee bit “a piper!” The adults in the band were really proud and got me a wee trophy with a drummer. My next solos was the world solos and I was practicing hard and looking forward to heading to Glasgow. Unfortunately I wasn’t well the week before and the doctor was called out to the house. My heart sank when he said he would be back to see me the following week and I was to rest, I had come down with the measles and I realised that I would miss the competition I had been working so hard for. I don’t know if it made it worse or better when I was told that I would have been good enough to get at least second again. This was in first year at high school and although I played in other solos after this I was also studying for exams and didn’t put in enough practicing to reach the same level. I am still proud of that placing in the Fife solos and this was just the start of life competing in pipe bands.
As young members of the band we would hang about, play football, run about and explore during the day to pass the time after competing and the prize giving at the end of the day. Growing up in the competing environment however I started to listen to other bands, watching the top drum corps as people crowded round to see Jim Kilpatrick, one of the world’s top and most respected drummers and his corps as they practiced with their chests puffed out. I also got a taste of how this felt, playing with Tayside Police Pipe Band under the guidance of another great drummer Paul Turner, we were at the Hamburg Highland Games, the only Scottish band there and we had a large crowd round us as we practiced and yep we too had our chests puffed out proud as can be.
Kinross were in grade 4 when I started competing but had high hopes, starting to regularly pick up prizes in grade 4 and also when playing up into grade 3, becoming quite innovative with some of the pipe tunes. Alex Murphy, the pipe major had a knack for picking tunes that other bands weren’t playing to find a number of bands playing them the following season. There were many ups and downs on the way but Kinross progressed from a grade 4 band to a successful grade 3 and grade 2 band. There were times when the drum corps was quite depleted and there were many changes, I got help from the grade 1 Polkemmet leading drummer, Jim King, who unfortunately is no longer with us. Jim was a huge help, writing new scores and bringing me on with more technical ability as I lead the now young drum corps when just in my teens myself. There were numerous other changes and people came and went having quite a strong drum corps at times, I was more than happy to step down to let more experienced leading drummers come in and step back up as required.
It was often with anticipation getting to a competition, checking out who was judging that day. Competing in the 80’s and 90’s there were a number of older drumming judges, who had some definite ideas of what should be played, and sometimes there was a big sigh of despair to hear that a particular judge that just didn’t seem to like our style was judging, knowing that we wouldn’t be getting a high score. I am sure there are plenty other drummers that would agree however that it was always good news to hear that Jim Baxter was judging, not because he would favour us, he was fair and would give helpful constructive criticism or praise as appropriate and I don’t think I ever disagreed with anything that he wrote on a drumming sheet. Certainly the most respected judge that I knew of during that time.
Pipe band life often transcended into everyday life as well especially in a small town like Kinross, when in late primary school and early high school there was a pupil that lets say had quite the reputation and no one got on her wrong side, she however was also a tenner drummer in the pipe band and there we all worked together to be part of the band and possibly because of having such a diverse group, she was just another band member with no reputation and we were friends which was to my advantage at school when someone tried to pick on me once.
There were some down falls being in the pipe band, I was quite good at hockey and was asked to join the school team, this however was not possible as it would clash with band practices and competitions at the weekends. I also missed out on a number of parties but then again being part of the band was much bigger than a party, with opportunities to travel and meet people getting to know people in the bigger pipe band community with the friendly rivalries and as I grew older the beer tent banter, with the same rivalries, all good fun with loads of good memories and anecdotes, that may well be shared in another post at some time in the future.
Pipe band and drumming has played a big part of my life as I moved on from Kinross to Tayside Police and the Royal Burgh if Stirling pipe bands, leaving pipe band life when we moved to the Isle of Wight. There is a band in Portsmouth (Rose and Thistle) but travel to practices was a bit much but I did have a bit of fun with them once at the Portsmouth docs, I was there with a samba band and as the pipe band were hanging out and playing in the beer tent I went over and asked if I could have a shot after they stopped playing. The leading drummer said “yeah sure, your with the samba band aren’t you” and as a laugh (he thought) placed his Glengarry on my head to you know look the part, naturally I played along and have a great pic as their tutor took a double take when he was walking past after I started playing. Teehee don’t think they expected that! It was all more for my pleasure as I hadn’t played on a high tension snare drum for a few years.
Keep an eye out for more pipe band stories,
Continuing to live the dream