In this section of the website we are a building up a collection of articles written by the Historical Research Group about individuals who have played a major role in the development of the Association over the years. The section will be gradually expanded as and when more information and articles compiled.
- Pipe Major William Sloan BEM
- Drum Major Alex Douglas (A D) Hamilton DCM
- Pipe Major John Kerr MacAllister
- Drum Major Alex Duthart
- Drum Major Jimmy Catherwood
- Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay
- Robert McCreath MBE
- Drum Major James King
- Pipe Major Henry (Jimmy) Graham
- Drum Major Bob Montgomery
- Robert Nicol
- Bob Black
Pipe Major William Sloan BEM
William Sloan BEM was one of the four founders of the SPBA. Willie, as he was known, was from Glasgow and he learned to play pipes in the Boy’s Brigade. He was married to May, they had a daughter and he enjoyed playing golf. He was known universally and was at ease with people from all walks of life, including youngsters to whom he never denied a minute of his time.
From an article in “The Pipe Band” magazine, we knew that he served in the first World War and was badly wounded and invalided out of the Army after spending 18 months in hospital, but we did not know what regiment he served in or where. On asking Jeannie Campbell of the College of Piping if she had any information about him, she suggested that a look in the book “The Pipes of War”, by Seton and Grant, might help. This book lists pipers who served in the Great War. It was quite a surprise to find this entry on page 146:
The Middlesex Regiment
2530. Piper William Sloan, wounded October 1916, Somme.
This was the first English regiment to have a pipe band, the men being recruited for the purpose in Glasgow.
The only problem was we did not know if this piper was our William Sloan. The story of the Pipe Band of the 16th (Public Schools) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment is interesting, if not unique, and probably deserves a separate article. After the Battle of the Somme the Battalion suffered heavy losses and was eventually disbanded, but the Pipe Band was transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and was not disbanded until the end of the war.
Research over several months revealed quite a lot of information on the Pipe Band of the 16th (Public Schools) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment but still no confirmation that 2530 William Sloan was our Willie. Then a stroke of luck – whilst Tony Harris was on a battlefield trip to Arnhem, when in casual conversation the tour guide said he had just read a book on the 16th (Public Schools) Battalion. Tony subsequently obtained a copy of this book and on page 288 was listed:
Piper William Sloane 2188. Wounded on the Somme, October 1916. Became Pipe Major and founded Scottish Pipe Band Association. Died June 22nd 1974.
The difference in Army numbers is confusing and the spelling of Sloan, sometimes with an e, has not helped, but we do feel there is no doubt we have found the right man. Ironically, two days after we had confirmed this Jeannie Campbell rang to say she had found a short article in the Piping Times also confirming this information.
After the War Willie took up a career in industry rising to a senior position. He also gathered together a group of young pipers and drummers to form his famous Maclean Pipe Band. This band was very successful, winning the World Pipe Band Championship four times. Among the players were pipers Donald MacIntosh and Robert McCreath, both office bearers in The Scottish Pipe Band Association in later years, and Dan Turrant, a fine player on the rope tension drum, regrettably killed early in the 2nd World war. The Maclean Pipe Band was said to be the first band to wear the Prince Charlie style uniform.
The Maclean Pipe Band had its origins in the Glasgow YMCA Pipe Band, of which Willie Sloan was the last Pipe Major. He was the first and only Pipe Major of the Maclean Pipe Band. The Band officially came into existence in 1921 and the first practices were held in a contractor’s shed in the south side of Glasgow. The name of the Band was derived from a Dr Maclean who had been a significant financial contributor to the YMCA Pipe Band. The Band won its first World Championship at Cowal Games in 1927.
In the second World War Willie Sloan was awarded the BEM for his contribution to industrial development of a secretive nature
Willie was the first President of The Scottish Pipe Band Association, holding that 0ffice from 1931 to 1934. He was also Secretary of the Association from 1962 to 1969. In 1953 he took on the additional work of Editor of “The Pipe Band” magazine and in 1971, with PRO Charles Nicholas, the writing of a brochure covering the growth and progress of The Scottish Pipe Band Association.
Drum Major Alex Douglas (A D) Hamilton DCM
“AD” Hamilton was one of The Scottish Pipe Band Association’s (SPBA) early pioneers who played a significant role in the development of Pipe Band music as we know it today. He served as a Drum Major in the Seaforth Highlanders during the First World War. On returning to civilian life he studied music and began to play in local orchestras and bands in the Glasgow area. He also became involved in tutoring Pipe Bands, having become interested in the percussion side during the mid 1920s. At the end of the 1920s he was appointed Drum Major of the 9th (Dumbartonshire) Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He also played percussion in the Glasgow City Orchestra on a full-time basis.
In 1931 he published “Drum Scores”, a collection of scores for Pipe Band snare, tenor and bass drums. He also wrote a number of forward-looking articles which were published in the then “Piper & Dancing” magazine. In 1936, along with Drum Major John Seton, he was asked to assist in establishing the then SPBA’s Pipe Band College (although for various reasons it was not until after the Second World War that the College was fully established). “A D” was subsequently appointed Musical Director of the SPBA and became involved in Pipe Band Drumming adjudication.
Alex Hamilton was a strong advocate of the “integrated Pipe Band”, whereby the Drum Corps of a Pipe Band collectively influences and enhances the overall musical effect. In 1935 he wrote an interesting article in the “Piping and Dancing” magazine entitled “A Straight Talk to Drummers” in which he recommended the process of creating a monotone for each pipe tune before writing the drum score, as a means of identifying the rhythmic patterns from the note groupings. His argument was that rhythm is one of the most important principles of music. He was also strongly of the view that the secret of success lay in the knowledge of drum technique and the ability to play drum rudiments properly, including good roll quality. This approach, almost 75 years ago, is not significantly different to that recommended by the RSPBA for Pipe Bands participating in its Musical Appreciation and Presentation competition project.
A D Hamilton was also one of the pioneers of the concept of Pipe Band Ensemble and he lectured frequently on the subject on behalf of the SPBA. He was often seen as controversial; and many of his peers did not agree with his views. Nevertheless, the following extract from a lecture he gave in 1947 provides an interesting example of his musical perspective in a Pipe Band context:
“It is fortunate that we have a number of enthusiasts amongst us keen on a better musical combination but, on the other hand, we still have a very large proportion who might become a little more enlightened if they could be made to take a little interest in the combined effect of a pipe band and not look on the band either from a piping or drumming point of view.”
“Our present method of adjudicating at a contest will never encourage collaboration between pipes and drums. A Pipe-Major judging the piping and a Drum-Major judging the drumming with no award for the best combined effort is hardly likely to improve the standard towards a more musical performance. Another obstacle in the way of a better combined effort is the present practice of awarding a drumming prize at some contests.”
Another of AD’s many visionary quotes is also worth noting:
“Music seems to be an ever ending subject, the more you listen the more you want to know and the older you become the more mature your outlook takes place.”
Sadly Alex Hamilton passed away during the 1970s but he left a significant musical legacy, particularly in the context of Pipe Band Ensemble, which is still being discussed and built upon today.
Pipe Major John Kerr MacAllister
John Kerr MacAllister (affectionately known as JK) passed away on 6 March 2008 at the age of 85 leaving a legacy in the Pipe Band world and in the RSPBA which few will ever surpass. Born and bred in the small town of Shotts in North Lanarkshire, John was one of three sons who inherited their piping skills from their father, Pipe Major Tom MacAllister BEM. On leaving school John took up the trade of apprentice joiner before becoming a member of the Gordon Highlanders at the outbreak of World War 2.
John served in North Africa (Tunisia), Sicily and Italy with the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders between December 1942 and January 1945. The 6th Battalion landed at Algiers on 13 March 1943 and took part in the Battles of Banana Ridge and Longstop Hill on their way to Tunis. By 12 May 1943 Tunis had fallen and a celebration parade, headed by Massed Pipe Bands, was held in Tunis in front of General Eisenhower on 20 May 1943. A final victory parade in front of General Eisenhower took place on 4 September the same year. After the capture of Tunis the Battalion had a short unopposed landing on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria before sailing for Italy and landing unopposed on 21 January 1944 north of Anzio. In February 1944, 6th Battalion came under heavy German attack and suffered heavy losses until relieved. The Battalion continued to man the Anzio line until May/June 1944, when it took part in the Allied advance on Rome. On 8 January 1945 the Drums and Pipes led the parade through Rome to the Vatican. The Battalion then moved to Haifa, Palestine in January 1945, where it remained until it was disbanded in 1946.
During his Army career John MacAllister was a Piper in the Regimental Drums and Pipes of the Gordons. The Drums and Pipes of the Gordon Highlanders (named in that order) are reputed to be the first Army Pipe Band. The Drums being foremost in the name are claimed to reflect the fact that Drummers were an integral part of early military Regiments as a means of beating out commands, and for marching purposes. It was not until the mid 1800s that Bagpipes were recognised officially in Scottish Regiments resulting in the formation of Pipe Bands.
At this stage in his career John had not achieved the status of Pipe Major. There is, however, evidence in the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming that he attended in March 1946 a Piping Course at the then Army School at Edinburgh Castle, conducted by Pipe Major Willie Ross. The course appeared to be similar to the current Senior Pipers Course, from which Pipers achieve the recommendation to embark on the Pipe Majors’ Course. The Army School list of students who attended the March 1946 Course was as follows:
- PM R Batt 21G
- LCpl MacAllister Trg Bn IG
- PM Grant 2SG
- PSgt K Roe 1SG
- LSgt J Roe 1SG
- Piper T Ainslie BW
- Fus W Thomson RSF
- Piper J Hamilton Seaforth Hldrs
- Cpl J MacAllister 6th Gordon Hldrs
- PM J Cockburn 2RS
- Pte W Thomson RSF
- Pte j G Thomson Gordon Hldrs
- LCpl J Kilgour SG
Following his Army service John became an employee of the renowned Bagpipe Makers, William Sinclair of Edinburgh before returning to his trade as a joiner. During the 1950s, along with his brothers, he entered into partnership with the late Andrew Warnock of “The Pipers Cave” in Northern Ireland to develop the War-Mac Pipe Chanter using the revolutionary polypenco material. This led to a highly successful reed-making business venture in Shotts in 1970, along with brothers Tom and William, which operated under the “JWT” logo until it ceased trading during the 1990s, when the business was taken over by James W Troy & Son of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
In 1954 John took over as Pipe Major of the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band in succession to his father. Under his leadership the Band won four World Pipe Band Championship titles consecutively from 1957 to 1960; and in 1959 he led the Band to winning all the Major Championships that year. By the time he retired from the Band in 1968 he had collected 44 first prizes, 26 of these being in Major Championships.
John also played a major and influential role in the development of The Scottish Pipe Band Association (SPBA), which also continued after the organisation became The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA). He was a strong advocate for the education and training of Pipers and Drummers. He was a major influence in the introduction of musical Medleys in Pipe Band competitions and he was a leader in the campaign which eventually saw the introduction of Ensemble adjudication at Major Pipe Band Championships. In 1955, as a member of the Advisory Board of the then SPBA Pipe Band College, along with Alex D Hamilton, William Sloan BEM and Alex Duthart, he embarked on a project to develop the Association’s first Tutor and Textbook, which was eventually published in 1962 and led to the RSPBA Structured Learning programme which is in place today. In 1968 he also led the House Committee of the SPBA which carried out the alterations necessary when the Association acquired its existing Headquarters at 45 Washington Street, Glasgow.
Following his competing career John continued his Piping and Pipe Band involvement as an RSPBA Piping and Ensemble Adjudicator. During that time he also played a major role in the education and training of Adjudicators and was a leading member of the RSPBA Adjudicators’ Training Group until his retiral from the Adjudicators’ Panel in 1993. Shortly thereafter, in recognition of his major contribution and influence, he was appointed Honorary Vice-President of the Association by the RSPBA National Council.
Over the years John MacAllister played a leading and visionary role in the development of the RSPBA as we know it today as well as the development of Pipe Band music in general. Many individuals have benefited from his advice and guidance, including players in Pipe Bands worldwide and a significant number of the RSPBA’s current Adjudicators. He has left a great legacy to the Pipe Band world which should be an inspiration to all.
Drum Major Alex Duthart
In researching the history of the development of the SPBA/RSPBA, a name which frequently comes to the fore is that of Alex Duthart, who arguably had the greatest influence on Pipe Band percussion as we know it today.
Born in 1925 in the village of Cambusnethan, near Wishaw, Alex was the son of John Duthart who played both the Bass Drum and the Snare Drum in the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the First World War. Taught by his father, Alex joined the Craigneuk Parish Church Juvenile Pipe Band at the age of 12. In 1942 he joined the Dalziel Highland Pipe Band under Leading Drummer Jimmy Catherwood. The Dalziel Band amalgamated with the 6th Battalion Lanarkshire Home Guard Pipe Band, the Leading Drummer of which was Gordon Jelly, another pupil of Jimmy Catherwood. Alex Duthart subsequently took over as Leading Drummer of Dalziel Highland in 1949 when Gordon Jelly departed to become Leading Drummer of the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band. Alex won his first World Championships drumming prize in 1953. After that he left the Pipe Band scene for a time to pursue a career as a dance band drummer, before joining the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band in 1957 as Leading Drummer under Pipe Major John MacAllister. Thereafter Alex played for Shotts and Dykehead for almost 30 years, apart from short periods with the Invergordon Distillery and Edinburgh City Police Pipe Bands. During this time he amassed an impressive array of Championship first places in Band, Drum Corps and Solo competitions. He finished his playing career with the British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band under Pipe Major Harry McNulty; and sadly, it was while playing with BCal that he died from a heart attack during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City in 1986.
Alex Duthart claimed his main influences to be Alex D Hamilton, Jimmy Catherwood (also Leading Drummer of Dalziel Highland Pipe Band), Paddy Donovan (famous Pipe Band Drummer from Dublin), and Alex McCormick of Glasgow Police Pipe Band. Few would argue, however, that he was the pioneer of a new style of Pipe Band drumming accompaniment and percussion which set the scene for a different type of “musical” focus on Pipe Bands; the introduction of medley competitions alongside the traditional March, Strathspey and Reel format; and the evolution of Ensemble adjudication at SPBA/RSPBA Major Championships.
Alex Duthart was also a key player in the development of the SPBA’s education and training programme. Along with Alex Hamilton, John MacAllister and Pipe Major William Sloan BEM, he was a partner in the project which produced the Association’s first Tutor & Textbook, a seven year project which was completed in 1962, as well as the second volume which was published in 1970. He also travelled the world extensively promoting Pipe Bands and Pipe Band Drumming through demonstrations, workshops and training sessions. His influence is still seen in the Drum Corps of Pipe Bands worldwide and his drum scores are still used widely by leading Pipe Bands and individuals.
Drum Major James (Jimmy) Catherwood
Dalzell Highland Pipe Band and Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band
Jimmy Catherwood was one of the most influential contributors to the development of Pipe Band drumming as we know it today. Born in 1907 in Motherwell, he joined the Motherwell Company of the Boys Brigade at the age of 12 and soon joined their Pipe Band. He received his first lessons from Jock Scott who subsequently was to emigrate to the USA, after which Jimmy was left in charge of the BB Pipe Band drum corps before three years later joining the Dalzell Highland Pipe Band. At that time the Dalzell Band was under the leadership of Pipe Major A Hastie and the Drumming Instructor was John Duthart, who had served as Bass Drummer with the 8th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Pipe Band during the First World War. John Duthart was the father of the late and legendary Alex Duthart.
Other notables drummers to emerge from the ranks of the 8th Argyll’s were Drum Major Charlie Davis of the Glasgow Corporation Transport Pipe Band and Drum Major John Seton of the City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band. John Seton was a master of the rudiments of drumming and stick control, together with the subtle use of expression and dynamics. This all helped to lay the foundation for Jimmy Catherwood’s drumming and Pipe Band musicianship.
Even before the Scottish Pipe Band Association was formed in 1930, Jimmy Catherwood was a driving force in the teaching of the fundamentals of Pipe Band drumming, eventually devoting a lifetime to the Pipe Band movement and to percussion instruction. His influence is still felt today as over the years many of his pupils and members of his drum corps were to become innovative players, tutors and Adjudicators. He was renowned for his warmth of character, his wit, and his willingness to assist and discuss all forms of percussion with the beginner or the expert.
When Jimmy was appointed Leading Drummer of Dalzell Highland Pipe Band, the drum corps won every trophy available to them on the Scottish Pipe Band circuit. During his years with Dalzell, Jimmy looked for newer and varied ways to present his drum scores. He also began to take an interest in Brass and Military Band drumming, and orchestral percussion. Jimmy’s spectrum of the whole musical scene was also enhanced through his close relationship with Drum Major Alex D Hamilton of Glasgow, former Drum Major in the Seaforth Highlanders Pipes and Drums. For several years Jimmy also corresponded with Dr Fritz Berger, the noted Swiss Basle Drummer and he later decided to travel to Basle to meet with him. In 1928 Dr Berger had introduced the Swiss Army drumming system, a revolutionary new drumming notation system. This showed a “single line Staff” with the Right Hand stroke (note) shown above the line and the Left Hand stroke shown below the line. Arriving back in Scotland, Jimmy introduced this system to his drummers, but it was not until 1950 that this form of drumming notation was more generally accepted in Scotland. The Scottish Pipe Band Association used the notation system in its Text Book and Tutor Volume 1, published in 1962.
Jimmy Catherwood, and a few other notable drummers of that time, always strived to compose individual scores to suit each pipe tune, incorporating the basic rudiments and also groupings of rhythmic phrases and dynamics to enhance the musical effect of the melody. This proved to generate a new era whereby drummers saw the advantages of learning notation, showing the time duration of the note values with the sub-division of the beat note and the use of embellishments and dynamics for musical effect.
Individual scores were also being written for bass and tenor drummers, and Jimmy Catherwood, under the guidance of A D Hamilton, was quick to develop the new format. Other leading drummers of the time who took advantage of this new world of Pipe Band drumming were Alex McCormick of Glasgow Police Pipe Band, Dan Turrant of the MacLean Pipe Band, Danny Faulds of Banknock & Haggs Pipe Band, and Charlie Davis of the Glasgow Corporation Transport Pipe Band. Jimmy Catherwood corresponded regularly with other similar minded drummers in other parts of the world, in particular with Fritz Berger in Switzerland and Bill Ludwig in the USA. As a result he started to include some of the new rudiments from overseas into his Pipe Band drum scores.
In 1931 Jimmy learned that the Premier drum company in England had recently produced a full set of rod tension drums (snare, bass and tenors) designed specifically for Pipe Bands. The drums could all be tensioned individually, making it much easier to tune them in unison than the old rope tension drums. The snare drums were fitted with low-profile metal counter hoops and, with higher tension now possible, crisper sounds could be produced making for cleaner and faster drumming execution. Jimmy convinced the Dalzell Pipe Band Committee that a full set of these new drums should be purchased to compete with at the World Pipe Band Championships in August that year, which at that time were part of Cowal Highland Games in Dunoon. The Committee agreed to his request and thus Dalzell Highland was the first Pipe Band to play these drums in competition. The new sound caused a sensation and Dalzell won the World Drumming Championships. Many other leading Pipe Bands were soon to follow such as the City of Glasgow Police, Glasgow Transport, MacLean and Ballochyle.
Following the formation of the Scottish Pipe Band Association in 1930 Jimmy, along with others, saw the need for the formation of an SPBA Pipe Band College to help pipers, drummers and Pipe Bands to receive proper instruction in the fundamentals and to develop good technique. The SPBA towards the mid 1930s conducted its own ‘Individual Solo Drumming Competition’, later to become known as the World Solo Drumming Championships. In January 1937 the winner of this event was Charlie Davis, the Leading Drummer of the Glasgow Corporation Transport Pipe Band. Jimmy Catherwood was placed second playing scores composed by Paddy Donovan and Drum Major A D Hamilton. At that time the Dalzell Highland Pipe Band Drum Corps was still a major force in Pipe Band competition right up to the commencement of the 1939-45 Second World War.
After commencement of the War Jimmy remained as Leading Drummer of Dalzell Highland until 1941, when he moved to Edinburgh and subsequently joined the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. In due course he took over as Leading Drummer of the Band from the late Drum Major John Ferguson. who had enlisted in the Army to serve with the Seaforth and later the Cameron Highlanders. It is interesting to note that when Jimmy left Dalzell, Gordon Jelly, who had been a member of the Dalzell Corps for over twelve years, took over as his successor. Gordon Jelly was later to become Leading Drummer of Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band, before emigrating to Victoria, Australia in 1952. Another young drummer to join the Dalzell corps in 1942 was the legendary Alex Duthart.
With the resurgence of interest in Pipe Bands following the War, the BBC continued with its live broadcasts of Pipe Band music on Radio Scotland, a feature which had been inaugurated in 1937 with the Glasgow and the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Bands. Recordings of Pipe Bands were also starting to be produced by the larger record companies. In 1949 the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band under Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay was invited by the Universal Recording Company of London to record a series of high quality 78rpm recordings of the Band. In addition two MSR recordings of Solo Drummers accompanied by Donald Shaw Ramsay were made for posterity. The drummers selected to perform were Jimmy Catherwood of Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band, Alex Duthart of Dalzell Highland Pipe Band, Gordon Jelly of Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band and James Blackley of Edinburgh Special Constables Pipe Band.
Jimmy Catherwood retired from Edinburgh City Police in 1954 at the age of 47 and took up percussion on a full-time basis. He was appointed teacher of percussion at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh and remained in that position for many years thereafter. During that time he had countless successes with pupils competing in the Scottish Schools Combined Cadet Forces Bands and Solo Drumming events. In addition, there were College exchange visits between Scotland and the USA, arranged on a bi-annual basis and his pupils could always be relied on to shine in that field. Jimmy also made many trips to the USA accompanying his pupils and he was involved in Pipe Band drumming workshops in Canada. Throughout his life Jimmy also experimented and achieved differing Drum sounds, and he also had a hobby/business making and supplying snare, tenor and bass drum sticks made from many materials.
Jimmy Catherwood’s contribution to Pipe Band Drumming and Percussion was immeasurable. He died at the age of 76 years and was laid to rest in Edinburgh on Tuesday 8 November1983, with his former Pipe Band, by then known as Lothian and Borders Police Pipe Band, playing at the funeral. Many original Drum scores composed by Jimmy and other drummers of his time can be found in a presentational folder in the history display at RSPBA Headquarters.
RSPBA Historical Research Group
(with assistance from Allan Chatto, Sydney, Australia)
Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay
Donald Shaw Ramsay was born in 1919, near Torphichen, between Falkirk and Bathgate. He became interested in Piping and Pipe Bands as a youngster, starting to learn the pipes at the age of 8 under Pipe Major Sandy Forrest of Torphichen and Bathgate Pipe Band. In his early years he focused on both Pipe Band work and Piobaireachd, and his potential was demonstrated clearly when at an early age he was runner-up in the Under-21 Piobaireachd Class at the Northern Meeting in Inverness.
Donald was educated at Drumbowie near Avonbridge and then at Falkirk High School. He then took up an engineering apprenticeship in Bathgate. At the age of 19 he was asked to take over as Pipe Major of a band near Falkirk, where he gained invaluable early experience. Following the outbreak of the War in September 1939, he was posted to the 10th Highland Light Infantry; and he soon became the youngest Pipe Major in the British Army and very quickly formed a competent Pipe Band for the Regiment. For the next four years, as part of the 15th Scottish Infantry Division, the 10th Battalion HLI moved around the country on training exercises and defence duties.
In June 1944 the Regiment went into action Normandy which culminated in the crossing of the Elbe and victory in Europe. During this period the 10th Battalion HLI, having been under the cover of Hochwald Forest, about two miles from the Rhine, endeavoured to cross the Rhine in tracked amphibious personnel carriers (known as buffaloes). Some of the carriers unfortunately overturned during this difficult operation; but the majority successfully made the crossing. Many were accompanied by something unique to Scottish Regiments – the sound of the bagpipes. Perched precariously at the front of each carrier was a piper, among whom was Donald Ramsay. A few weeks later after VE Day, when the 15th Scottish Infantry Division was enjoying the peace and quiet of the town of Lubeck, Donald composed the 6/8 March which has since become so popular with Pipe Bands and Scottish dance bands – “The 10th Battalion HLI Crossing the Rhine”.
After leaving the Army, Donald joined Edinburgh City Police and the famous Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. Within two years he was appointed Pipe Major in October 1949, taking over from Pipe Major Duncan Cameron. At the time the Band was going through a lean period on the competition field and Donald was given a free hand by the then Chief Constable, Sir William Morran, to initiate improvements and achieve better results. He approached the task with his characteristic professionalism. A recruiting campaign was initiated which extended well beyond the territory of Edinburgh City Police, new practice schedules were introduced, and discipline was also improved. In 1950 Pipe Major Ramsay took the Band to the World Pipe Band Championships in Dundee and led them to first place, a remarkable achievement in such a very short time. This had been the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band’s first Major Championship win since 1919. Under Donald Shaw Ramsay the Band took the “Worlds” title again at Aberdeen in 1954.
Following his 1950 success, Donald then collaborated with Edinburgh businessman, Hugh MacPherson, to produce a book of pipe music, with drum scores included, entitled -“The Edcath Collection Book 1” – which was published in 1953. The name reflected the fact that Hugh MacPherson had been based in St Catherines, Ontario before he returned to Scotland to set up his highland supplies business in Haymarket, Edinburgh (i.e. a combination of the two locations). The book, and its successor – “The Edcath Collection Book 2” – proved to be favourites with the Scottish dance band scene as they included compositions by such players as Jimmy Shand and Alisdair Downie. This illustrated that Donald Ramsay was prepared to accept music which was suitable for the bagpipes from different sources. Other well known of his own compositions are “Angus MacKinnon”, “Mrs Lily Christie”, “Tam Bain’s Lum”, “Jimmy Young” and “Schiehallion”.
During the 1950s Pipe Bands started to introduce Jigs and Hornpipes into their repertoire. Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay was one of the first to do so. He was also a pioneer in introducing Piobaireachd into the Pipe Band repertoire and was one of the early leaders in innovative Pipe Band medley construction.
Unfortunately, however, Donald’s career in Edinburgh City Police was cut short when, in March 1957, he was shot and seriously injured while on Police duty in Edinburgh. His recovery was long and slow and, on the advice of the medical staff, he was retired from the Force in 1958 and emigrated to the warmer climate of California to regain his health. However, his Pipe Band career did not end there. He took over the San Francisco Caledonian Pipe Band and took the Band to Grade 1 by 1960, for the first time during its history. He also started his own successful highland supplies business, known as Scotch House. However, his life was to change again in 1964, when Frank Thomson, the owner of the Invergordon Distillery in the north of Scotland, told Donald that he wanted to produce one of the finest Pipe Bands the country had ever seen, and asked him to come back home to set up such a Band.
As a consequence, at the end of 1964 Donald Shaw Ramsay was appointed to lead the Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band which at that time was a young Band. He recruited top pipers, and he persuaded the legendary Alex Duthart to leave Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band to head north to form a new drum corps. In September 1965, only 9 months after assuming his new role, Pipe Major Ramsay proudly accepted the Grade 1 European Pipe Band Championships award at the Shotts Highland Gathering . The same day the Band also won the European Drumming Championship Trophy. In fact the Band was placed in the prize list of every Grade 1 Major Championship during 1965, and went on to win every Major Championship except the Worlds between 1965 and 1967. At that time the World Pipe Band Championships were dominated by the famous Muirhead and Sons Pipe Band from Grangemouth.
Following his retirement from competitive playing Donald Ramsay continued his involvement in the world of Pipe Bands as a highly respected Adjudicator. Sadly he passed away in 1998, and one of his former pipers in Edinburgh City Police, Pipe Major Harry McNulty, fittingly played Donald’s own composition “Schiehallion” at his funeral in Polmont, near Falkirk. Not only did Donald Ramsay win the World Pipe Band Championships on two occasions (1950 and 1954) but he was also without doubt a man of vision and one of the pioneers in shaping the development of the Pipe Band music and Pipe Band competitions we know and enjoy today.
This article has been developed from a variety of sources, including pipes|drums
Robert McCreath MBE
Robert (Bob) McCreath, although not one of the original office bearers, was one of the early individuals involved with the Scottish Pipe Band Association (SPBA), being at that time a member of the MacLean Pipe Band led by Pipe Major William Sloan BEM, whose idea it was to form the Association in 1930. Like many volunteers over the years, Robert served the Association in numerous and varied ways. He was a competitor, stewarded at competitions, compiled competition results, adjudicated and proved to be an administrator of exceptional ability. He subsequently served as Honorary Secretary of the SPBA in 1961, succeeding Donald McIntosh who was the first Honorary Secretary of the Association between 1930 and 1938, and who served a second term in the same role between 1950 and 1960. Bobs years of faithful service and diligence to the Association and its membership were fully recognised when he was appointed President of the SPBA in 1977, an office which he held until 1982. During that time he oversaw a very important milestone in the organisations history – celebration of the SPBAs Golden Jubilee in 1980 and the award of Royal status by HM The Queen the same year.
Bob McCreath was born in Hutchesontown, Glasgow on the 7th June 1907. He was the third of the ten children of James McCreath and Margaret Strickland Shaw. The family moved from Hutchesontown, first to Greenhead Street (overlooking Glasgow Green) – and then to Ledard Road, where close-by Battlefield West Church and the 158th Company of the Boys Brigade became a recreational and spiritual hub. Bob subsequently became a member of the 48th Glasgow BB Pipe Band before he progressed to the adult MacLean Pipe Band led by Pipe Major Sloan. Before the Second World War, and for a time after his return to civilian life, he worked as a butcher. He served in the RAF during the War, where he was also a piper until around 1944. He later served for many years as Band Convener in the Glasgow Battalion of the Boys Brigade. He also left butchering to take up a position with the then Glasgow Corporation in its Housing Department, where his tact, diplomacy and gentlemanly manner would no doubt have been at a premium. He remained in the Housing Department until his retirement.
Bob McCreath was known as a somewhat reserved individual, who was modest, strong and self-sufficient. Above all he was a man of conviction who was able to separate out the different aspects of his life; his job, his family life, his BB activities and his work with the SPBA. Generosity and good nature were hallmarks of his character and he was known to be the arbiter for many of the political conflicts which have been a frequent, and possibly inevitable, feature of the Association and the Pipe Band community over the years.
Bobs dedication to his many interests was recognised with the award of an MBE on 13 June 1981. He undoubtedly played a major role in shaping the RSPBA to be the organisation it is today. His legacy to the Association has not been forgotten as the Robert McCreath Room dedicated to his memory still exists at RSPBA Headquarters at Washington Street in Glasgow, a room which appropriately now houses part of the Associations historical displays. It has also come to light that a pipe tune was composed in Bob McCreaths name, another reason why he will not be forgotten in RSPBA history as a framed copy of the tune is also displayed at RSPBA Headquarters. The tune (reproduced below) was composed by Pipe Major Angus Lawrie, former member of the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band.
Prepared by the RSPBA Historical Research Group (with assistance from Douglas McCreath, Bobs nephew).
Drum Major James King
Born in 1955 in Cardenden in Fife, James King always had a passion for Pipe Band Drumming, and was taught by his father, Seamus King, who was Leading Drummer of Bowhill Colliery Pipe Band. He subsequently developed his drumming skills further through the teaching system of Ballingry School and the Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band organisation, under the direction of Pipe Major Robert Shepherd MBE. The process resulted in a group of young school pupils progressing through the RSPBA grades from Novice Juvenile to Grade 1 as quickly as any Pipe Band in history. Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band, led by Pipe Major Robert Shepherd MBE and Leading Drummer James King won the Grade 1 World Pipe Band Championships in 1977 and 1978. The Dysart & Dundonald Drum Corps led by James King also took the Grade 1 Drumming prize at the World Pipe Band Championships in 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1980.
Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band was famed for its unique approach to musical interpretation, for its distinctive collective Band sound and for extending the boundaries of Pipe Band medleys in both competition and concert performances. James King was influential in developing the Band’s characteristic style of playing and his Drum Corps had a major influence on the Band’s innovative approach to musical ensemble. He also inspired many of his young drummers to eventually progress to other bands worldwide, including Reid Maxwell who was later to become the very successful Leading Drummer of the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band and then Simon Fraser University Pipe Band in Canada. Other drummers of particular note who progressed from James King’s Dysart & Dundonald Corps were Willie Bell, Gordon Lee, Eddie King, Gary Stutt, John McCormack, Peter Carter, George Mair and Gordon McLay.
In 1983 Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band introduced Piobaireachd into its repertoire at the Ballymena Concert in Northern Ireland and there was much acclaim for James King’s percussion orchestration on that memorable night. Significantly it was also to be Pipe Major Shepherd’s last contribution as shortly afterwards he announced his retirement as a competing Pipe Major. James King soon followed and he subsequently joined the Polkemmet Colliery Pipe Band under Leading Drummer Jim Kilpatrick MBE. In 1986 he also spent a year with the Kansas City St Andrew Pipe Band. On returning to Scotland in 1989 he had a successful spell as Leading Drummer of Polkemmet Colliery Pipe Band under Pipe Major David Barnes, winning the Scottish and European Championships and finishing second at the World Pipe Band Championships in 1991. James then continued at the top level when in 1993 he joined the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band as Leading Drummer under Pipe Major Ian Duncan, again being a consistent prize winner at Major Championships. More recently he was Leading Drummer of the Grade 2 Lochgelly High School FP Pipe Band under Pipe Major Tom Brown, another product of the original Dysart & Dundonald system.
James King passed away at an early on 2 March 2014 after a serious illness. He left an impressive legacy to the Pipe Band world through his teaching and his contribution to the Pipe Bands in which he has been involved, the most significant being the Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band. He also served for a period on the RSPBA Advisory Committee and on the Adjudicators’ Panel; and he made an indelible mark on the history and development of Pipe Band drumming. At his funeral at Kirkcaldy Crematorium on 10 March 2014 a fitting musical tribute was paid to James in the form of a Drum Fanfare by Leading Drummers of various Pipe Bands, including Jim Kilpatrick MBE.
Pipe Major Henry (Jimmy) Graham
Henry James Law Graham (known as Jimmy Graham) departed from Gretna Green in Scotland in the mid-1920s, complete with bagpipes, to set up a new life in Melbourne, Australia. Unfortunately on arrival he found no work in his trade of stone mason but he quickly met the young lady, Nora Jepson, who was soon to become his wife, which meant that some form of employment was essential. He then learned from newspaper advertisements that there were vacancies for policemen in Sydney, New South Wales and subsequently, having passed the necessary recruitment process and medical, he embarked on a career in the NSW Police Service.
Before long Jimmy Graham found himself a member of the Sydney Thistle Highland Pipe Band, in due course becoming Pipe Major. A few of the members of the Band at this time were policemen and the Band progressed to be very successful competitively, with a strong focus in developing young people in the skills of piping and pipe band drumming.
In 1946 a group of interested players from within the ranks of the New South Wales Police Service, with the assistance of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, obtained the permission of the then Commissioner of Police, William John MacKay, to form a New South Wales Police Pipe Band. Not surprisingly the founding Pipe Major was Police Sergeant Jimmy Graham, whose skills resulted in the rapid development of the Band to competitive success, which included winning the Grade 1 Australian Pipe Band Championships in 1954 as well as many other competitions. The Band was dealt a severe blow when Jimmy Graham sadly passed away in 1956. Jimmy was succeeded as Pipe Major by his close friend, Detective Constable Angus Graham (who, although also of the Graham clan, was not related). The Band still exists and is still actively involved publicly and in the competition field, including participating in both Edinburgh Military Tattoos held in Sydney in 2005 and 2010.
Jimmy and Nora Graham were blessed with four children – two daughters (Marjorie and Ailsa) and two sons (Malcolm and Duncan). Not surprisingly Malcolm became a piper and Duncan became a drummer, both products of Balmain Police Boys Club Pipe Band. Duncan Graham progressed to become Leading Drummer of the St Mary’s Pipe Band, where over the years he had a very successful competition record, winning the Australian Grade 1 Championships in 1972. Duncan also subsequently played with the City of Blacktown Pipe Band which won the Grade 2 Australian Championships in 1982.
Duncan Graham is well known in Pipe Band circles worldwide and is still actively involved in teaching and adjudicating in New South Wales. He has also been of considerable assistance to the RSPBA’s Historical Research Group in recent years, including donating to the Association a limited edition replica rope tension drum used by the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot Fraser Highlanders 1776-1784 (made in England by the Premier Drum Company) which now features in the historical display at RSPBA Headquarters.
Pictured opposite is Duncan Graham in uniform for his first contest in Grade 4.
Prepared by the RSPBA Historical Research Group from information provided by Duncan Graham.
Drum Major Bob Montgomery
Bob Montgomery was renowned throughout the Pipe Band world alongside the great names in Pipe Band drumming. His main claim to fame was as Leading Drummer of the famous Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band (renamed Lothian and Borders Police Pipe Band after regionalisation in 1975). Throughout his lengthy involvement with Pipe Bands he was also deeply involved in teaching Pipe Band drumming and he was for many years an RSPBA Drumming and Ensemble Adjudicator who was highly respected for his honesty, integrity and impartiality.
Bob had also an impressive record of devotion to the work of the RSPBA. He was involved over many years in the development of the musical education aspects of the Association through the activities of the SPBA College Board and Advisory Committee, including the introduction of the Association’s Advanced Certificate in Piping and Drumming. He also worked with the subsequent RSPBA Music Board as an Instructor and Examiner for RSPBA certificate courses. He was also involved in Adjudicator training and was one of the longest serving members of the RSPBA Adjudicators’ Panel.
Bob Montgomery’s first association with Pipe Bands was as a member of the Torpedo Works Pipe Band in Greenock, which he joined as a young lad before becoming associated with the Greenock Police. He subsequently moved to the East of Scotland where he started a long and highly successful career with Edinburgh City Police. During Bob’s period as Leading Drummer the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band he won the Grade I World Championship on four occasions (1963, 1964, 1971 and 1972). His Drum Corps also won all the major titles, including the World title in 1964. Bob was also a regular prize-winner as a solo player and he won the World Solo Drumming Championship on two occasions, in 1962 and 1969.
Until his untimely death in March 1997 Bob Montgomery was still actively involved in teaching drumming. Over the years he was particularly committed to teaching young people and many young drummers benefited from his expertise and technique. He taught at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh and Loretto School in Musselburgh; and he had particularly lengthy involvement with the Merchiston Castle and the Craigmount High School Pipe Bands. Many Bands in the East of Scotland and further afield also had the benefit of his expert tuition. Many of his pupils progressed to playing in leading Pipe Bands throughout the world, which illustrates very clearly how he contributed significantly to the development of Pipe Band drumming to the high standards which are now achieved.
Robert (Bob) Nichol’s connections with Pipe Band music covered most of his lifetime and his dedication to the work of the Scottish Pipe Band Association/RSPBA was immense. As a young lad aged 17 he volunteered for the Navy during the Second World War and, on demob, he became an apprentice sewing machine mechanic, a role in which he continued until he took up full-time employment with the SPBA in 1970.
In his spare time Robert started a Church Youth Club in Knightswood, Glasgow. The Youth Club developed to over 200 members, offering classes in arts and crafts as well as many sporting activities. Robert was also a Boy’s Brigade officer and he was instrumental in starting the Knightswood Boy’s Brigade Pipe Band ,along with Jack Crichton, another individual who played an important role in the SPBA’s development. The BB Pipe Band was not allowed to be involved in competitions, so the Knightswood Juvenile Pipe Band was then founded based in a local Community Centre. The nucleus of the Band was initially members of the BB Band. Having been a young piper himself before the War, Robert Nichol became the administrator of the Knightswood Juvenile Pipe Band and his application to this challenge demonstrated a great ability to organise and guide the youngsters to a positive life-style in youthful pursuits. The Knightswood Juvenile Pipe Band’s progress over the years was a clear indication of Robert’s dedication to the development of young people, many of whom went on to play in other Bands at the highest level.
Robert Nichol also pioneered international tours for Juvenile Pipe Bands by arranging visits by Knightswood Juvenile to Canada in the early 1960s, and thereby established congenial relationships between young pipers and drummers in Canada and Scotland. On the acquisition of the SPBA’s Headquarters and College premises in Washington Street, Glasgow, it was decided to appoint a full-time officer to the post of Secretary/Treasurer of the Association (later to be renamed Executive Officer). Robert Nichol’s application to fill the post was successful and he took on the task of setting up an SPBA office and educational facilities. His successful involvement enabled a vast expansion in tutoring schemes and great improvement in SPBA administration and effective communication with member Bands.
His experience in taking Bands overseas also came to the fore when the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, Canada decided to include a Scottish World Festival in its annual programme of events. The first involvement of Scottish Pipe Bands in the annual CNE took place in l972 and continued successfully during the 1970s. The travel and accommodation arrangements for around 500 Pipe Band personnel, on each of six successive visits, was an onerous task and Robert Nichol did a splendid job on all occasions. His sister, Betty, was appointed Honorary Assistant Treasurer of the Association around this time and she also made a significant contribution to the administration of the Association, relieving her brother of many of the financial aspects which had resulted from the continuing expansion of the SPBA’s activities.
Robert Nichol served the SPBA/RSPBA for 25 years during which time he made an outstanding contribution as a result of his total commitment to the role of Executive Officer. His period of service to the Association saw significant developments in education and training in Piping, Drumming and Drum Majoring; ‘Royal’ status being conferred on the Association in 1980; and many changes in the format of Pipe Band competitions. Sadly Robert passed away on 13 February 1999. Undoubtedly Robert Nichol played a major role in developing the RSPBA into the internationally recognised organisation it is today, and he takes his place among those individuals who must be recognised as the true pioneers and motivators of the Association.
Robert (Bob) J Black was one of the stalwarts in the history of the RSPBA who formerly served as both Chairman and President of the Association
Bob first started learning the bagpipes as a young 14 year-old, taught by an uncle. He couldn’t quite master the art and decided that perhaps he was more suited to being a drummer, which was what he went on to do. During the second world war he served in the RAF as an Armourer which saw him stationed all over the world. After the war he decided to become a school teacher and that vocation first took him to the North East of England before he returned to Scotland later in his career. When a teacher in Whitley Bay in 1962, Bob formed the North East England Branch (Newcastle) of the then Scottish Pipe Band Association (SPBA). The Branch subsequently became known some 10 years later as the North East England Branch as it is today, covering a wider territory.
Bob Black served as Chairman of the SPBA/RSPBA from 1967 to 1982, and he was also President of the Association between 1982 and 1985. During his period in these positions he oversaw the Golden Jubilee of the SPBA in 1980 and the conferring of “Royal” status on the Association by Her Majesty the Queen the same year. Following his period as President he was appointed Honorary Vice President of the RSPBA.
During his Pipe Band career Bob was involved with numerous different bands, including the Whitley Bay Pipe Band. In the early 1980s he was one of the founder members of the Mull and Iona Pipe Band and he competed with the Band at Cowal Games. He was also very much involved at one time with the Oban Pipe Band. When Bob and his wife Irene moved to St. Madoes in Perthshire, he became active within the Dundee, Perth and Angus Branch of the RSPBA where he served as President of the Branch and also as the Branch representative for “The Pipe Band” magazine.
Bob’s patience, common sense, generosity of time and encouragement to many people was outstanding. He was a tremendous ambassador for the RSPBA and one of the great contributors to the development of the Association.