A brief history of me as a bagpiper.
I hail from Inverness and benefited from the local education authorities initiative to teach children in the art of playing the bagpipes. I started aged 7 (the ideal age in my opinion) under the instruction of John Rennie, a very accomplished bagpiper in his own right. I took my lessons when my classmates were learning to bash a triangle. I look back with fond memories of this time and owe an immense debt of gratitude. If my school did not support this activity, my life would have taken a completely different complexion. Sadly, when I was 12, John passed away and after realising that the new teacher could not offer me anything, I joined my first band, the Inverness Royal British Legion Pipe Band under the Pipe Majorship of Reg McDonald.
The Pipe Sergeant, “Dusty” Miller and Tommy Cameron, a past Pipe Major of the band, both played a major part in my development and offered lots of encouragement and support in both my band and solo competition activities. I spent several very happy years bagpiping in the Inverness band, with brief spells competing in the highest grade with Dingwall RBL under Pipe Major Jimmy Jackson and with the 1st Battalion Queens Own Highlanders ACF band under Pipe Major Andy Venters. I am indebted to all these fine players who coached and mentored me during my early bagpiping career.
In 1986, at the ripe old age of 18, I joined 19th Field Regiment (The Highland Gunners) Royal Artillery as the Regimental Bagpiper. The regiment recruited from the North East of Scotland and the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Walker was very keen to promote the Scottish roots of the regiment. Based in Dortmund, West Germany, apart from undertaking all regimental duties, I also spent a large amount of my time playing my bagpipes for other units and developed quite a network of contacts within the local German community. From wedding to bierfest, I did the lot.
There were many notable events during my milatary bagpiper career but the ones that spring to mind were having the honour to play for HM The Queen at Balmoral and also the retirement dinner held for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe at SHAPE, Belgium. I have also played my bagpipes on a variety of TV and radio programmes spanning Europe and even Japan!
I was fortunate during my time with the Inverness RBL to receive drumming tuition from Ali Dowling, a well known and respected drummer which led me to winning both the drumming and piping competitions held by Inverness RBL, a feat that as far as I’m aware, has never been replicated. With skills and experience in both pipe band disciplines, I then founded a regimental pipe band for 19 Field Regiment Royal Artillery. The band achieved some success in both the entertainment and competition circuits. This band, I believe is still going strong today. The picture to the right was taken on a cold November day on a Gun Position on Munsterlager Ranges, West Germany and is one of my personal favourites. The “bumps” behind me are 25 Field Battery RA live firing FV433 Abbots.
Back in “civvy’s” again
After I left the British Army, I settled in North Yorkshire. After taking a bit of a sabbatical for a couple of years, I was convinced to pick up the bagpipes again by Billy Brown who was Pipe Major of South Cleveland Band in Darlington. I didn’t appreciate at the time but he was planning to retire and soon passed on the Pipe Majorship to me. I stayed with this band until 2000 when I decided to form another band a bit closer to home.
North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service Pipe Band held it’s first practice on 1st Nov 2000. We had no money. In fact the only thing we did have was a practice venue kindly provided by North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. The band has, from very humble beginnings, continued to blossom and is now a very successful and well regarded throughout the North East of England. A fact of which I am very proud.