The Early Years
The origins of the Greater Glasgow Scotland Police Pipe Band can be traced back to 1883 with the formation of the Burgh of Govan Police Pipe Band. Uniquely, the band’s existence was endorsed by an Act of Parliament and the band shares with the 9th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry T.A. (Glasgow Highlanders), the distinction of being one of the first pipe bands to be formed out with the ranks of the British Army.
At the time of its formation the band was under the control of the Burgh Chief Constable and the Pipe Major was William Bremer. The first uniform was a homespun kilt designed by the Chief Constable and this remained the uniform until 1913, when it was superseded by the Royal Stewart Tartan.
Pipe Major William Bremner was succeeded by Pipe Major Walter Drysdale in 1890 and was followed in turn by Pipe Major Alexander Hutcheon in 1898. It was during this time that the band became known beyond the confines of the shipbuilding burgh of Govan. The members travelled in a four-in-hand coach drawn by grey horses.
Pipe Major Hutcheon, who was from Ellon in Aberdeenshire, joined the police in 1891. He had served in the Scots Guards and during the Egyptian campaign in 1882 won the Khedive Medal and Star for bravery. He was known as a great piper, tutor, reedmaker; and his enthusiasm for piping infected all who were connected with him Alexander Hutcheon remained as Pipe Major until 1913 when he was superseded by Pipe Major William Gray.
When Govan Burgh was annexed by Glasgow in 1912, the band passed over with the police to the greater entity, and as the City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band they enjoyed the support and encouragement of much larger numbers.
In 1920 under the leadership of Pipe Major William Gray, the band won the World Pipe Band Championship for the first time. However, another ten years passed before they repeated this feat under the same Pipe Major. This was due to Willie (as he was known) removing the band from competition and only playing at events that he thought appropriate. Being an exceptional Piobaireachd player and Gold Medal winner at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1909, Willie preferred to teach the band members for solo competition.
The band did however continue to play in contests which were organised by the Glasgow Parks Department. These were held in the Winter Gardens on Glasgow Green on Saturday evenings and the winning bands were awarded paid engagements to play in the Glasgow Parks during the summer months. This fitted with Willie’s view of the purpose of the Pipe Band. He said, “A band should be judged on its utility, or, in other words, according to the purpose which led to its creation.
Military bands would thus be expected to show as their chief merits, a good appearance and a keen sense of time, civilian bands since their purpose is a pleasurable one, would be expected to have primarily a good repertoire and a pleasing standard of playing. The best band would be the one which combined all these qualities in the most efficient manner.”
Although this remark was made nearly a century ago, it is a philosophy which the successive Glasgow based Police Pipe bands have followed to the present day.
In 1932, the leadership changed once more. This time the position went to John MacDonald – AKA Seonaidh Roidein from South Uist. John was certainly one of this country’s most gifted pipers and was taught for many years by Willie Gray.
In 1926 John had famously won the Gold medal and the Open Piobaireachd on the same day at the Argyllshire Gathering, And a week later winning the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in Inverness. With his ability, influence and dedication, the band took off and this was without doubt due to the good ground work from the individual tuition that was put in place by his predecessor. The band then went on to win the World Championship title in 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 and then again after the second world war in 1946, 1949 and 1951.
Pipe Major John MacDonald retired in 1958 and passed the Pipe Major’s post to another Uist man, Angus MacDonald, who took on the task of re-organising the band; the ranks having thinned out due to illness, retirements and a lack of obvious upcoming talent. During his tenure, Pipe Major Angus MacDonald slowly yet methodically rebuilt the band and had his patience rewarded when, in 1961 the Glasgow Police Pipe Band once again entered competitions.
After promotion to the rank of Chief Inspector in 1966, Angus decided to relinquish the musical leadership and was appointed Band President. Pipe Major Ronald Lawrie took over in 1967 and led the band to its first Champion of Champions title.
The Argyll “giant “, Ronnie built on this skilful pipe corps with a more flamboyant west coast style of up-tempo music as bands progressed into the further development of medleys to complement the traditional MSR. He liked up tempo marches to set the foot tapping.
Birth of The Strathclyde Police Pipe Band
In 1975, as a result of local government re-organisation, the City of Glasgow Police and 5 adjoining police forces amalgamated to form Strathclyde Police. This was now the second largest police force in Britain. This event witnessed the birth of Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, which comprised pipers and drummers from the pipe bands of Renfrew & Bute Constabulary, Lanarkshire Constabulary and the City of Glasgow Police.
With Pipe Major Ian MacLellan and Drum Sergeant Alex Connell still in charge, the change of name did nothing to halt their success and the band won the World Championships in 1976 and again in 1979. Then they seemingly decided to move up a gear, winning the World Pipe Band Championship in 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991. The 6 back to back World Pipe Band Championships wins of 1981 to 1986 remains a milestone that is unbeaten to date.
On the retirement of Pipe Major Ian MacLellan in 1992, piper Harry McAleer was appointed to the post of Pipe Major and he led the band until 1996. During this time he led the band to success culminating in victory at the 1995 Scottish Pipe Band Championships. Harry remained in the band and was replaced by Pipe Major Ian Plunkett, who led the band for the following 5 years.
In 2001, long time band member James Wark was promoted to Pipe Major. In his first year in charge, he led the band to top 6 positions in all of the 5 major RSPBA championships, as well as numerous victories at many of the provincial contests.
2003 saw James leading the band to lift the British Pipe Band Championships. Throughout his 3 years as Pipe Major, James led the band to a top 6 placing at every major championship. James retired from the band and the police service in 2004.
Donald Mackay was then appointed as the new Pipe Major at the end of the 2004 competition season. He led the band to championship successes once again, winning the European Pipe Band Championships and Cowal Highland Gathering in 2006 and the Scottish Championships in 2007. Midway through the 2008 season, Donald stood down from the position of Pipe Major due to family commitments.
Following Donald Mackay’s stand down in 2008, Don Bradford was appointed as the band’s new Pipe Major. As former Pipe Major of Grade 1 pipe bands David Urquhart Travel Pipes & Drums and Glasgow Pipes & Drums, he was chosen as Donald Mackay’s successor. During this time the band faced significant challenges with the withdrawal of the dedicated Pipe Band Unit from the Force. However, the band demonstrated its tenacity and dedication to its historical roots to continue performing at the same high level.
Duncan Nicholson was appointed Pipe Major in late 2009. Coming from Mallaig and having roots in Barra, Duncan continues a long tradition of players and Pipe Majors who have been drawn to lead the band. Having been with the band for 11 years, arranging much of the music and having served under no less than 4 Pipe Majors, Duncan was the ideal candidate. He combines his roles as a Police Officer and Pipe Major with a successful career in folk music.
Iain MacPherson, having taken on the Pipe Major role in 2015, now works with Leading Drummer David Henderson and Pipe Sergeant Alisdair McLaren, to continue to keep the Glasgow Police Pipe Band at the forefront of Grade 1 Piping and Drumming.