Jeannie Campbell’s* article from Wednesday – The oldest civilian pipe band – has caused something of a stir with some readers. Davy Robinson from Falkirk writes: “I enjoyed reading the article but surely your headline should’ve read, ‘The earliest civilian pipe band’? After all, the Breadalbane band and the Aberfeldy bands ceased a very long time ago.
“I have a recording that the Aberfeldy band made in the early 1950s. It sounds a bit rough as it was really just a chance recording made by a guy who was on holiday in the area. The band was playing in the town square and he had basic recording equipment with him. I attach a short sound file.
“However, are you sure there were no civilian bands until the 1880s? There must have been bands from way before then.”
Jim Todd, who is Pipe Major of Kilsyth Pipe Band, writes: “The article does not make clear if it refers to a band still in continuous, uninterrupted, (or reformed existence), or if it is the earliest record of a now defunct band and when it first performed in public. If the latter is the significance of the article, then I would be amazed that there has never been a civilian pipe band” prior to 1800. It is too incredulous to accept the probability of pipers returning from military service prior to 1800 not wanting to continue with band piping but in a civilian environment.
“Contrary to what is stated in the introductory paragraph, the Kilsyth Thistle Pipe Band (KTPB) is not in abeyance. It currently competes as a Grade 4A band. I cannot state, in all confidence, the earliest date KTPB was established. What I can state is that the earliest public performance on record of the band is a church parade in 1891 where the band led Twechar Sunday School on its annual outing.
“It is reasonable to presume that the band was in existence earlier than 1891 but, as there is no record of a public performance or other notable event, one is only able to conclude the band was established in 1891 and will celebrate its 130th anniversary of continuous, uninterrupted, unbroken, existence in 2021.”
Thanks for the information Jim and for the points you make. We wish the band all the very best as it marks this milestone next year.
Regarding the existence of civilian bands before the 19th century, this is indeed the case. In fact, the pipe band as we know it – whether Army, Volunteer corps or civilian – has only existed for around 150 years or so. It is generally accepted that it was created by the British Army.
There are plenty of instances on record of pipers playing marching tunes, pipers marching in front of troops and groups of pipers playing together, but these references all concern pipers only – no drummers are mentioned. There are plenty of references of fifes and drum being played together as far back as the 17th century, but not pipes and drums.
John Young of the Stonehouse Pipe Band writes: “During the late 19th century military and Highland regiments dominated the piping scene. However, with improvements in transportation across the country and the developing road network, civilian pipe bands began to emerge in Scotland. Stonehouse Pipe Band was one of those and is recorded as one of the earliest, if not oldest civilian pipe band surviving in Scotland according to the Pipe Band Association (PBA). The Cowal Games of 1909 were the first games where civilian bands were able to compete alongside the military bands which had been so dominant in the past.
“As a competing civilian band Stonehouse Pipe Band’s most notable success came when it set a world record winning the Argyll and Lauder Shields at the aforesaid Cowal Games in 1909.”
Stonehouse Pipe Band was formed on October 11, 1899 under Pipe Major Hector McInnes. It disbanded in 1977 but started up again in 2007. Rebecca Tierney tutors the pipers.
‘Thank you’ to others who contacted us.
* Jeannie’s origianal article was written about a decade ago and since then she has discovered several civilian bands which pre-date Breadalbane and all the others mentioned. She tells us these will be included in her next book, which is a comprehensive history of pipe bands that is now in the early stages of production.