Famous pipe bands: Clan MacRae

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One of the truly great bands in the history of the pipe band movement was the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band of Glasgow, Scotland.

Farquhar MacRae (1859-1916) formed the band in the autumn (fall) of 1913 but he called it the City of Glasgow Pipe Band. Farquhar won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1898. Most of the original members had been associated with him in the pipe band of the 7th (Blythswood) Battalion HLI (Territorials) who won the World Pipe Band Championships that year. They were eager to play in his new band and to have him remain as their Pipe Major. From its inception the band worse the MacRae tartan and had been closely allied with the Clan MacRae Society

From the outset the members were hungry for success and within a year gained second prize in a Glasgow Corporation contest in 1914 and then won the World Championships shortly after. Then came the outbreak of the First World War. Like most other bands, the City of Glasgow disbanded until the cessation of hostilities. Unfortunately, Farquhar MacRae [pictured, right] had died in the spring of 1916. In 1920 Arbroath-born Pipe Major Willie Fergusson (ex-7th HLI and 52nd Divisional pipe bands) took over and the band resumed its pre-War activities with a change of name in tribute to its former Pipe Major.

Ferguson’s band contained no less than six ex-Army qualified Pipe Majors. It was a superb pipe corps, one that accumulated 61 first and 23 second prizes in its short existence. In the World Pipe Band Championship, the band won on seven occasions: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1932, 1933, and 1934, while seconds were gained in 1924, 1926, 1927 and 1931, so that out of a total of 15 World Championships the band has been either first or second on 11 occasions.

Farquhar MacRae’s 7th HLI pictured c1913.

Ferguson was a prolific composer and penned tunes such as the classic 2/4 marches Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band, Kantara to El Arish, Australian Ladies and The Atholl and Breadalbane Gathering. He stepped down form the band in 1929 after an accident and in order to immigrate to Canada. Hamish MacColl took over for a couple of years before John F. Nicoll then led the band. Under Nicoll, the band maintained its pre-eminent position, winning the Worlds in 1932, 1933 and 1934.

Nicoll resigned due to ill-health in 1950 and was succeeded by Alexander Macleod, a pupil of Willie Ferguson. The band went on to win the World Championships again in 1953. It remained in Grade 1 until the mid-1960s. In the spring of 1966 Alex MacLeod, who had been the band’s Pipe Major for many years, retired and handed over to Andrew Bell. Shortly after, some of the pipers left the band and in 1968 formed the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band. The Clan MacRae was downgraded to Grade 2.

City of Glasgow – later Clan MacRae – around 1922 with the Argyll Shield

In 1972 Robert Clark, a piper with Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia, took over as Pipe Major of the Clan MacRae. The band folded soon after.

The band in 1932 under John F. Nicoll-1932.

The Clan MacRae is an important link in the development of pipe bands. It is accepted that the current high standard of band playing generally is due in no small measure to the pace set by the MacRaes all those years ago. Many of the band members also taught extensively, such as Eddie MacLellan who taught at the College of Piping and whose most well known pupil would be the late Hugh MacInnes. Eddie himself was a pupil of Willie Fergusson. George Sherriff, who went on to become a leading light in the pipe and pipe band scene in Ontario, played with the band. Another example is Alex F. Ibell whom the Clan MacRae’s Willie Francey taught. Alex, of course, went on to be the pipe tutor for the famous 214th Glasgow Company of the Boys’ Brigade.

Date uncertain. Perhaps readers could send us their thoughts as to the year this photograph was taken? Also, how many pipers can you identify? Let us know at news@bagpipe.news