History: Eight Times World Champions, Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band

One of the great pipe bands of days gone by was the Clan MacRae Society. Piping and Dancing Magazine of 1936 detailed the for­mation of the now defunct band,  and its progress up the competition ladder … 

The Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band was formed in the autumn of 1913 by the late Pipe Major Farquhar MacRae, under the name The City of Glasgow Pipe Band. The majority of the original members had been associated with Pipe Major MacRae in the pipe band of the 7th Battalion HLI (Territorials), so that the City of Glasgow may be said to have been a ready-made combination from the beginning of its career, and this was evidenced when it gained sec­ond prize in the Glasgow Corporation con­test in the spring of 1914.

7th HLI Pipes & Drums i 1913 under P/M Farquhar MacRAe
7th HLI Pipes & Drums i 1913 under P/M Farquhar MacRAe

The band pursued its activities with the greatest zest under Pipe Major MacRae until the outbreak of the Great War, when the call came and was heard so that the band was disbanded until the cessation of hostilities. In the meantime, unfortunately, Pipe Major MacRae had died, and in the spring of 1920 this band of enthu­siasts, having been reunited with Pipe Major William Fergusson (late 7th HLI and 52nd Divisional pipe bands) as its leader, resumed its former activities.

P/M Willie Fergusson, brilliant composer and pipe major of Clan MacRae
P/M Willie Fergusson, brilliant composer and pipe major of Clan MacRae

From its inception the band had been dressed in the MacRae tartan and had been closely allied with the Clan MacRae Society, with the result that it came as no surprise when the band, shortly afterwards, became affiliated to the Society. Some time was taken in the reorganisa­tion of the band, but since 1921 this famous combination has had an unequalled record in pipe band contests, having gained no fewer than 61 first and 23 second prizes.

In the World’s Championship contest at Cowal, the premier award has been 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’s Championships the band has been either first or second on 11 occasions. A truly won­derful achievement. Pipe Major Fergusson resigned in 1929 in order to proceed to Canada, and he was succeeded by Hamish MacColl, who resigned in 1931 to take up an appointment as Pipe Major of the 9th HLI.

Since that date Pipe Major John F. Nicoll has been in com­mand and the band has maintained its pre-­eminent position under his able and unas­suming leadership. The band has been excellently served by its various Drum Majors namely Charlie Fraser, John Paterson, Percy Dawson, and the present leader, Stewart Kearney, is worthily main­taining, if not actually surpassing, the excel­lent drumming of his predecessors.

It is beyond doubt that the present high standard of pipe band playing generally is due in no small measure to the pace set by the MacRaes, whose standard has been the ambition of all other bands. They have been the pioneers, so far as band work is con­cerned, of many outstanding tunes, and it is remarkably true to say that what the MacRaes are playing today the bulk of the bands will be playing tomorrow.

The band has been singularly fortunate in having as its Honorary President Lieutenant­Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap of Eilean Donan, DL, JP, to who the band has been indebted for valuable assistance on many occasions.’

Part of the band’s history in the post war era is covered by the RSPBA’s Historical Research Group and here is a short extract from their article:

‘On resuming in early 1946 after a suspended period of over six years, the advantage gained by Bands which had managed to keep going during the War years was difficult to overcome, but the MacRaes continued to get into the prize lists. In 1947 at Murrayfield, at the first World Pipe Band Championships promoted by the SPBA, the Band gained 2nd place. After 1946 the Band gained 24 first and 17 second prizes.

‘In 1950 Pipe Major Nicoll was forced to relinquish his post on account of ill-health and was again succeeded by a member of the Band in the person of Alexander Macleod, a pupil of Pipe Major Fergusson.  Pipe Major Macleod, of Ross-shire extraction, was like his predecessor in the Band unassuming and modest to an extraordinary degree.

‘In addition to the usual local contests the Band competed in contests at Aberdeen, Morecambe (2), Belfast (2) and Douglas, Isle of Man (7) – indeed wherever there were contests there were the MacRaes….. They were the only private Band who had been able to maintain their high position over the period of 40 years against all comers. ‘

The band under P/M Macleod won the World Championships again in 1953 but after that their fortunes changed and they were downgraded to Grade 2, but subsequently won the Grade 2 World Championships under Pipe Major John Finlay.

The final years of the band are unclear and we would be interested in the details from anyone who has first or second-hand information. Please email Piping Press at pipingpress@gmail.com if you can help.

A 1948 recording of their playing – probably not truly representative of how well they could play – has been added to our PP Audio Pipe Band archive. Check it out here.

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