Worlds Runner Up Twice……More on the Late P/M Tommy Shearer, Renfrew Pipe Band

Bill Fraser from the US:  Rob, You mentioned Tommy Shearer a few weeks ago. I played under him when I was in Connecticut in 1968-72 in the Bridgeport Pipe Band, subsequently the Clan Campbell Pipe Band. Here is a piece I came across from a local paper ‘The Newtown Bee’. Also, a couple of my photos from that time. Of any interest? Best wishes, Bill Fraser (not the Aberdeen one, though we were both at Aberdeen University together!)……

‘Pipe Major Thomas Shearer, 79, a native of Renfrew, Scotland, who played a major role in invigorating bagpiping in this country, died November 29, 2000, after a short illness. The naturalized US citizen had emigrated in 1961 [sic] and had lived on Aunt Park Lane, Newtown, since 1983.

‘He was born on November 6, 1922, in Renfrew, but he grew up in neighboring Clydebank, a hard scrabble city just ten miles from Glasgow. It was there during the Second World War that he was conscripted to work in the hazardous boiler shops of the John Brown Shipyard, in part because he stood barely five feet two inches tall and could fit into the narrow crawl spaces. But he hated the work and after the war his piping prowess offered him a way out.

‘Joining the British Army, he was assigned to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and performed widely throughout the British Empire. During his tour of duty he was chosen to attend the Army Piping School at Edinburgh Castle where he attained the coveted Pipe Major’s Certificate. After several years with the Argyles [sic], Tommy returned to Clydebank and took over the helm of the Renfrew Pipe Band leading it twice to second place in the World Championships.

Bill and Tommy

‘But, by early 1960, with the fortunes of Clydebank at an all-time low, he and his family emigrated, first to Worcester, Mass., and then to Connecticut where he began teaching and directing several pipe bands. The Bridgeport, and later Trumbull and District Pipe Bands, as well as the Pyramid Pipes & Drums, all profited from his instruction, with the Trumbull band going on to be one of the leading bands in the Eastern United States in the late 1980s.

‘His private students remained his great passion in his later years, with lessons often extending from one to three and four hours, and students treated to stories, food, and drink as well as hours of instruction. Still very much steeped in the oral traditions that had fostered his greatness, Tommy taught his students to master the complex rudiments through hours of concentrated practice. He was an exacting taskmaster, always in pursuit of the perfect sound that continued to remain elusive. Many leading pipers have been his students.

‘In many ways his friends and students became honorary members of the Shearer family and life at the custard-colored little house on Aunt Park Lane, filled with stories, warmth and humor, remained very much rooted in the life of Clydebank that he, Jeannie, and his children, Georgina, Rachel and Thomas, Jr, had bravely left behind. He is survived by them, as well as his sons-in-law….. and six grandchildren.

‘A memorial service will be held at 1 pm on Saturday, December 8, at the Parish of Christ Church, Easton, with music provided by Trumbull & District Pipe Band and the Pyramid Pipes & Drums.

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The picture up top is of the victorious Renfrew Pipe Band with P/M Tommy Shearer far left standing. We are grateful to P/M Ian McLellan for the picture. Ian is the young man in the centre of the back row, five from the left. Ian says: ‘Tommy had been taught by his father who was P/M of the Clydebank band who were around before the Singers band, though I’m not sure about that. Tommy was in the Army 50-51 and was acting P/M when Andrew Pitkeathly was away from the Battalion.

Ian in his Strathclyde Police No1s

‘In 1955 Joe King was pipe major and the band was always in the top three. Joe was offered the band but didn’t want it. Tommy took over and started setting the band and up talking about different tunes and settings. It was clear he knew his stuff. He attracted a lot of good players after his first year. In 1956 we were second in the Worlds to Muirheads at Belfast but we won Cowal and the Europeans at Shotts. In 1957 we were second again at the Worlds this time at Love Street in Paisley when the winners were Shotts but again we won the Europeans and were successful wherever else we played. Then after the season ended Tommy announced he was emigrating to America. There is no doubt that had Tommy Shearer stayed on at Renfrew he would have won the World Championship at some point.’

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