PP Ed’s Blog: More on Renfrew/ Ian McLellan/ CLASP/ Weekend Contests/ SPA/ Drummers

P/M Ian McLellan (left) has identified many of the pipers and drummers in the above photo of his old band, Renfrew. The band is pictured in 1956 under P/M Tommy Shearer. Standing (l-r) are P/M Shearer, Fleming McAlpine, Alex Clapperton (ex-214 BB), Alex Buchanan, Ian McLellan, David Elder, ? Moffat, ?, Jimmy Healy. In front we have (l-r) Billy Cowan, L/D Alex Healy, ?, Billy Proctor, Alan Just, Ronnie Kinloch (L/D in the 214 BB), Jimmy Couperwhite.

Reminiscing further about his early days, Ian tells me he learned on a home-made, aluminium soled practice chanter made by his tutor Alex Ibell. Ian’s first African blackwood chanter came as a prize when he won his first solo contest. Of his Army days in the Argylls Ian tells me: ‘P/M Andrew Pitkeathly put me in charge of the pipe band store. In there there was a huge chest full of stuff. I raked about and found a full set of Robertson ivory mounted pipes minus only the chanter. I got them going. They were a brilliant set and I played them with a Lawrie pipe chanter. Unfortunately I didn’t get to use them for very long. When the regiment moved to Cyprus some of the band’s pipes split in the heat and they went to someone else!’

Ian relates that the only piobaireachd prize he ever won was in the Army in a competition run by the Seaforths. It was held at their HQ in Munster in Germany in 1960. ‘Jim Henderson and I from the Argylls played in it and the judges were Captain DR MacLennan, P/M Donald MacLeod and Captain John MacLellan. My tune was the Lament for the Only Son which I had been given by Andy Pitkeathly.

‘I blew up the pipes to play and stopped the middle drone to tune the others. I put my finger in the top of the middle drone to start it a few seconds later and it flew out and landed on the floor a couple of yards away. Laughs all round but I was allowed to stop, replace it and tune up before continuing. I ended up second, got second in the MSR and won the Jig so a pretty good day all round.’



Solo wise there are games at Markinch on Sunday so get along and support this long-established Fife event if you can. Forecast is good and the solo piping starts at 10am. There is also a band contest at Markinch and at Girvan in Ayrshire the same day (June 3). Bands at Shotts  and at Cookstown in Northern Ireland tomorrow (June 2).


Back to the solos for a moment to report that representations have been made to the people who run the CLASP amateur events in the hope that they will loosen the rules a little to allow their contestants to take part in Games contests. At the moment you are debarred from CLASP if you take part in an open competition. So there you are on holiday up north in Assynt, the Games are on, you have your pipes, there are only four entries, you feel like having a tune but CLASP says you can’t. Not good. This league is for amateur pipers and the only sensible rule that changes that status is the acceptance of prizemoney. Refuse it and your status holds. So come on CLASP people, help the games out  by applying this minor alteration to your rules.


Tom Johnstone, President Scottish Pipers: ‘Our next Club Night will be tonight – 1st June 2018 – usual time and place. Thereafter, as usual our meetings are 1st Friday of each month at 7.30pm at the College of Piping, Otago St., Glasgow. All welcome to play, listen or just chat. We would like to welcome two guests this month who have travelled a fair distance, David Lamb from the south of England and Guido Riedemman from Germany. Next competition is the Juvenile Contest on Saturday 8th September 2018. Entry and membership forms here. Please forward to anyone else who might be interested in competing.’


I liked this photograph snapped in the Cafe Royal, Edinburgh:


The fine picture below (by John Kelly) is of the current Vale of Atholl snare line and it got me thinking about the numbers of drummers in bands these days. Here we have 11 all under the guidance of L/D Adrian Hoy. Is this number really necessary? 

Don’t they overwhelm the pipes? I’m told not and that by playing with less force the additional numbers thicken the sound but do not  increase the volume pro rata. Can anyone confirm this or explain the complex dynamics at play?


2 thoughts on “PP Ed’s Blog: More on Renfrew/ Ian McLellan/ CLASP/ Weekend Contests/ SPA/ Drummers

  1. Hi Rab,
    As far as i can see all the top bands in the world are playing big drum sections, so they are obviously not being penalised for the size of the corps.
    Are such nembers necessary?
    On paper no, but try playing in grade one with 3 snares and a bass drummer and I suspect you would get no thanks from the judging panel.
    Do they overwhelm the pipe corps?
    I don’t think so and all the top pipe major’s would appear to support that view, as they will only take the band that they think is going to give them the best chance of winning on to the competition field.
    Would there be any reason to play a large number of drummers if you thought it would harm you chances of winning the World Championships?
    None that I can see.
    I don’t think men like Richard Parkes would be bullied into playing more drummers that they think is right for the band sound they are trying to achive.
    It may be a trend that will change slightly in the coming years but the clock won’t be rewound to the mid 60’s when you could win the worlds with three snare drummers.
    I see no need to be counting players and debating whether or not they are all needed, can we not just try and enjoy the music for what it is without picking through the bones of it all the time?

  2. Can you imagine any other competition setting where teams of unlimited sizes can compete against each other? I agree with you, Rab: it is time to create an upper limit. I’m not sure what unintended consequences will come from it, but one obvious consequence is that it will force a number of players to shop around and/or create their own bands. I suppose that might cause quite a significant bloom of G1 pipe bands, and that may cause a reconfiguration of that grade. It may also cause a bloom in G2, as top bands would be forced to keep folks “on the bench” by pulling together a G2 feeder band. Not sure how to prognosticate. But it is clear that big bands are sucking a lot of oxygen out of the room.

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