Leading drummer Alex Connell died on Saturday after several months of ill health. He was 85. Alex was a legend in the pipe band movement and won eleven Worlds titles with the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, eight as leading drummer and three as a corps drummer under L/D John Kirkwood.
Today the band’s Pipe Major during those glory years, Ian McLellan, paid a heartfelt tribute to Alex.
Said Ian: ‘Alex Connell was a pleasure to work with. Nothing was ever too much bother for him. He was one of the most musical drummers I have heard and many leading drummers of his time thought so too.
A sample of Alex’s drumming with the City of Glasgow Police band, P/M Ronnie Lawrie:
‘I remember him telling me that he didn’t worry at all about winning corps titles but that he was determined to do everything to make the band successful. That was always his ambition. He was a brilliant drummer to play with.’
Alex began his drumming career in the 214BB pipe band in Whiteinch, Glasgow, where he was schooled in the art by the band’s drumming instructor Willie Paterson.
Willie was leading tip of the Clan MacRae when they won the Worlds title in 1953. Such was Alex’s prowess that Willie encouraged him to join the MacRae as a boy drummer.
This meant leaving the BB band early (much to the chagrin of the Pipe Major, Alex MacIver) and playing in Grade 1 aged only 16.
From the MacRae Alex moved to the Renfrew band and thence did his National Service.
‘After the BB the next time I saw Alex was when we were both in the Glasgow Police where he was leading tip and I was a piper. He was a great man to know. A tremendous personality. Nothing was ever too much for him.
‘Later when I was pipe major and I would give him a tune he would make up beatings. They didn’t always work first time but he would just make a comment and get on with it. He only had to be told once.
‘I just left him to it and together we won the Worlds in ’76,’79, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86. When John Kirkwood came in Alex was quite happy to continue as a corps drummer and he won a further three Worlds, in ’88, ’89 and ’90.’
Hear Alex talking about his unconventional ‘overhand’ grip style of drumming in this excerpt from the excellent Pipers Persuasion website:
‘People will not know that Alex was a great golfer and we would often pick him up on a Saturday after he had played a round that morning at his club Crowwood. He was also an excellent dance band and ceilidh band drummer playing at the Bruce Hotel in East Kilbride and with the Lex Keith band for many years.
‘We were renowned for the balance of drums to pipes in the band and much of that was down to Alex. He was determined to have the snares pitched exactly to our chanters and ruined quite a few drums trying to get the tension to match our rising pitch.
‘I think the fact that we both came from the same school of piping and drumming, the 214BB, made a huge difference. We were instantly singing from the same sheet as reagrds expression, pointing, tempos. Alex MacIver had drilled these things into us so much that we didn’t even have to think about it.
‘I will never forget what we achieved together. I suppose we made a bit of history with the six-in-a-row Worlds and other successes but the great thing about Alex was that he did it all with a smile on his face and with humility.’
- Learn much more about Alex Connell the man and his music on the Pipers Persuasion website.