Tommy Graham passed away peacefully on the Monday before Christmas surrounded by his family. He was 93. Though small in stature, Tommy was a huge character and champion of piping and pipe bands. He was the founder and pipe major of the Graham Highland Pipe Band, a band consisting mostly of members of his family. Tommy is pictured above as band P/M. He was a war hero and in later life a man who brought sparkle and interest to the Piobaireachd Society, in particular at the annual conference.
At our evening ceilidh, and when competing, he always played the big tunes, Patrick Og etc despite many of us advising otherwise. He would not be deterred and he attacked them with spirit even though the old fingers would not quite do what he wanted.
By the Editor
Tommy competed solo well into his 80s and I remember one occasion when he approached the bench at Cowal and said he was having trouble with his blowstick and would have to take remedial action before he played. Out came the false teeth to be placed on a corner of the judge’s table until he had completed his performance.
In 2006 Tommy wote: ‘I thought you might be interested in having a photo of the only all ‘one family’ pipe band ever [picture above]. We competed for four or five years in the 1970s with eight members aged eight to 45. We attended a week’s tuition at Washington Street with D/M Bruce and achieved nine certificates, two pre-Elementary Gordon (8) and Andrew (9). The band is pictured here in 1975 on their way from home from Breeze Hill, Liverpool to the Gordon Institute for a trios competition.’
I was contacted by his son Andy shortly after Tommy’s passing. I asked him to give some details of his dad. Apart from a few punctuation changes, I am not going to interfere with what Andy and his sister sent. It is touching, heartfelt and has a unique personal quality…
‘I’ve just typed this out from what my sister and I, sitting here on Christmas Day, retelling these stories to our kids, taking notes, so hope you can make some sense of it…
My dad joined the Argyll’s when under age to fight in the Second World War and played in their band. He was an RSPBA instructor and set up piping teaching in schools and evening classes with funding from Liverpool City Education Department. He was a long time Piobaireachd Society member and regular at their conference.
Our dad saw action in Egypt, Italy, and Palestine. He was shot by a sniper in the head and foot. USA medical people saved his leg; he missed Dunkirk because of this recuperation.
Was P/M of Argylls while P/M was away training; was offered job at the Army School, Edinburgh Castle as teacher but went home instead. Had joined Argylls aged 16 in Aberdeen. His dad was from Scotland and he wanted to be a Scottish soldier, so he’s not recorded as a Liverpool war soldier.
Was a coal miner in Cowdenbeath as a first job, not a Bevan boy, signed up with his mate Donny McDougall. They met in the queue at the recruitment office and saw active service together. Donny became leading drummer of City of Liverpool PB.
When dug in in a trench in Italy waiting to go over the top, he had the means to make a cup of tea while waiting for the call. He was always hiding food in his tunic. They thought he was dead, when, after a long march, he lay down on a big pipe across a river. They thought he was lost but exhausted, he’d fallen asleep on the pipe as if it was a flat bit of grass. In Italy at Monte Casino Donny McDougall, my dad and one other were the only three from his unit who came back; he had survivor guilt.
We started piping and drumming because pipes came on television and one of us reminded him ‘you played them’ and that started us all piping. He met my mum at Bootle Village Pipe Band. He was still competing and playing at age 90 and played at the Piobaireachd Society and said that was a great honour to play there.
He left the army with distinction and is listed in Stirling Castle [Argyll’s Museum]. I remember the early days when the house in Breeze Hill was a centre of piping. Pipers and drummers were always round, making bags, reeds, practising. All day and night pipes and drums were being played either in the house or back yard or out on the small park known as the reservoir.
We’d form up on the main road to practise marching and discipline and stop traffic while we marched up and down. Radio, television and press where regulars. Manchester’s Owen Nash and Rose Fletcher were regulars too.
The band competed all over UK, travelling up to Scotland to play in G4, G3 and Open, often winning. I remember us travelling up to Gourock and struggling to get parked. We tuned up and won G4, G3 and Open.
My dad paid for all the uniforms, Sinclair chanters and MacAllister reeds, the classic sound. We all had to put all the work in – no missing grips, doublings. All the work had to go in; that’s the difference he’d say.
He encouraged everyone to get their certificates and ran the RSPBA’s courses. We travelled to Manchester for my advanced exam when I was 13. I prepared Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod and Pretty Marion. I can’t remember who was examining but he said ‘we just want a tune’ so I then played Castle Dangerous, the first tune my mum had taught me when I was only six round the kitchen table.
My elder brothers and dad were always learning the toughest tunes: Lord
Alexander Kennedy, Piper’s Bonnet and the Sheepwife were the mainstays and I’d listen as they practised on the pipes at the top of the house. That’s how we learnt the most, watching and listening.
A family holiday was to the RSPBA summer school in Glasgow and everyone got certified. Michael, my son, myself and Ian still play round the solo
games, and we’re guesting with Manchester Phoenix next year travelling
down from Edinburgh. Andrew, his grandson, won the G2 World Championships with Denny and played in G1.
My dad was never taller or prouder when he’d watch us play. He turned up at Polkemmet’s practice and didn’t say a word. He just sat watched and listened to us practise with a smile on his face.
He would attend Cowal every year and when I was P/M of Craigmount and Prestonpans he’d be in the background quietly watching smiling and so proud. He had seven children, 15 grand children and five great grandchildren.
Lying there on his hospital bed, I put the phone on his chest and we played videos of piping to him. He was in a coma and quietly stopped breathing; no pain, no reaction.‘