RSPBA News: Tony Harris, Life Member/ Composing Competition

Tony Harris (r) with RSPBA President George Ussher

I was very sad to learn that Tony Harris, former RSPBA National Councillor, passed away on Friday 10 April 2020 at the age of 89, writes Alistair Aitken.  Tony had been in a care residence for some time near his home in Toddington in Bedfordshire.

Tony was born in Wootton Green, a small village in Bedfordshire.  He lived in nearby Stewartby, where his father, uncles and grandfather worked for the Stewart family who owned the London Brick Company.  The family moved to Bletchley around 1936 to another branch of the company and stayed there for many years. 

After the war Tony’s father started G S Harris Haulage.  Tony was initially trained as an electrician but took over the company in the early sixties and retired in the early eighties.  After that he did voluntary work for SSAFA (the Armed Forces charity) for a few years. He enjoyed travelling, military history and anything to do with Scotland.

Tony became interested in piping in his teens and eventually took lessons from Jock Gillespie, a policeman in Luton and a founder member of Luton Pipe Band, who learned his piping in the Black Watch. 

After a while Tony joined St Albans and Mid Herts Caledonian Society Pipe Band of which he was Pipe Major for some time.  He was a founder member of Milton Keynes Pipe Band and ended his playing days with RAF Halton Pipes and Drums in around 2005.

After he retired, Tony took up Scottish Country Dancing to try and lose a little weight!  He would be the first to admit he wasn’t the best dancer in the world but he was an enthusiastic one.  He enjoyed dancing to all the best bands from Scotland when he and Sheila were dancing.

Tony was a member of the RSPBA National Council for many years, representing the London and South of England Branch of the Association.  During his time as a National Councillor he was involved in overseeing all of the Association’s developments during that time. 

In recognition of his contribution to the work of the RSPBA he was awarded Honorary Life Membership in 2001.  He was a founder member of the London and South of England Branch and served as Chairman for many years from the early seventies until 1996, and also as President of the Branch between 2010 and 2013.  

The RSPBA ‘History’ tent which was a feature at major championships

Tony Harris had a passionate interest in the history of the RSPBA and of piping and pipe band history in general.  His enthusiasm was infectious and in 2006 he spearheaded the formation of the voluntary RSPBA Historical Research Group.  He encouraged Doug Allan and his former National Councillor wife Florence, Kevin Reilly and myself to become members.  Inevitably Tony’s wife Sheila was also involved. 

Generated by Tony’s passion the Group created historical displays at RSPBA Headquarters of a variety of pipe band drums, old competition trophies and other memorabilia.  The RSPBA historical booklet “How it all began; and the first 75 years.  A Historical Journey in Scottish Culture” was published by the Group in 2007 and the contents of the History Section of the RSPBA website were also researched and developed. 

A variety of historical articles were also published in the former RSPBA quarterly magazine “The Pipe Band”.  Tony was also involved in historical displays which the Group arranged at the British Pipe Band Championships in Annan and Birmingham, at Lisburn in Northern Ireland, and at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow.  Unfortunately the Historical Research Group was wound up in 2013 due to the advancing years of most of its members.

Tony Harris did a great deal of work in the interests of the RSPBA, more than often at his own expense, for which he did not look for any recognition.  He was a good friend and his enthusiasm is a great loss to the Association and to the pipe band world in general. Our sincere condolences are offered to Tony’s wife Sheila and his daughters Sheelagh and Erica

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The Association has launched a competition to find a tune to mark its 90th Anniversary – celebrated this year. They are lokng for a four-part 6/8 march and entries are open to juvenile pipers an drummers and also bands in a combined entry.

Some details: Entry is open to those who through their band have registered with The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association for the 2019/20 season. 

A combined entry should comprise of the melody and scores for pipes, side drums, one bass and two tenors.

Valid entries must be submitted by Email to between the 20th April 2020 and the 13th June 2020. Entries will not be accepted after this date. Full details here.

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