Tommy Johnston 1955-2020

By Robert Wallace

It is with sincere regret that I report the passing of Tommy Johnston, one of the great characters of pipe band drumming and piping, much loved father of Finlay and joint proprietor of world famous reedmaking company Pipe Dreams.

Tommy passed away in hospital last night after a short illness aged only 65. His loss will be felt by all who knew him and his hundreds of friends throughout the piping and pipe band community.

Over several years we travelled together to schools in North America to teach in New England and Florida. To be in his company was a constant joy. He was entertaining, welcoming, humorous. The students loved him and he in turn could not do enough for them.

Behind the personable manner was knowledge and skill, supreme in his chosen fields. His understanding of the human condition bred a genuine humility and humanity. We who knew him are distressed at his passing, but thankful for every moment of shared time.

His business partner Ronnie MacShannon: ‘Tommy was a dear friend to me over four decades and an astute business partner for 23 years. He was popular with everyone and we will all miss him dearly.’

Tommy began his drumming in Northern Ireland in Field Marshal Montgomery when they were in Grade 2 after being taught by Kit Reynolds. He played with some of the best corps in the world: Lothian & Boirders under Bob Montgomery, B Cal with Alex Duthart, and was placed fifth in the World Solos in the mid 70s.

He began his apprenticeship as a toolmaker in his father’s business in Northern Ireland and on moving to Scotland in the 1970s became an engineering technician with the BBC. Moving into management he became head of his department and was eventually poached by broadcasting rivals STV to head up their engineering unit in Glasgow.

Whilst still there he started Pipe Dreams with Ronnie, this in 1997. Such was the success of their products that he was able to go full time in the business and it blossomed into the world’s leading reedmaking company with most of the tools designed and made by Tommy himself.

On the pipe band front Tommy won the World Corps Championship with the British Caledonian Airways Renfrew band and it was here that he met his beloved wife Anne, a famous piper in her own right.

Later their son Finlay was born. Finlay, taught by Ronnie, is one of the leading pipers in the world and the current holder of the Glenfiddich Championship.

Tommy, never one to boast, was deeply proud of both Anne and Finlay’s success as pipers, yet he had to be coaxed to speak of his own successful career playing with greats such as Alex Duthart, Harry McNulty, Hugh MacInnes, Eric Ward, John Scullion and Joe Noble.

My personal sympathy to Anne and Finlay at this time. Readers who would like to leave a similar message of condolence please do so below in our comment section.

32 thoughts on “Tommy Johnston 1955-2020

  1. I feel a dull thud of pain at this time of year when I think of the passing of Tommy. Then I remember the great times we had together, both in Scotland and teaching with him in Florida, and I smile. Any time we met I thought, “Oh goody, we’re in for some great “craic” here.” It was one of life’s great privileges to have been friends with such a great man. Requiescat In Pace Tommy Johnston.

    1. Tommy was the best and one of the few teachers to have patience with an older learner. If not for him I may have given up but instead continue to get better every year. I think of him often and miss his kind, quiet way and stories of his career.

  2. I knew Tommy during his time at BBC Scotland as a engineering and technical wizard. He was a delight to chat with and he always maintained a sunny outlook on life. I knew nothing of his drumming prowess in the piping world so it has been a revelation to learn of his successes in teaching and reed making.

  3. I am devasted with the passing of a very nice man and friend. I played his chanter reeds especially made for my chanter made in Brittany (Georges Botuha) for years and years, he had a lot of patience and wanted the best for my piping. He made and fixed himself my drone reeds for my Hamish Moore Small pipe while he used to come over at the Trophee Ronsed Mor at Locoal Mendon (Brittany) to judge the drum corps (I was judging the solo piping at that time). We always enjoyed to meet each other for my piping trips in Scotland, or in Brittany at the Celtic Festival of Lorient, for solo or pipe bands competitions, and he spent a lot of time with me giving the most explanations I needed then or just for a kind chat. Tommy is the kind of man, of gentleman, who stays in your heart for ever and you never forget. I’ll miss him very hardly. My very best to his family and especially Finlay.

  4. I am devasted with this new and my heart is broken. Since 2003 I used his chanter reeds especially made for my chanter Brittany made (Georges Botuha) for years and years, and he was always full of patience and doing the best for me. He also made drones reeds especially for my Hamish Moore Small pipe, and he fixed them himself for me while he came over to the Celtic Festival at Lorient… He was judging the drum corps at Locoal Mendon (Trophee Ronsed Mor) as I was judging the pipes… We always were so happy to meet us again during my piping trips in Scotland, Brittany, where he spent a lot of time to welcome me everywhere…. I’ll miss Tommy so much…He is the kind of man, a gentleman, who stays in your heart for ever.
    My very best to his family and especially Finlay.

  5. Very sad news – such a friendly, helpful and positive man – a big loss to our piping community. My thoughts are with Anne and Finlay.

  6. This is devastating news. There is a very large hole in the world of piping and drumming now. And a gaping silence! Fond memories. Thinking of you, Anne and Finlay.

  7. Devestated to hear the news of Tommys passing. I played alongside him in the BCal drum corp under Alex Duthart. He was such a warm friendly and very funny man. RIP Tommy.

  8. I had the pleasure of playing alongside Tommy with Bob Montgomery’s corps in Lothian and Borders Police during the early 1980s. A warm, generous guy; with an infectious sense of humour. A fantastic technical side drummer, too. R.I.P, Tucker.

  9. A lovely, great guy I had the pleasure to know in the worlds of broadcasting and in music and of course frequently in the Park Bar, where his open welcome, smile and laughter were the very embodiment of ‘great craic’.

  10. It is with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to Tommy. We met five years ago here in florida and I knew from the start that he was a special person. The piping and drumming world has lost a fine man and my sincere condolences to his family.

  11. So sorry to hear of Tommys passing. I had only bumped into him last month, and we spent 20mins chatting about the people we both knew from his time in STV, his travels, his family. Such a lovely man, and he will be missed. To his family, please know that you are in our thoughts.

  12. I’m sorry to hear of Tommy’s passing. He was very kind to me when making reeds for slightly unusual pipes and I had been hoping to see him again. R.I.P.

  13. For two years I was instructed by Tommy at the New England Pipe and Drum Academy. In fact they were mostly private lessons as few drum students attended and he was both instructor and counselor as he helped my come to some conclusions about what band would be best for me. His counsel was invaluable and I am so honored to have had his advice and friendship. He will be sorely missed even though I only knew him for a short while. My sincere condolences to his family as he was definitely lost too soon. His love of drumming was obvious as was his talent.

  14. He was one of the nicest, most down to earth persons I was fortunate to know. I first met him by chance on my daily train journey to Glasgow Central 15 years ago. Two guys sitting across from me talking about drone reeds…I couldn’t help but interject. Every morning after that we would look out for each other on the 0843 train and chat about everything; righting the world’s wrongs. He was full of vigour, full of fun and great company to be with. RIP Tucker.
    Sincere condolences to Anne and Finlay.

  15. Really shocked and saddened to hear the sad news about Tommy. We shared many experiences in his time at STV and on Feisan together. Condolences to Anne, Finlay and Ronnie.

    1. Shocked to hear of his passing at this sad time. May he gently Rest in Peace…
      Mary Murnane

  16. I was very sad to hear about Tucker’s passing. I had the very good fortune to be coached by him when I moved to Scotland to play with B. Cal in the 80’s. He was responsible for helping me make that corps. He was a lovely drummer; playing with wonderful feel and musical presence. More importantly, he was a good man and a true gentleman. My deepest sympathies to his family.

  17. I only knew Tommy a few times when he was here teaching in Boston area. We had wonderful conversations into the early morning. my most heartfelt condolences to his family. My life and memories are a little richer for meeting him.

  18. I knew Tommy as a lad in East Belfast days. I always looked forward to meeting up with him when visiting Scotland for the Majors. A very genuine person with a very personable manner. He is a great loss to the pipe band scene. To Anne and Finlay I offer my sincere condolences.

  19. Lovely words Rab. I had some wonderfully rambling and meandering conversations with Tommy over the years. Great character.

  20. Truly heartbroken to hear the news about Tommy Johnston’s passing. Tommy was a great friend of the family and will be sadly missed by everybody in the piping and drumming world . Condolence to Anne and finlay. from Willie .Patricia and Llisa morrison.

  21. Shocking news about Tucker. The contribution of Tommy and Ronnie with Pipe Dreams and eezedrone to piping has been immense. He was such a great, friendly guy and so helpful at any time, and will be missed by many. My condolences to Anne and Finlay and to Ronnie and their team.

  22. Very sad news. Tommy was a pleasure to deal with at Pipe Dreams and I always enjoyed our chats on the phone or at competitions. He will be sorely missed. Sincere condolences to the family.

  23. Very sad news. Tommy was a pleasure to deal with at Pipe Dreams and I always enjoyed our chats on the phone or at competitions. He will be sorely missed. Sincere condolences to the family.

  24. So sorry to hear the news of Tommy’s passing. Yes, I remember his humbleness and gentlemanly ways. And of course the stories he told! I am thankful for the short time I knew him. Rest in peace.

  25. Tommy’s kindness and charm were apparent from the moment one met him. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to share his company for a while here in Boston and sorry I will not be able to see him again. Condolences to his family.

  26. Such a kind man who gave of his time to us in so many ways – be it piping or drumming, he was just lovely. He will be missed so much – my best to his family.

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