It is with great regret and sadness that I have to report that the decision has been taken to wind up forthwith Colinton and Currie Pipe Band. The decision is all the more unfortunate as the band, based on the outskirts of Edinburgh, was one of the first civilian pipe bands in Scotland, formed as far back as the 19th century.
Its winding up is disappointing for me personally as it was one of the bands I played in after I got married and moved to stay in Currie, Midlothian. Most importantly, however, it was a band with a great history stretching back to its founding in 1887.
By Alistair Aitken OBE
The pandemic has finalised the band’s demise and unfortunately this may prove to be the start of a trend. Other bands may not survive these troubled times.
It must be said, however, that the Colinton band had already been struggling to get new recruits before the pandemic struck. There was much more interest in pipe bands in the area when the paper mills still existed in Kinleith (Juniper Green) and Balerno. In my day much of the band’s funding came from selling football sweep tickets to the workers in Balerno paper mill.
As the band has not been a competing pipe band for many years and had an ageing membership, it has become increasingly difficult to attract new members, and in particular new young learners. In recent years attempts were made to develop links with a pipe band being created by Currie Community High School and local primary schools, offering a progression route for young learners, but sadly the schools pipe band project has also not been sustained.
A very difficult situation has been exacerbated by pandemic – there have been no practices for more than 12 months. All things considered the band committee has reluctantly concluded that the band’s continuation is no longer a viable option.
I’ll look back now at the band’s long history. The founder members of the band met for the first time in 1887 on a wooden bench seat at the corner midway been Colinton and Wester Hailes (now Gillespie Crossroads on the A70). The first band committee was formed at Bennet’s Pub, Curriemuirend in Juniper Green (now known as Tanners).
The Bruce family, who owned the Kinleith paper mill, and numerous other prominent local people, supported the band with generous donations for instruments and equipment. Practices were first held in an old hut behind the Kinleith Arms public house in Juniper Green, the hut shared with a brass band. The Kinleith Arms was then owned by John Hill, an ex-Heart of Midlothian footballer.
The first uniforms were purchased from Army surplus. The kilts were Black Watch tartan, but later were changed to Seaforth (MacKenzie) and subsequently to the Modern MacKenzie. The cap badge, which incorporates the officer’s badge of the Seaforth Highlanders, with C&CPB along the bottom, has survived all these years:
Most of the early pipers and drummers learned in the Army. Some were in the 4th Royal Scots and some were in the Colinton Company of Volunteers. The band’s rope tension bass drum (now part of the drum display at RSPBA Headquarters) was carried all over France in the 1914-18 war by James Ferguson, Royal Scots. James played in the Colinton band for many years before becoming secretary and eventually retiring around 1952.
The first Pipe Major was William Thomson and his brother Andrew was bass drummer. The band played in the parade in Edinburgh to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of George V and Queen Mary in 1935. Pipe Major Thomson, who worked in the paper mill at Kinleith, was originally from Torphichen near Bathgate. He retired from the band in 1958 due to failing eyesight but continued to tutor young members.
The band, initially, did not feature prominently in competitions but, under Pipe Sergeant John Neill Jnr, it entered the Scottish Championships at Meadowbank in 1948. The band competed again in 1959, under Pipe Major Alexander Campbell who had joined in 1946 from the 4th Edinburgh Boys Brigade, taking second place in Grade 3 at the World Championships at Kirkcaldy, Fife.
The same year the band won the ‘Darroch Jug’ for first prize in Grade 3 at Gourock Highland Games; and also won second place in Grade 3 and first in drumming at Cowal.
The band also competed successfully in 1960 under Pipe Major Angus Graham, a former Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band piper. In the later 1960s and early 1970s the band again competed successfully under Pipe Major Robert Peat (a local builder in Currie) and Pipe Major James Dawson.
Successes included Champion of Champions in Grade 4 and later second place in Grade 3 (and second in drumming) at the Worlds in Ayr in 1973 (the winners that day being the highly successful Lanarkshire Police Pipe Band). Leading Drummers Ian Watt and myself both progressed from the band at different times to play with the Edinburgh City/Lothian and Borders Police as guest players.
The most recent Pipe Major, Ronnie Grady, was also a member of the band before joining the Grade 1 Bilston Glen Colliery Pipe Band under Pipe Major Archie Pinkman and then the 153 RCT (TA) Pipe Band under Pipe Major Peter Snaddon.
In the 1990s the Band played at the Braemar Gathering and became the proud winners of the Braemar Society Championships Shield, presented to the then Pipe Major Gary Newton by HM The Queen. In early 2001 the band played at the annual flower festival in San Remo in Italy; and the same year at the local festival for the Patron Saint of Guilianova another town in Italy.
In recent years the band has concentrated on teaching piping and pipe band drumming to young and old from the local communities as well as playing at an annual programme of performances at gala days, public parades and charity events.
Arrangements are being made to dispose of the band’s uniforms and equipment, including five rarely played modern Andante snare drums, two tenor drums and three bass drums of different makes. Anyone interested in purchasing the drums in particular should contact James Nicholl on 07802 422556 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . Proceeds will, in due course, be donated to local charities.
As a symbolic gesture to those who formed the original band in 1887 all these years ago, some of the current adult members took the opportunity to mark the band’s sad demise by posing for the above picture on a public bench in Currie.
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