Memories of Muirhead & Sons Pipe Band and the Great P/M Robert G Hardie

Muirheads complete five-in-a-row at Perth in 1969

I have been asked by the Editor to reflect on my time playing with the Muirhead and Sons Pipe Band and in particular what it was like being led by the maestro that was P/M Robert G Hardie.

Though I have lived in Queensland, Australia, for many years now, my time with the band when we won a civilian band record of five World Championship wins in a row 1965-69 is still as fresh as ever in my memory. Indeed, I don’t think I shall ever forget this time though these historic events happened more than half a century ago.

By Gordon Ferguson

Regarding Bob Hardie’s teaching methods, I remember how during the winter months we would spend Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons in Muirhead and Sons (Sawmillers), Grangemouth, canteen sitting around the table, practice chanters in hand, working on the three march strathspeys and reels we would be playing in the forthcoming competition season.

Bob was a perfectionist and every gracenote and embellishment had to be played accurately and cleanly in order to achieve his goal of playing like one with ‘soloist’ expression and faultless fingering.  He would play the first part of the tune through, pause for two beats, then play the first part again with all pipers joining in. 

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Hardie ensured he had a solid player (usually local man Derek Boyd, a very fine player) on his right so next he would play the first part and if Hardie was satisfied, pause for two beats and play along with Derek.  Provided they were expressing the tune exactly the same and execution was spot on, again he would pause for two beats and the whole pipe corps would play the first part again, before moving on to the next piper in the circle. 

The advantages of such a system are pretty obvious:

  • Each piper had to play solo
  • Each piper had to play with Bob
  • Each piper had to play with the complete pipe corps a dozen or so times. This engraved the tune in one’s mind and fingers, as well as assisting with maintaining concentration 
  • It gave Bob an opportunity to assess each player, point out any faults, and achieve the togetherness he was seeking
P/M RG Hardie with his first Worlds trophy at Forfar in 1965

We wouldn’t have the pipes out during winter months except for the odd engagement or indoor competition.  But with the approach of the ‘season’ Bob would have the pipers still on the chanter around the table and call on Leading Drummer Robert Turner.

He had been beavering away on drum beatings with his drum corps throughout the winter months. They would come and join us playing only on their pads the drum beatings which Turner had written and taught the corps.

With the blessing of Bob Hardie, we began the process of moulding drum scores with pipe tunes. Being such a musical drummer, Robert’s beatings seldom required much ‘tweaking’ since they usually fitted the tune perfectly.  Although Turner was a talented drummer and teacher, he seemed to be content playing to complement the pipe score rather than going hell for leather for the drumming prize.  

Muirheads’ Leading Drummer Robert Turner

When the pipes finally came out of their boxes, Hardie would work his magic with the chanters ensuring that they were perfectly matched with the help of his trusty reamer. 

A solid reed would be selected to meet the blowing capability of the individual piper and firm instructions given to blow in the reed but not to touch it!  Drone reeds (cane) would be issued as required and pipes tuned before forming a circle for a warm up prior to practicing the competition MSR sets. (This was before the days of the Medley.)  On a dry night we would play in the yard among the timber stacks and if it was wet we would settle for the spacious canteen.  

Bob Hardie was a hard worker and expected band members to give 100%.  To miss a practice was a crime unless you had a valid excuse, and to miss a competition was almost a hanging offence.  Practice sessions were always a serious event and Bob ensured that not a minute was wasted. 

Pipers looked after their instruments and having been set up with quality reeds and matched chanters, little time was lost in achieving a ‘sound’.  Hardie would stand in the circle with eyes closed as he listened intently for imperfections.

Frequently he would stop the band in the middle of an MSR, walk over to a piper, take out his chanter, and fix a sharp high G which had been offending.  Bob had an amazing ear and never used tape which he reckoned would be a bad advert for Hardie chanters.

  • Next time…the agony and ecstasy; being cut at the line and then winning the Worlds.

5 thoughts on “Memories of Muirhead & Sons Pipe Band and the Great P/M Robert G Hardie

  1. My grandfather Piper John Anderson from Dunmore was in the pipe band and also Foreman with Muirhead and Sons in Grangemouth in the early 1900s. He also piped at recruitment rallies for Lord Kitchiner’s new army in WW1. I would be grateful if anyone had any information or photos. Thank you. Jean Anderson.

  2. Love reading this article an inspiration to Jaydan and other young pipers looking forward to reading more

  3. Regarding the Muirheads Mini Band photograph, the piper on John Finlay’s right is Tom Macpherson. Tom played in the Renfrew Pipe Band, at the same time as myself and also in the Argylls during our National Service.

    1. My dad was in Muirheads. Duncan Mcphee, piper, and part of the 1956 World Champions band. I always wanted to find out more about them.
      Jackie Smith I think was the pipe major.

  4. I remember Gordon when he played with the band. He was on the eventful trips to Russia and Halifax, Canada, when they all trooped off the plane with bells and flowers! Hippie cult was rife at that time! Robert Turner and my dad had a special understanding about what was played by the drum corps. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this article. Regards to all. Margaret Wood (Hardie).

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