Tales of the Muirheads from the 1960s and Some Humorous Recollections

Gordon Ferguson, a Worlds-winning member of the legendary Muirhead & Sons Pipe Band in the 1960s, continues his trip down memory lane with a look back at some humourous moments from his time with the band. In the picture above, the band pose after completing five-in-a-row World titles at Perth in 1969. P/Sgt Andra Dowie is standing, second from the right.

Andrew Dowie, ‘big Andra’, was Pipe Sergeant when I was in the band.  He was a Fifer and an unconscious comedian.  I remember returning from a competition on the band bus and stopping at a fish and chip shop in Anstruther as we were all suffering hunger pangs. 

We lined up outside the shop where there was a big sign stating, ‘Try our special fish suppers’.  When Andra reached the counter to place his order he said, ‘Ah’ll hae yin o’ yer special fish suppers’.  The girl behind the counter advised he would have to wait.  Big Andra undeterred replied, ‘That’s a’ right, ah’ll hae an ordinary yin while I’m waiting!’  He had a voracious appetite.  

By Gordon Ferguson

On another occasion we were playing at a political rally at the park outside Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.  We were asked to tune up on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat and on the signal, march down the rough slopes playing Scotland the Brave. 

The band marched into the heart of the rally to an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd taken by surprise by our sudden appearance.  It was only as we marched off I noticed a dirty, bedraggled Andra on his own at the foot of the hill with spats covered in mud.  When asked what happened he replied, ‘Ah’ pit ma fit doon a sheugh!’  He’d put his left foot in a deep muddy hole as the band marched down the hill. Conveniently, he’d fallen over to the left thus allowing the pipers in the ranks behind to march on regardless.

The band bus on return from competitions was always entertaining.  We usually had a sing-song and certain pipers were called upon to do their ‘party piece’.  Big Andra would sing a song about a beer bottle someone had found on the seashore. I can’t remember all the words, but it ended with the person who found it discovering a note inside which read, ‘whoever finds this bottle finds the beer all gone’. 

Davey Hutton would give us ‘Ho-ree, ho-ro my Bonny Wee Lass’; John Finlay would oblige with some Irish rebel song while his wife Sheila could be relied upon to sing Tony Bennett’s ‘I Left my Heart in San Francisco’. P/M Bob Hardie’s wife Betty would not settle until my old pal Dougie Elmslie and I sang a duet of ‘The Green Hills of Islay’.  

The writer pictured in full rig at Cowal

One bus journey home which was not so much fun, was the day we played as the guest band at the Lochearnhead Highland Games.  It was dull and humid but the band received a warm reception from the crowd and carried out their duties to the letter. 

Afterwards we were invited to the Lochearnhead Hotel for dinner which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Later some of the hotel guests requested that band play a few tunes on the grassy area just outside the hotel.  Despite the lads being unenthusiastic, Bob Hardie agreed, so we tuned up and marched on to the grass, which hadn’t been cut and was quite long. 

By this time it was around 8pm and the midges appeared in plague proportions, finding their way from the damp grass up the kilts of pipers and drummers alike.  I still have a vivid memory of playing a slow air and swaying from side to side trying to dislodge the bugs having a feed under my kilt.  Needless to say we had a very uncomfortable journey home, scratching all the way!

When travelling to competitions, the band bus would pick up the lads from Glasgow in George Square and drive through to Falkirk and Grangemouth to pick up local members, often from their front doors.  After a full day at the competition, the reverse would happen and as a result, the Glasgow contingent would be dropped off in George Square sometimes around midnight and have to find their way home on the unreliable night bus service or by taxi. 

On one occasion when we were returning from playing at Pitlochry, we stopped off in Dunkeld for something to eat and of course have a drink.  We had won first prize, so a celebration was appropriate.  By the time we reached George Square it was pretty late and we had to return to the same place to be picked a few hours later on the Sunday morning to travel to Leith near Edinburgh where we were to record an album in the Town Hall.

There were a few sore heads on the journey through. The recording was a hard slog and I remember we played the first selection of three, four-parted 2/4 marches a total of seven times before Bob was satisfied. 

It took all day to record the LP and by the end we were exhausted and the pipes water-logged. Bob was to finish the album with a solo of him playing Lord Lovat’s Lament as a slow air.  He had to borrow Davey Hutton’s pipes as his own drones were cutting out. 

I remember the fantastic tone he achieved, the musical rendition of the tune, and crispness of his fingering.  I looked forward to hearing it on the LP, but although it was listed on the sleeve, it was not on the record – how disappointing.  

  • To be continued.

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