Famous Pipers: Fifty Years Since the Passing of Robert U. Brown, Balmoral

Bob Brown, King’s Piper, renowned teacher and competitor is well known in the solo piping world. He was a direct link to the teaching of John MacDonald, Inverness, and after retiring from his job on the Royal estates on Deeside dedicated himself to passing on what he had learned to the next generation of pipers. This teaching involved travel. In 1972 he was to make his last fateful tour abroad, to Australia and New Zealand. This tour and its tragic outcome was documented in a special edition of the South Australian PIpe Band Association. The following is abridged from it.

Bob Brown piping at the MacCrimmon Cairn, Borreraig, Skye. Looking on is Seton Gordon, writer and piping judge

Robert Brown was born and raised at Blackhall near Banchory in the parish of Strachan where his father was head gamekeeper for 50 years. Whilst his father was not a piper, his three uncles were.

His first tutor was Cpl. W Fraser a piper in the Gordon Highlanders and a pupil of GS McLennan. Successive tutors were his uncle [also] Bob Brown, J Ewen (Gold Medallist and a pupil of Sandy Cameron, Pat Ewing and GS Allan.

P/M Brown went to Balmoral Estates in 1926 as a fisherman and gamekeeper but left for three years when he married. In January 1928 Robert Brown went as a pupil to the famous John MacDonald MBE of Inverness. In 1932 he returned to Balmoral and remained there as gamekeeper until his retirement in 1970.


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As the late King George V loved the pipes he [Brown] was engaged at Balmoral principally as a piper to the Royal Family through the years. His only regret was that his employment prevented him from competing on the full Highland games circuit. However he won all the leading piping competitions including Inverness, Oban, Uist, Aboyne, Braemar, Glasgow and London.

One of his greatest moments was winning the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1928 whilst playing his uncle’s pipes which had been given to him. As he said: ‘The Gold Medal was very nice, but the pipes were even better’. Since that time he performed on the same instrument throughout his life.

P/M Brown was for many years recognised as an outstanding performer and teacher of piping and a world authority on piobaireachd. He was unique as a teacher, teaching piobaireachd by ‘canntaireachd singing’ which he regarded as the only way of conveying the essential light and shade of the tunes as he had been taught them.

Aboyne Games in the late 1950s. L to R: RB Nicol, James MacGregor, RU Brown

He served in the Territorials and in 1939 was Pipe Major of the 5th/7th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders with whom he served in the North African Campaign. He returned to England for the European invasion through France and as P/M of the 1st Battalion Gordons saw service from D-Day onwards with this battalion until the end of the war.

P/M Brown retired from his post as gamekeeper on the Balmoral Estate in October 1970, some months before he was due to do so. Her Majesty the Queen allowed him to do this to enable him to travel to South Africa for piping recitals and instruction.

Immediately following his South African journey requests flowed in from many countries for recitals, to judge and to hold instructional classes. Following invitations to visit Canada and America, New Zealand’s Comunn na Piobaireachd Society arranged for him to visit NZ early in 1971 where he gave recitals and conducted classes throught the country.

On his way home to Scotland he gave recitals in Sydney and Brisbane. He was awarded the the MBE for services to piping.

It was with great pleasure that we heard that the Australian Federation of Pipe Bands had arranged for P/M Brown to visit Australia during 1972 and in particular that he was to visit South Australia and remain with us for three weeks.

  • Next: Tour details and tributes.

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