Putting the Record Straight on Our World Pipe Band Champions

I am grateful to reader Trevor Clydesdale for forwarding this list of winners from the first Cowal Championship in 1906, writes the Editor.

These bands were considered the World Champions of their day and deserve to be showered with the same accolades as the champions of today. Yet they feature not in the official RSPBA Worlds programme produced for that championship each year.

Perhaps these winners did not have the official imprimatur of World Champions, but what really matters is how their achievements were considered in the pipe band world of the time. Cowal was, to every pipe band man, women and child, and to all of their supporters, the World Championship in all but name.

We shouldn’t diminish these bands’ achievements just because they languish in the dim and distant past, nor because their standards were not what you might hear today.

As Kenny MacLeod pointed out to us last week, why is it that Clan MacRae are not revered alongside other multiple Worlds civilian band winners like Shotts and Muirheads?


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Clearly John MacDougall Gillies was much more than one of the great bearers of our piobaireachd tradition. Five World Championships should be enough to earn him a place in another Hall of Fame – that of the World Championship-winning Pipe Major.

And what of Willie Fergusson, John MacDonald, South Uist. Giants of their day (and great composers to boot)? Then there is Willie Sloan, the father of the RSPBA and a three-time winner of the Cowal Worlds. Maybe it was Willie’s frustration at the lack of a definitive World Championship title that led him to push so hard for a new Association to oversee major championships.

It is time for a re-think. The RSPBA needn’t be churlish about this. It is not in their nature anyway. But the Association has a duty to the traditions and history of our great movement – and that inlcudes the ‘pre-Official Worlds’ days too.

Would that they still had an Historical Research Group to oversee the proper preservation of these bands’ successes with at least a well put together photographic display.

Willie Sloan’s Maclean Pipe Band

For now let’s look down the list and applaud these bands. Those before WW1 were the pioneers. Between the wars we have consolidation and then began the roll call of winners of the modern day. All deserve to be honoured equally.

1906 1st Vn.Bn Highland Light Infantry – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1907 3rd Bn. Lanarkshire Vn. Regiment – P/M Ewan MacPherson
1908 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1909 Stonehouse Pipe Band, Lanarkshire – P/M Hector McInnes
1910 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry (2) – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1911 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry (3) – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1912 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry (4) – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1913 7th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry – P/M Farquhar MacRae

World War 1 1914 -1918

1919 Edinburgh City Police – P/M Hugh Calder
1920 City of Glasgow Police – P/M William Gray
1921 City of Glasgow – P/M William Fergusson
1922 City of Glasgow (2) – P/M William Fergusson
1923 City of Glasgow (3) – P/M William Fergusson
1924 Millhall Scout Pipe Band – P/M George D MacDonald
1925 Clan MacRae Society – P/M William Fergusson
1926 Millhall Scout Pipe Band (2) – P/M George D MacDonald

Three times World Champions, Millhall, pictured in 1930, the year of their last success

1927 Maclean – P/M William Sloan
1928 Maclean (2) – P/M William Sloan
1929 Glasgow Corporation Tramways – P/M Gavin L Robertson
1930 Millhall Scout Pipe Band (3) – P/M George D MacDonald
1931 Glasgow Corporation Tramways – P/M Peter Fleming
1932 Clan MacRae Society (2) – P/M John F Nicoll
1933 Clan MacRae Society (3) – P/M John F Nicoll
1934 Clan MacRae Society (4) – P/M John F Nicoll
1935 Maclean (3) – P/M William Sloan
1936 City of Glasgow Police (5) – P/M John MacDonald
1937 City of Glasgow Police (6) – P/M John MacDonald
1938 City of Glasgow Police (7) – P/M John MacDonald
1939 City of Glasgow Police (8) – P/M John MacDonald

World War II 1939 -1945

1946 City of Glasgow Police (9) – P/M John MacDonald

Then followed the RSPBA World Championships to date.

Worlds winning Pipe Majors:

Richard Parkes 13
Ian McLellan 12
John MacDonald 8
Terry Lee 6
John MacDougall Gillies 5
RG Hardie 5
Robert Mathieson 5
Iain McLeod 5
Tom MacAllister Jnr. 4
JK MacAllister 4
Willie Fergusson 4
John Nicholl 3
Jackie Smith 3
George MacDonald 3
Willie Sloan 3
Tom MacAllister Snr. 2
Bob Shepherd 2

Donald Shaw Ramsay 2
Stuart Liddell 2
John Weatherston 1
Terry Tully 1
Nat Russell 1
Bill Livingstone 1
Willie Gray 1
Ewan MacPherson 1
Gavin Robertson 1
Hector MacInnes 1
Farquhar MacRae 1
Hugh Calder 1
Peter Fleming 1
Chris Sutherland 1
Ryan Canning 1
Alex Macleod 1


3 thoughts on “Putting the Record Straight on Our World Pipe Band Champions

  1. The City of Glasgow and City of Glasgow Police were not the same band. Willie Ferguson was PM of the City of Glasgow which later became Clan MacRae Society. City of Glasgow Police won 1920, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1946, 1949, 1951 and then further wins as Strathclyde Police.

    City of Glasgow was formed in 1913 from members who left the 7th Bn HLI Band. Under Willie Fergusson the band changed its name to Clan MacRae Society sometime in the 1920s. They won 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1953. I hope this helps.

    1. Thanks Brett; Ian McLellan has been on already about that and the story has been corrected. Thanks again. RW

  2. I certainly enjoyed this article and agree that these bands should be recognized as World Champions as well as those from the RSPBA era of the “Worlds”. There are many well known names as PMs in the pre RSPBA worlds and they should be given their due as such. Might this possibly be a topic for a book on the subject, With pictures and all.

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