History: The McAllister Reed Goes to Canada

The McAllister reed shot to fame with the success of the Shotts band in the 1970s. It consolidated its position in the era of Strathclyde Police’s run of World Championship wins. With stability, volume, projection, it was the reed of choice for many discerning pipe majors. Twenty five year ago a Canadian family swooped to buy the brand. The Troy family have never looked back. Pictured above are the McAllister brothers Bill, Tom jnr. and John with Jamie Troy snr. and jnr. In March 1998, Piper Press, the print forerunner of Piping Press, reported on this important development…

One of Scotland’s best known reed making firms is moving west. McAllister of Shotts has been bought over by James Troy of Victoria BC, Canada. The firm will operate with the same name and aims to provide the same standards and service to its customers worldwide.

Jamie (55), formerly pipe major of the City oil Victoria Pipe Band, explained how the deal came about:

‘Since I took early retirement from my job in telecoms I’ve been castings about for some business involvement with piping. For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to make reeds.

‘I knew that the McAllister business could not go on for ever. When I was over last summer for the Worlds [1997] I met Tom McAllister at the SFU concert and checked with him if the business was for sale.

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‘It was, and the negotiations went from there. I paid a fair dollar for it. We will keep the name; use the same tools. My son, Jamie jnr., and my wife and daughter will be involved in the running of the business.

‘My message to my customers is that we will do our very best to continue the same policy and standards that the firm is famous for. We are not going to do anything different.’

And he made this further pledge: ‘Scotland will not get the rubbish. There will be no bad stuff going out the door to anywhere. We will work until we are satisfied with what we are making.’

Jamie Troy, through his band, has been working with McAllister reeds for the last 20 years, and he and his son Jamie Troy jnr., a first class piper and drummer, spent a month at Shotts in January learning the tricks of the trade before shipping the tools to Canada.

Jamie jnr. (20) said he would spend most of his working time in the future making reeds. ‘I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work at something I am interested in,’ he said. ‘I learned an awful lot during my time with the McAllisters.’

Bill McAllister (71) said: ‘We sincerely hope the piping fraternity will give Jamie and his son a chance to prove themselves. We are sure they will.’

The buy-out represents the end of an era for the pipe band community. Through the family’s involvement with Shotts & Dykehead and the reed making business, the McAllister name became known throughout the piping world.

Since the early 1920s the same members of the family have been closely associated with piping. Tom McAllister Snr. BEM, an emigrant from Carrickfergus in Ulster, began the family’s association with the band.

Sons John, William and Tom jnr. were systematically absorbed into the band’s ranks. Tom snr. annexed two World Championships in 1948 and 1952 before handing over to son John Kerr McAllister.

John. K had learned his piping at his father’s knee. He served for a period as a bagpipe maker under William Sinclair in Leith and served through WW2 in the Gordon Highlanders.

He led the band [Shotts] to four consecutive Worlds titles in 1957, 58, 59 and 60. John eventually relinquished the reins to Tom jnr. and joined the RSPBA judging panel. When the Association formed the pipe band college, John was at the fore of the advisory committee.

Tom jnr. was also successful at the highest level gaining the top prize [the Worlds Grade 1 title] in 1970, ’73, ’74 and ’80, before he too retired. It was during Tom jnr.’s period at Shotts that the reed-making firm began.

‘I simply could not get the reeds that would produce the sound that I wanted,’ Tom (67) said. He went on: ‘So we started in my kitchen using tools we’d made ourselves and skills and templates we’d learned and obtained from old Pa Sinclair in Leith.

‘We picked things up very quickly and soon realised what was required to produce a consistent and reliable bagpipe reed.

‘Once we were producing a good sound other pipe majors naturally enquired about reeds from us. Ian McLellan from Strathclyde Police was one of the first and look at the success he had.

The Shotts band of the early ’70s, P/M Tom McAllister jnr.

‘We never had to advertise at all. We charged 4/6d [about 20p] for reeds then. After a while we realised we could make a living and went full time and it’s been non-stop ever since. At our peak we were making 700 reeds a week.’

John K McAllister, now 75, concluded: ‘We will keep the chanter business going [WarMac], but after all these years we are not sorry to be leaving the reeds.

‘We know the business has gone to very good hands. We know the sound Jamie Troy produced with his band City of Victoria in the early 80s, and are sure the name of McAllister will continue to be associated with the very best in bagpipe sound.’

  • The Troy/McAlister business continues to flourish. Check out their website here.

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