History of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band – Part 2

In 1925 contests took place at Grangemouth, Kirkcaldy, Bathgate, Dundee, Leith and Markinch, with the Clan MacRae continuing their successes.

The most significant result for P/M Willie Fergusson (left) and the band was at Cowal, where they emerged as World Champions, winning the Argyll Shield ahead of their 1924 rivals, Millhall, with MacLean third and the 7th HLI fourth.

Although the band did not repeat their Cowal World Championship win during the remainder of his tenure, their list of winnings during this time remains impressive:

Greenock, 15th June, 1924: 2nd
Lanark, 19th July, 1924: 1st
Birnam, 23rd August, 1924: 1st  
Cowal, 1924: 2nd
Cowal, 1926: 2nd
Cowal, 1927: 2nd
Cowal, 1928: 2nd
Championship of Glasgow 1928: 2nd

Just prior to the 1926 Cowal Games in 1926, the Australian Ladies band, in the throes of a world tour, arrived in Glasgow.  They were welcomed into Central Station by a crowd of over 40,000 and Clan MacRae played them to their hotel.

Pipe Major Fergusson composed the soon to be very popular tune, The Australian Ladies, in their honour. (It is given the alternative title of The Exile’s Return in his collection.)

By Iain Duncan

Most readers will be aware that Willie Fergusson did a fair amount of composing and was highly gifted in the art. HIs wider output has been detailed elsewhere. His tune Farquhar MacRae, a simple two-parted 2/4 march, was possibly one of his early works and through the decades, in Farquhar’s memory, the band used the melody as its tune-up piece right into the 1970s. 

At the age of 54, Willie published a collection, Fergusson’s Bagpipe Melodies, a compilation of his own tunes to date, augmented with others. It is still a treasured addition to many collections.   The price is quaintly printed on the cover at 2/6 net (two shillings and sixpence: 12½ new pence in decimal currency). 

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One aspect of this otherwise excellent book which I have always found more than just a bit disappointing, is that it does not give tunes a category, i.e. Very Slow Air, Waltz, Jig (twice), March (twice), Reel, Slow March and Tempo Waltz. It is a practice not unusual for the time, and my ‘Millington’ Bagpipe Music Index testifies to that.

Willie Fergusson remained pipe major of the MacRae until 19th April, 1929. Following a serious accident at work he was no longer robust enough to participate in competitive piping. He was a woodcarver and carpenter to trade. The accident happened during renovation work on a Glasgow tenement flat. Willie fell 30 feet from unguarded steps into the stairwell below. As you can imagine, it took its toll on him. 

After the accident he did continue adjudication, and 1931 saw him travel to Alberta, Canada, for a period, where he was invited to adjudicate both pipe band and solos at Banff Highland Games, and later that same year he completed a second Canadian tour. 

On his return home he continued active tuition and where he considered the pupil of a sufficiently high standard, he would encourage him in the direction of his beloved CMS Pipe Band. 

Willie Fergusson died in 1949, aged 64 and was buried in Craigton Cemetery, Glasgow. A contingent of the CMS Pipe Band, playing his personal arrangement of Loch Duich, one of his favourite tunes, led the huge cortège of mourners to the graveside.  

Loch Duich is included in his book. Although not composed by him, it’s quite possible that the harmony setting included was written by him. 

In order to affirm to the Fergusson family the band members’ appreciation of Willie, they commissioned a framed illustrated presentation on vellum appropriately worded. It recorded their achievements during his tenure as Pipe Major, and was signed by all the bandsmen. I am pleased to reproduce it here:

Above the signatures and the list of prizes on the left, It reads: ‘We the undersigned, members of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band, have the honour and pleasure of certifying that William Fergusson was Pipe Major of the above band from 1st April 1920 to 19th April 1929 when he relinquished the appointment in order to proceed to Canada. [No mention made of his accident and injury.] During this period the band was remarkably successful in pipe band contests and held the premier position among pipe bands in Scotland. Mr Fergusson is an outstanding personality in piping circles, his knowledge of piping and the art of pipe band leadership being unequalled. In addition he has earned considerable distinction by his unique ability as a composer of bagpipe music.’

  • To be continued. Read Part 1 of this history here.

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