History of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band – Part 3

Clan MacRae in 1932

It is believed that Hamish McColl MM was Pipe Sergeant when Willie Fergusson retired and he was unanimously appointed Pipe Major. McColl held the position for 18 months, a relatively short tenure, but maintained the competition standard. 

For reasons unknown, he moved to the Rutherglen Rechabites band and was replaced in the MacRae by John Findlay Nicoll.  He continued the band’s incredible success and emulated Pipe Major Fergusson’s famous 1920s hat trick with the City of Glasgow by winning the Cowal World Championship, and with it the Argyll Shield, in 1932, 33 and 34. 

By Iain Duncan

Names of the competing band at the Championship of Glasgow 1928 were (pipers): P/M William Fergusson, Hamish McColl, Alexander Finlayson, James Carruthers, Robert H. Wilder, John F. Nicoll, John C. MacKenzie, John Campbell, George Birnie, Donald MacQueen, George Forrest, John Birnie, William MacKinnon, Donald MacIntosh (band secretary). Drummers: Thomas P. Dawson, James MacNair, William Greig, William Beck, Charles MacIntosh, Duncan Smith.

At a Music in the Parks event held in Glasgow, 1931:  Pipers: Pipe Major John F. Nicoll, Robert H. Wilder, Donald MacQueen, Alex MacLeod, George Forrest, John Campbell, John MacKinnon, John Russell, Thomas Pringle, Alex Buchanan, John McLachlan, John MacInnes, Donald MacIntosh (band secretary and by this time also secretary of the SPBA Executive Committee). Drummers: Alex Douglas Hamilton, James MacNair, William Greig, James Cockburn, Stewart Kearney, Charles MacIntosh, John Cameron.  


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To digress slightly for a moment, there was an article in ‘Piping and Dancing’ Magazine in late 1935 discussing the gradual progress being made by Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia. It detailed their rise through the grades, including a brand new rig-out supplied by Thomas Gordon & Sons in MacLean tartan. 

With their recent Cowal triumph in Grade 2, winning the Harry Lauder Shield, and their placing in Grade 1 at a contest at Oban, they were clearly heading for the top – with the intention of staying there among the MacRaes, the MacLeans, the Police, the Transport, and all the best of them. 

How prophetic was the magazine’s writer! Going into 1936, Shotts were upgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 1 and of all the Grade 1 bands in-the-mix then, Shotts is the only one still going strong today.

‘..….In 1935 Shotts were left virtually sitting on top of the world with the intention of staying there……’

Piping & Dancing Magazine

The 1949 SPBA World Championships took place at Murrayfield, Edinburgh: 1st City of Glasgow Police, 2nd Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia, 3rd Muirhead and Sons, 4th Kinglassie & District, 5th Clan MacRae Society. 

Following this result there was considerable controversy with many of the opinion that the MacRae should have been placed much higher.  Their drum corps, however, secured first becoming World Champion Drum Corps winners, 1949, and at the following year’s Worlds in Dens Park, Dundee on 27th May, with the massed bands in place, Clan MacRae Society, had the honour of playing the Drum Salute.     

At the close of the 1949 season, Pipe Major John F. Nicoll resigned from the band due to poor health. His successor was Alexander (Alex) MacLeod. Alex, originally from the village of Inver, Ross-shire, had been a pupil of Willie Fergusson and had played with the band since 1929.

Alex’s brother, James (Jimmy), also played with the band and had joined in P/M Nicoll’s time.  Under Alex MacLeod’s leadership, the band placed 5th at the Worlds in 1950 and 1951, 2nd in 1952, and in 1953 at the World Championships held in Edinburgh on 1st August, they emerged as World Champions with Muirhead and Sons 2nd, Red Hackle 3rd, Kenmuir Park 4th and Edinburgh Police 5th.   

The victorious Clan MacRae in 1953

Names in the picture above as follows: – Top left; Ian Riddell, Mick McEwan Jnr, Jimmy MacLeod, Pipe Major Alex MacLeod, John McAllister, Bob Burnett, Donald MacLeod, Unknown, John MacRae, Eddie McLellan.  Kneeling: Unknown, Peter Kerr, Charlie MacIntosh. It’s clear that many of the bandsmen missed the photo call.      

In the 50s and 60s the bass drummer was Mick McEwan Snr. He won the Grade 1 Bass Drum prize at Cowal 12 times out of 13, a record which now will never be broken.  After Mick retired, Tenor Drummer and deputy Bass Drummer, Lorimer Annan moved to Bass, and in a clear demonstration of propinquity, continued Mick’s winning way by winning the Cowal Best Bass Drummer prize on multiple occasions. 

For MacRae aficionados it’s also worth mentioning Tenor Drummer Charles McIntosh who had been a member of the Band since 1920. He was the doyen and hero to all those on the tenor, a ‘Tyler Fry’ of his time.    

  • To be continued. To read earlier excerpts type ‘History of Clan MacRae’ into the search field above right.

6 thoughts on “History of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band – Part 3

  1. I had Eddie McLellan , 1953 world champion with Clan McRae, as a teacher at the College of Piping in the late 80s. He was such a nice person and a good teacher. He was quite old and had stopped playing the pipes. But he took my pipes and hammerd out Kantara to El Arish. He could sure still play! After finishing his comment was ^Cracking tune, ey?

    Such a great and fine memory for me. A great man.

  2. Good afternoon Iain, I am so pleased to find your article on the history of the Clan McRae Pipe Band. My grandfather was James McNair who was a drummer in the band, and I would appreciate if you have any information or pictures regarding his time in the band. Sadly he died in 1955 just 5 days before I was born. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
    Kind regards
    Marion Bayne

    1. Good afternoon Marion, There has been much interest in the CMS history and through other correspondents it looks like I’ll be able to extend my personal working draft with more photos, names and facts. I’ll get your email address from the editor and make direct contact with you.
      Iain Duncan

  3. My name is Michael Carlton, I am the eldest grandson of Mick McEwan Sr. I live in Canada I Would appreciate if you could give me any information about my grandfather as I have tried to find out more about his drumming career. I may have some old photos you might be interested in. The person marked unknown in the 1953 picture I believe is a man by the name of Walter Bernadine. Look forward to hearing from you.

    1. Hello Michael. Good to hear from you. My history of the CMS certainly has generated a number of additional facts, with you adding another name to the 1953 photo. I’d certainly like to make contact and it’s quite likely I’ll be able to provide you with additional information regarding your grandfather. I’ll get your email address from the editor and I’ll be in touch.
      Iain Duncan

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