History of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band – Part 4

The spirit of the MacRae goes back to 1880 and the 3rd Volunteer Bt. Highland Light Infantry (7th HLI), with P/M Farquhar MacRae in charge. Into 1913 it became the City of Glasgow Pipe Band, the idea of sporting Hunting MacRae tartan born from within its ranks, and then on to the final name change and the birth of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band.

Throughout the band’s illustrious existence and its incredible longevity, it is not an exaggeration to say that from its early beginnings, right up to the end of the 1950s, it was probably the most consistent prize-winner among all the top grade bands. 

By Iain Duncan

However 1960 was the year which saw their fortunes change; it was the first time in their history the band consistently failed to place in the top five at both Cowal and the Worlds, a pattern which continued up to 1965, with the exception of a 5th placing at the Worlds in 1962; difficult times.

The bands now dominating the prize lists were Shotts & Dykehead, Muirhead & Sons, Glasgow City Police, Edinburgh City Police, Renfrew, Red Hackle and, from 1965, Invergordon Distillery – a band that entered the prize lists from its inception.

Although the MacRae never secured placings at the Majors during these times they did continue to win prizes at small competitions and mini-bands.  

For a lingering period in the mid-60s the band experienced general unrest within the ranks with ‘discussions’ taking place during band practice evenings at St John’s Primary School on Main Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow. Despite this frank sharing of opinions, the membership struggled to resolve their issues.  

Nevertheless, towards the end of 1964 the BBC invited the band to record a half-hour piping programme at Queen Margaret Drive Studios in Glasgow, always a prestigious event.  For a time, this helped the band refocus. They had to hone a programme of tunes; sets and selections to fill a half-hour worthy of a Grade One band.                                                                                                                              

MacRaeBanner ’19
Ayrshire Bagpipes Nov 2020
shepherd banner ’22

It would be fair to describe P/M Alex MacLeod as a top notch piper, unassuming and modest to an extraordinary degree, a thorough gentleman who would avoid any form of confrontation. With all the behind the scenes talk he finally decided it was time to go and on 22nd April, 1966, he retired as Pipe Major, a position he had held for 16 years. 

The band convened and by consensus, the P/M’s job was given to piper Andrew Bell, a man with a good piping pedigree and a staunch devotee of the band.  It was uncanny that coincident with these goings-on, the MacRae’s benefactor since 1924, Captain John Duncan George MacRae of Ballimore, died. This on 11th March, 1966; he was aged 69.

Pipe Major MacLeod had been friendly with the Captain since he joined the band back in 1929 and it was considered appropriate that he should lead them, one last time at the funeral in Clachan Duich Old Burial Ground, Inverinate, with the band playing My Home and Cabar Feidh, as had been requested in the Captain’s will. 

Clachan Duich is the ancient church and burial ground of the MacRaes of Kintail, located near the banks of Loch Duich, and a few miles south of Eilean Donan Castle,  A coach to bring the band north from Glasgow was specially laid on by the MacRae family and nine members of the band managed to attend. 

Eilean Donan Castle seat of Clan MacRae

It was a cold wintry day, and following the burial, when the bandsmen returned to the car park. the late Captain’s solicitor asked the band Secretary/Bass Drummer, Lorimer Annan, to line up the bandsmen. He then proceeded to hand each (bemused) member a one pound note.  As they were boarding the bus the family chauffeur handed over a case of whisky to Lorimer.  Needless to say the return journey to Glasgow was a rather more jovial affair than the preceding few hours.

Alex MacLeod had for years, and coincident with his pipe-majorship, held the position of Honorary Piper to the Glasgow Skye Association, one of the many Highland Associations in Glasgow.

On a number of occasions over these years the band had performed at the Association’s Annual Gathering held each December, and consequently the Association had always kept a strong interest in the band’s activities and successes; they were also aware of the concerns within the ranks.  

  • To be concluded. For earlier excerpts of this history type Clan MacRae into the ‘Search’ field above.

The Bagpiper’s Handbook…a must have for all pipers


2 thoughts on “History of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band – Part 4

  1. Hi Iain
    So glad someone told me about your articles, as I’m always interested in the history of Clan Macrae . My dad was PM Andrew Bell that played in the band & remember with great happy memories going along to watch on many occasions.
    I’d love if you have any further info and I have a couple of pics if you were interested in these
    Look forward very much to your next instalment .

    1. Hi Laureen,
      Thanks for this; I remember your dad well, and uncle. The next instalment is the concluding one and over the weeks its been running I’ve had good responses and picked up a number of extras which I’m incorporating into my original working script, so I’ll get in touch with you about doing the same with the photos you mention.

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