Clan MacRae and P/M Andy Bell: Memories from Down Under and Willie Fergusson’s March

I did enjoy Iain Duncan’s articles on the old Clan MacRae band. Congratulations to him; they were very informative and well written and certainly did bring back some memories.

Iain mentioned my old pal Andy Bell who was one of the nicest blokes I have ever met in pipe band circles. I lost touch with Andy after I joined Muirheads and subsequently emigrated to Australia.

By Gordon  Ferguson

In 1985, when I was playing with the Queensland Irish Pipe Band under P/M Sandy Campbell, we travelled to Ireland and Scotland to compete and managed a third at the Worlds and a first at Cowal in Grade 2.

Unfortunately, it was a shocking day at Cowal and the massed bands and prize giving were cancelled along with the customary victory march down to the ferry terminal.

It was a complete shambles and a case of every man for himself to catch a ferry over to Gourock where we had a couple of buses waiting to pick us up. I had the responsibility of ensuring everyone was accounted for and as I waited for the stragglers, I noticed a group of about a dozen elderly folk who were a bit distressed as the bus they had travelled on from Glasgow that morning had left without them.

We had spare seats on our buses and were able to give them a lift back to Glasgow for which they were extremely grateful, especially when we stopped at the first pub for a ‘carry-out’ and were able to provide them all with a dram! We laughed and sang all the way back to Glasgow and what had been a nightmare for them turned out to be fun night.

Clan MacRae under P/M John Finlay (tweed jacket), Grade 2 World Champions

I remember talking to some of the group and I asked a lady what had taken her to Cowal,  to which she replied that her son was a pipe major in a Grade 1 band and she attended Cowal in his memory.

When she said her son was none other than Andy Bell I was flabbergasted! I was unaware that Andy had passed away at an early age whilst I was in Australia. I can remember visiting him and his lovely wife and kids when the lived in Croftfoot, Glasgow, in the early 1960s; happy days!

My old BB company, the 214th, are having a civic reception in October 2024 to mark the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Company so I’m hoping I might receive an invitation which will provide an excuse for another visit to some of my old stamping grounds. 

I have attached a photo of myself [top of article] in the Clan MacRae uniform which dates back to 1963 when I was playing at a company Burns’ Supper. Where did these 60 years go? 

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Reader Hamish Yuile: ‘Thank you once again to Iain Duncan for a great article, much enjoyed, very informative.

‘I had previously asked a question in the comments section here pertaining to the 2/4 the famous march The Clan MacRae Society by the great composer P/M Willie Fergusson.

‘I was trying to determine if it was originally a four-parted march before ultimately becoming six parts. I hadn’t seen any answers on here to my question, however, lately I had the good fortune to answer it myself.

‘I came across a piping book which I now have: “Fergusson’s Bagpipe Melodies, Compositions and Settings” published by Bayley & Ferguson copyright in 1939. Compiled by the man himself Pipe Major Wm. Fergusson and lo and behold it IS a four part march in the book.

‘I had a personal reason for tracking this query down because of an Alex Duthart connection. It’s taken me a long while, but now I know for sure. Thank you again.’

The editor writes: The fashion of extending 2/4 marches to six parts seems to have been begun by P/M JK MacAllister of Shotts. Back in the solely MSR days of the 50s he was looking for tunes that would stretch his band more. He re-wrote the 2/4 march, the Links of Forth, or the Links of Airth as it was sometimes known, and, in its multi-parted version, named it for his father, P/M Tom MacAllister Snr. (See Edcath Book 1, p86).

The additional two parts added to Clan MacRae Society were made by P/M Dai Ross of the Dalzell Highland Pipe Band under encouragement from Alex Duthart. They fit the tune so well. Balmoral Highlanders would have been given the extension treatment too but when and by whom I know not. Lord Alex? Any further info on this subject gratefully received. Read more here.

4 thoughts on “Clan MacRae and P/M Andy Bell: Memories from Down Under and Willie Fergusson’s March

  1. Interesting to read Gordon’s account of his trip with the QIAPB. I certainly remember the band competing in Ireland that year; they had a fine band at the time. I wasn’t at Cowal that year but I remember hearing accounts of the bad weather. Many years ago on a trip to the Worlds I was introduced to an elderly gent by the name of Turnbull; he may have been ex-Clan MacRae but I’m not certain.

  2. Editor, thank you for the inclusion of my comments on the march Clan MacRae. I thought perhaps I would share a tidbit with your readers on Alex Duthart’s connection to the tune. When working on his portrait for the cover of his then unpublished book, big Alex shared this story with me. I won’t write the entire conversation from that night after a B/Cal practice at John Brown’s Shipyard, it went like this…

    Late at night we’re in his kitchen, I’m enjoying he and Cathie’s hospitality.Alex is talking about music and his ideas regarding drum arrangements when I ask him about his drum score for the Clan MacRae Society because the tune is one of my favourites, Alex said, quote, “A’ll tell you a story about that, you know originally this was a four parter, so one night at the Dalzell practice, Willie (Fergusson) brought this tune in and let us hear it. It caught my attention, you know, a good tune, and I happened to say, you know Willie, ah think there’s more in there. To which he immediately says to me, “WELL, let’s hear it”. Okay a’ll think about it. Anyway, that week it’s on my mind, I’m humming it all day, and you know how I heard it? To me the 4th part calls for something, so I’m thinking about it and I catch myself singing an ascending bass line, not a pipe band bass, a bass fiddle line, you know like a walking bass line, it kept going around in my head (Alex sings it) do you know what I mean, which sets you up for a 6th part, sorta call and answer. Anyway, I scribbled my ideas down and the following week I sing it to him, he says to me, “oh aye very good Alex, but it’s published”. So there you are Hamish, we can have some good ideas, but mind you, not always accepted, but he seemed to like it. Once in a while we can come up with something worth a look”.

    In full disclosure here, Alex made the point to me of not claiming credit for the finished piece saying, “Willie wrote a really good tune there that makes you think, you can always do good arrangements for, you know, you can do things with them.”

    To finish, as far as I know, Alex carried the bagpipe music score for it in his satchel of music, which tells me in his own quiet way, he must have been proud of it. I had always assumed this was general knowledge, but come to find out the very reason most don’t know this piece of pipe band history, is because Alex didn’t talk about it, if at all. So before telling this story in public, I wanted to do my own research on finding where and when the four part march was published, only finding it recently.
    I consider myself very privileged to have been in Alex Duthart’s company listening to the great man talk about his life in music.
    Thank You.

    1. Very interesting anecdote Hamish. I’m slightly confused but maybe you can provide clarification; was Alex saying that he came up with the 5th and 6th parts of the tune normally accredited to P/M David ‘Dai’ Ross; or were the ideas he kept in his satchel something else entirely?

  3. A very nostalgic photo of the MacRae band showing some of my friends/fellow pipers.
    If I’m not mistaken, clockwise from John Finlay ‘s left are Donald McDonald, Charlie Tarbet, Kenny ?, Archie ?, P/S Hughie Gibson (hidden I think), Tommy Johnson, and Finlay ?.
    In the centre background is the ever present and highly dedicated band secretary Dave Berry

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