There have been several features in Piping Press featuring a photo of Seagrams’ Pipe Band under the late Pipe Major Donnie Thompson, particularly when it had its annus mirabilis in Grade 2 in 1992 as World Champions and Champion of Champions, writes Iain White.
I first knew this band in the early 1970s when it was the Paisley Pipe Band, having previously been Paisley British Legion. The Paisley band was a very strong Grade 2 band under the leadership of Pipe Major Eddie McAtear and Drum Sergeant Norrie Thomson.
Incidentally, at the time of Paisley British Legion, Paisley had a second Grade 2 band, Anchor Mills, sponsored by the J & P Coats business of the same name.
Eddie had a great talent for getting a super sound from the wooden Sinclair chanters the band used at the time; Norrie was a hugely talented leading drummer who assembled a quality corps around him.
There was a strong feeder link between my own band, the 1st Port Glasgow Boys’ Brigade, and ‘the Paisley’. Occasionally, we shared a bus to contests with them and learned a great deal in the process – mainly risqué songs we hadn’t heard before and weren’t allowed to sing on the BB bus! ‘Father had Two Rabbits‘, springs to mind.
In 1973 ‘the Paisley’ was fortunate enough to gain sponsorship from the local whisky firm, Seagrams and became the 100 Pipers Whisky Pipe Band, and was used to promote the Seagrams’ labels of the day.
It was also round about then that the band won the Intercontinental Grade 2 Championship in Toronto and was promoted to Grade 1 – along with keen rivals Dysart and Dundonald.
In all fairness, it must be said that, as a group, the drummers that Norrie had to work with in his corps were of a higher standard than Eddie’s pipers. This was reflected in very good placings in the Majors for the drummers, culminating in the British Championships at Rothesay in 1974, when they were crowned Grade 1 British Champion Drum Corps.
They had some significant competitors that day: Alex Duthart’s Shotts corps and Joe Noble’s at BCal (Renfrew). This was no mean feat.
This success led the 100 Pipers corps to being asked to play a Drum Salute at the British the following year (1975), this time held at Bathgate.
Norrie and the boys are shown in action in the above photo. The personnel are (in the rear from the left) – Tenor Drummer Alex Docherty, Bass Drummer Willie McIntosh and Tenor Drummer Johnny McCracken; (in front from the left) – Leading Drummer Norrie Thomson, Robert Lindsay, Dougie Brown, Graeme McFarlane and Gordon Brown.
As you can see they are resplendent in their Number 1 dress, as we older folks remember almost everyone was in the mid-1970s, but they have swapped the feather bonnets for more comfortable glengarries.
All but two of these eight drummers, Norrie Thomson and Dougie Brown, had come through the ranks at the 1st Port Glasgow BB – quite an achievement!
The successes of Norrie’s corps naturally gained a lot of attention, and when Wilson Young retired from the Leading Drummer post at Red Hackle Pipes and Drums, Norrie was invited to take over.
This he did, and along with him to the Hackle went all the snare drummers (save Graeme McFarlane), Bass Drummer Willie McIntosh and Tenor Drummer Alex Docherty.
Thanks to one of the drummers in the photo, Robert Lindsay, I have found out about where most of those pictured went on to play after Red Hackle (which became Clan Campbell and then Britoil).
Norrie Thomson: Lochmaben, Annan, now living in Spain; Gordon Brown: Shotts, Inverclyde and District, Lower Clyde; Robert Lindsay: Milngavie, Dumbarton and District; Dougie Brown: Milngavie, Dumbarton, Polkemmet, Shotts, Spirit of Scotland; Willie Mcintosh (now deceased): Shotts, Inverclyde; Alex Docherty: emigrated to South Africa after the Hackle; Johnny McCracken: stayed with Paisley PB, then Inverclyde; Graeme McFarlane: left Paisley when he went to work in Barrow-in-Furness.
I think Gordon Brown had the greatest longevity, playing with Lower Clyde Pipes and Drums as leading drummer, till a couple of years ago.
Paisley British Legion, Paisley, 100 Pipers Whisky, Seagrams – all gone now and part of pipe band history. All that remains is a fading set of memories to match the fading photos of the time and the occasional beer tent conversation, ‘Do you remember the Paisley?’
Mind you, did I see a Paisley and District British Legion competing over the last couple of seasons – or was my mind playing tricks in a pipe band version of Field of Dreams? Will the wheel turn full circle? Time alone will tell…