P/M Alex M. MacIver 1918 – 1989: Teacher, Composer, Drama Producer

By Hector RussellAlex MacIver in Chain of Office

The march ‘Pipe Major Alex M. MacIver’ was written by Angus Lawrie to celebrate Alex’s retirement from the manager’s position he held in a stockbroking firm in Glasgow. Angus, whose mother was from Lewis and his father from Oban, played the tune for Alex at a dinner held in the Dorchester Hotel, Glasgow, to celebrate the occasion. The tune is included in the recently compiled collection of Alex’s own compositions with Angus’s permission, and he expressed his delight that his tune was to be included stating that he, ‘held Alex in the highest regard’. Many of us did and do.

Angus's tune for Alex
Angus’s tune for Alex

I’d like to mention a bit more about Angus before I return to P/M MacIver. Angus is not only a prolific and imaginative composer but has also achieved remarkable success with many of his tunes in recent years when composing competitions have become a regular and popular feature of the piping scene. He published the Alex MacIver tune in his first book ‘The Oban Connection’.  Angus, a cousin of the late, ‘big’ Ronnie Lawrie, was a member of the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band when Ronnie was pipe major and then served under Pipe Major Ian McLellan BEM.

Ian is a former member of the 214 BB where he was a pupil of Alex MacIver’s. Among many fine tunes which Angus has written are ‘Dugald Gillespie’, ‘Old Toasty’ (big Ronnie’s father), ‘Six in a Row’ (celebrating the record six consecutive Grade 1 World Championship wins for the police band), and ‘The 1976 Tattoo’ which featured several times in their winning medley selection. angus bookAngus is soon to publish his second book of tunes. In early 2013 Angus wrote a march in memory of Drum Major George Seymour. George was another of Alex’s pupils in the 214 B.B. and fronted the Strathclyde Police band as their Drum Major throughout its halcyon days.

To return to the main topic of this history. After the Second World War, Alex MacIver, a Lewisman and a native Gaelic speaker, returned from active service in India where he had served with the 15th Scottish Division Royal Corps of Signals. He had been Pipe Major of the Regimental Pipe Band and then Company Sergeant Major, before being commissioned Captain. In 1946, on his return to civvy street he set up home with his brother Donnie, a school teacher, and sister Isobel at 250 Danes Drive, Scotstoun, Glasgow, and they lived there all their lives. The house was only recently sold.

Alex assumed the leadership of the 214th BB Pipe Band as Pipe Major. He still had the redoubtable Alex Ibell (his own tutor and a former member of the old Whiteinch band) fully committed to teaching incoming pupils, as well as making and repairing pipes, practice chanters, reeds and drum sticks. The back room team also included Joe King, another of Alex Ibell’s pupils, a man who, among many things in piping, was considered a master of tone. Joe was a piper with Rutherglen Pipe Band and also a mainstay of the Renfrew Pipe Band.

On his return from National Service Dan Finlay, also of Renfrew Pipe Band and the K.O.S.B., further augmented the training and coaching staff at the 214. All of these men (Ibell, MacIver, King and Finlay) would serve the 214 throughout the 1950s into the 1980s, when the company was absorbed elsewhere and its ancestral home, Gordon Park Church, Whiteinch, sold.

The band first entered SPBA competitions in 1951 and, under Alex MacIver’s leadership over a 25 year period, won 11 Worlds, 16 European, 16 British, 11 Scottish and 13 Cowal Championships. In 1955 they won the British Grade 2 Championship at Renfrew a remarkable achievement for a juvenile band of under 18s. They were winners of the Boys Brigade Glasgow Battalion Pipe Band Championship 27 times, 25 of these in successive years.

The 214 BB going on to the field at the World Pipe Band Championships at Inverness in 1966. Personnel are l to r: P/M Alex MacIver, Archie MacLean (just visible), Alasdair Ross, Robert Wallace, Hughie MacPhail, Finlay Drynan, John Morrison, Kenny Cape
The 214 BB going on to the field at the World Pipe Band Championships at Inverness in 1966. Personnel are, l to r: P/M Alex MacIver, Archie MacLean (just visible), Alasdair Ross, Robert Wallace, Hughie MacPhail, Finlay Drynan, John Morrison, Kenny Cape

Former members of the band include Ian McLellan BEM, Alasdair Ross, Alex Connell, Stirling McMurchie and George Seymour of the Strathclyde Police; John Finlay, Robert Wallace, Douglas Elmslie, Gordon Ferguson, James Hardie and Robert Turner of Muirheads; Hector Russell of Red Hackle; and Joe Noble of Renfrew, Toyota, British Caledonian Airways and City of Glasgow. Stephen McQuillan, a long-standing drummer with Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band, was the last 214 man standing as a Grade 1 competitor, retiring from competitive playing after the 2014 season.

Mouth organ maestro and piper, Donald Black
Mouth organ maestro and piper, Donald Black

Donald Black, Scotland’s premiere mouth organ player of traditional music,  has recorded many pipe tunes. He has recorded the tune ‘P/M Alex MacIver’ for the 214 archive. Donald was Alex MacIver’s oldest and his last piping pupil.

Listen to the tune by Donald’s kind permission. Check out his website.

Alex was not only an active supporter of the SPBA but served as a committee member and Glasgow and West of Scotland Branch auditor. Furthermore, he was the organiser of the annual branch ceilidh which always proved popular and a worthwhile fund-raiser. His interest in piping also included his membership of the Scottish Pipers’ Association. There he was elected to the position of SPA composer at the AGM in 1987, and re-elected in 1988 and 1989, the year he died. In that role Alex succeeded John Scott (Three Peaks of South Uist), Jim Wark (Molly Connel), and Iain MacPherson, brother of Donald. The role has remained vacant since 1989.  In 1980 The SPA awarded Alex the ‘Donald Macleod Tassie’ for his services to piping. There were three nominations and Alex won on the committee vote. More may be read about the Tassie in the article ‘Pipe Major Donald MacLeod’s Farewell to Fort George’ on the 214 BB website.

[easyrotator]erc_14_1414056032[/easyrotator]Alex was probably best known in Gaeldom as the producer of the famous ‘Oidhche Challuinn Show’. In 1933, this show was first introduced by the Lewis Society of Glasgow. Following their amalgamation with the Glasgow Lewis and Harris Association in 1946, it was revived by Alex. Not long before he died he was the first recipient of a new trophy to be presented annually to the person or persons considered by the committee to have made a real contribution to Gaelic drama. ‘Oidhche Challuinn’ (pronounced ‘Oychee Chaleen’ with the ‘ch’ pronounced as we would in the word ‘loch’) translates as the ‘Old New Year’ and the theme was based on a ceilidh where the cailleach (a wise old woman) conducted proceedings. In this series the cailleach was a man dressed as a woman.

We know that Alex’s brother Donnie filmed these productions. Given that shared copies of such recordings at that time would have been unusual, it could be that this collection of recordings will prove valuable, particularly in a Gaelic context.

Alex’s passing was recorded in the ‘Glasgow Letter’ in the Oban Times of 1st of June, 1989:
alex obitalex obit 2* For much more on the band and P/M MacIver, to hear recordings of tunes associated with him, and see a full list of his own compositions go to the 214BB website.


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