Archie followed Jimmy McAskill as pipe sergeant of Stow Pipe Band and later replaced Bob Milne as Pipe Major.
My family originally came from Hawick. My father was one of four brothers, brought up on a hill farm, East Buccleuch, way beyond Hawick. You turn off at Roberton and you can go right around and come onto the Ettrick road. Eventually my grandfather took over a farm on the Buccleuch Estates nearer Hawick, East Boonraw, and that is where I started school, going to Hawick.
The eldest brother went on to farm at Redford Green, and his family is still there. Another uncle became a shepherd at East Buccleuch where the family grew up, and the youngest one was a farmer at East Boonraw. The original farm wasn't big enough to sustain several grown families.
My father got a job as farm manager at Chapel Mains, just over the hill from Stow. It was in Lauderdale originally. My sister became a telephonist in Galashiels. The neighbouring farmer at West Boonraw was on the point of retiring. A nephew of his worked with Fairgrieves of Stow. He had Leerig, the house opposite the garage there for his eventual retirement. We moved into that house in Stow to occupy it until he retired. The hope was that we would be able to get a council house in the area when he retired, which we did. I was just 17 at this stage and had been working on the farm for two years. I volunteered for national service at seventeen and a half and joined the Air Force. My brother was already in the Air Force. He came out a month after I went in. People didn't know us well in Stow, but they knew I was away to the Air Force so when my brother came home, they thought - They haven't kept that chap long in the Air Force!
In the olden days, living in the hill farms, there was no tuition, but music was handed down and picked up from family and friends. My father played the pipes and the fiddle. Most people played some sort of music. I believe they had Friday nights – Cornkisters they called it and would meet at neighbouring farms for their own entertainment. The corn kists, metal boxes, used to be in the fields where they stored the fodder for the sheep. Now they have all the modern transport to take it out, but they used to work with a horse and cart. They used to sit on the cornkist and sing and play music.
When I was demobbed and came into the Stow pipe band, I had to learn all the grace notes and doublings. My father just played the tune to his ear. It was the same with the fiddle. He could knock a tune out of anything but not as it should be done. The rudiments of pipe music are quite intricate, to get the group notes put together. You get pipers who maybe learnt a tune from one book and then maybe learnt it from another book and they're not exactly the same. I remember playing at Cowal games and just before it the secretary of the RSPBA (Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association) had died and the Shotts and Dykehead pipe band played the Flowers of the Forest lament. Now that is a solo piper's tune and they were world champions and had won a lot of competitions. They'd all different styles of playing and it was a real let down for them.
There was a set of pipes in the house when we were at Chapel Mains and my brother and I used to get them out and try to play them. My father played them now and again. You might say that I learnt to handle a set of pipes then. Having taught the chanter over the years to quite a few young boys you would then have the problem of teaching them how to hold the bagpipes...... but I already had that before I could play the chanter......... or play properly.
The village policeman, Bob Milne, was a piper from the Dalkeith area. He had started up the Stow Pipe band with a lot of chaps my own age. They developed during the time I was away. As far as I remember there wasn't a pipe band in Stow before I went away. It was during my time in the Air Force that it started up. I joined the band in the October after I came back. I was out playing with them in the Spring of the next year. I picked it up pretty quick. I had a bit of basic knowledge of reading music which a lot of the others in the band didn't have. I had learnt to read music at school. I actually went to the school in Blainsley. There were only between twelve and twenty pupils altogether and the music teacher used to come around once a week. He taught us what the notes were, the quavers, crotchets etc. If you were interested in music you picked it up. I think my older sister had a bit of knowledge of music too, so I may be learnt it from her as well.
There had been a Girl's Guildry Pipe Band in Stow. Some of the older girls at the time did actually play. What standard they were I don't know. I never actually heard them play. I just heard stories about them. It was really when Bob Milne came as a policeman that it sort of developed into a pipe band and they got the uniform which was ex-army from Major Todd at Bowland. He got second hand army kilts. Jimmy Redpath played the bass drum and eventually became drum major. Robbie Swan was a good piper and good at the music as well. There's not many that are still in Stow now that were in the band in those days.
Playing in the band here for a while was a drummer who had come to work at Fairgrieves in Stow. He was a drummer with The Lady Victoria Colliery Pipe Band. He got married quite young and I was invited to his wedding. I met two of the pipers from The Lady Victoria Pipe Band and they said, “Oh you must come along to a band practice.” I went in just on a social visit and they had three quartets entered for an indoor competition in Motherwell but they'd only eleven pipers. So I stood in. I'd only two months to learn the set that we were going to play. So that was me playing for the Lady Victoria Band and Stow Pipe band. I always gave preference to Stow if there was a double engagement. Through them I was sent on a piping course in a police station in Edinburgh run by the Lothian branch of the RSPBA. I remember they used nursery rhymes to help teach the different timings, the simple and compound time.
There were village dances and social events on some of the farms. I remember at Chapel Mains the Granary was cleared and they had a social evening there. There was a dance band from Lauder, Dickman's Dance band. There was an accordionist, pianist, drummer, fiddler. They called it 'The Kirn.' My eldest cousin played the fiddle and still plays with the East Lothian fiddlers today and he's coming up ninety-three. His brother played too.
The modern pop music does nothing for me. I prefer to hear someone singing with a true voice and not shouting down a microphone. I remember buying records way back when I was in the RAF. I had the Chris Barbour Jazz Band. That was my favourite in those days. I had LPs of The Seekers, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosbie. I bought an LP of Bing Crosbie singing Shillelaghs and Shamrocks. In Germany I was stationed just outside Cologne. This chap had taped Bing Crosbie singing Two Shillelagh O' Sullivan and this thing played continually in the billet.
“Bing Crosbie said …. “He was so strong, O'Sullivan, he could put his own right hand in his left hip pocket and he could hold himself out at arm's length......... and a voice was heard saying ...No man could do that............. O'Sullivan I'm talking about............... Oh well he could.”
When I joined there was a piper from the Isle of Skye called Jimmy McAskill. He drove the baker's van here. He went away back up to Skye eighteen months after I'd started in the pipe band. Bob Milne was pipe major for ten years while I was in the band, but Jimmy was Pipe Sergeant. He took over if Bob was unavailable. The pipers had a vote in the town hall there about who was to take over from Jimmy McAskill when he left. Most of the pipers in the band had been in it twice as long as me but I think because I was reading the music and I caught up with them so quickly they voted me in as Pipe Sergeant. So occasionally I was taking the band when Bob Milne wasn't there. We played quite a few engagements most weekends. Oxton Games was a regular. We went there every year, but we also went to Greenlaw Games and Duns. There was a pantomime in Galashiels in the cinema which was roughly where W H Smith is now. We were engaged in the pantomime for a week over the Christmas period.
The funding needs of the band were not large. The kit was free. The bagpipes were there. The set of pipes that were in my family are in the band yet as far as I am aware. We hadn't the upkeep then that bands have now. We would maybe get £10 for the afternoon playing at Oxton Games. We had social events to raise money as well. Torsonce floodlit display was an annual event for a while. The Stow Pipe Band and Galashiels Silver Band would be there. For the finale we would all play together. There were local entertainers, singers, and dance groups. The boys brigade did a gymnastics display, and the girls brigade were involved too. I mind, for 'The Loan Piper' I was up on the roof out through a little bore hole. There was a flat bit up there, so I played The Loan Piper from up there. The Bullocks lived there then. It was a big house. It burnt down so it's now a fraction of the size it was.
I remember playing for shooting parties at Bowland when Alan Ramsay was the laird there. We never travelled very far afield. We were dependant on going by car and there weren't that many cars then. We played in Bathgate for John Newlands Day quite a few times. We got that through Bob Milne's connection with the police. That was a big day for us when we went through to Bathgate.
I played with Stow Pipe Band for about 40 years. When Bob retired he moved to Middleton and everyone thought he would carry on with the pipe band. One day I met Adam Guthrie, who lived up The Brae there and he had read the Southern Reporter that morning and he said, “I believe you are pipe major now.” It was in the Southern. Bob had never mentioned it. We just assumed he was coming back to the band. But he was actually retiring and had told the newspaper that I was the new Pipe Major.
There was a time in the seventies when the band was really struggling. We never had a committee in Bob's day. I decided we needed a general meeting to see if we should wind the band up or revive it. I asked Tom Murray to chair the meeting. As a result of this meeting, we got an influx of potential pipers. It built up from there. It was a struggle, but we made it.
When we revived the band in the 1970s we got involved in the Hawick and Massed Borders bands. We used to do a lot of displays with the Masse Borders. Bob Short at Hawick did a lot of sending pipers and pipe bands abroad to British promotions. First job I went to with Bob was to Milan. A few years later there was a big band, twenty-six of us, went to Mexico City for a British trade fair. Just after that pipers from different bands made up the band and we did a month of rehearsing of the sets we were going to play and went out to the Middle East. One of the chaps that came from the Biggar pipe band had been going to go to the Middle East on a British promotion. He slipped on the ice and broke his arm. I was up in the shop one day after lunchtime. It was about 2 o' clock and Bob Short from Hawick was sitting outside in the car. I remember it was just after the New Year, because he came in and he kept saying, “Happy New Year! How would you like to go to the Middle East?” So that was to Dohar. At the time the queen visited the states there. This was for a firm MDO Market Development Overseas. That was the first job that Bob Short had done for them and it was quite a success. A year later MDO phoned me about a piping job in Japan. I said I would have to come through Bob Short of Hawick. I called Bob and he was on the wind down to retirement. He said, “If you're interested you just make your own arrangements. I'll leave it in your hands.”
So I got the contact for MDO and did a lot of promotions in the Far East and arranged some for other pipers when I wasn't able to go. We were even double booked on one occasion. I was in Korea with a mini band and sent a couple of pipers to Japan at the same time. What we did then we couldn't do now with security as it is today. The baggage we used to take on board wouldn't be allowed now.
After twenty years I thought I should stop because my wife and I were in the post office in Lauder and felt I was the older man in the place then. I had two hip replacements and decided to call it a day. Eventually I got Stuart Robinson who had actually played with the British Legion band in Galashiels and Peebles. Alan McGill joined us too. Stuart took over as pipe major. He still runs it today.
I came across a thing the other day, a newspaper cutting from a trip we did in Taiwan. There's a photograph of me and Kevin Stuart with Miss England. I have a lot of photographs. I have a framed photo of when we were in South Korea, the mini band. I've a poster and it has a photograph on it of changing the guards at Buckingham Palace. It was a British promotion. We'd a photograph taken with a waterfall in the background of the pipe band that was there. Kevin Stuart was on it and Kevin Laidlaw, myself and Kenny Short from Hawick, (that's Bob's grandson.) The drummers were Grahame Kyle, he played with Stow band, Sandy Aitchison on bass drum and one more drummer whose name I forget.
I have a tune I wrote for the Torsonce floodlit display in 1984. A chap at Hawick has the tune and is writing it up on the computer for me. The popular sets of tunes that all bands play on the pipes are Scotland the Brave, Rowan Tree, Bonnie Galloway and then, Green Hills o' Tyrol, The Battle's O'er, Lochanside.
I played The Battle's O'er yesterday at Thirlestane castle. There was a group of people who were doing a tour round various places in the Borders. They had been at Duns castle, Gunsgreen House at Eyemouth, St Abbs Head, Jim Clark museum, and they were going on to Floors castle after Thirlestane. There's a group that do jousting. They had half a dozen horses up in front of the castle. When they arrived I piped them into the castle. They had their tour round the castle and then came out and watched the jousting in front of the castle. After that was finished, I stood on the steps of the castle as they were heading back to the bus and I thought it most appropriate as I played them “When the Battle's O'er.”
A couple of years after retiring from Stow Pipe Band I had a phone call from Canny Renwick in Hawick. He'd been on a couple of promotion trips overseas with me. They were playing at a St Andrew's night in Hawick and only had three pipers. So I went down to help them out. I finished up by playing with the band in Hawick for fourteen years. I felt I owed it to Hawick having originated from there and through Hawick I had got all the promotion work from Bob Short. It was a sort of repayment to them.
My family on the Anderson side came from the Hawick area. My father was second oldest of four brothers brought up at East Buccleuch, a hill farm on Buccleuch Estates which lies on the road that runs from Borthwick Water just south of Hawick round to Tushielaw in the Ettrick valley. Eventually as the family grew up, probably during or just after WW1, grandfather moved to East Boonraw as tenant farmer also on Buccleuch Estates. The eldest son took over East Redfordgreen where his son and grandson still farms. The third son went back to shepherding at East Buccleuch. My father and youngest brother kept East Boonraw going which is my first memory during WW1 and my early days at Wilton primary school in Hawick. My elder brother and sister walked to the road end to get the bus (the fare was 1d, 240d to the £1); being a service bus there were also people travelling to and from work in Hawick. One day I was dressed in the family handed down kilt for the school concert. The following day a man who always travelled on the bus handed me a parcel which contained boys socks, a dummy skein dhu, sporran, glengarry etc.
I can only assume that the farm could not sustain two growing families in the early 1940's, so my father found employment as farm manager at Chapel Mains in Lauderdale and I went to school at Blainslie. Only one teacher for a dozen or so pupils in one classroom was quite strange coming from a single class of thirty pupils. But it was a normal village school and there was very limited transport. We were lucky to live on a farm and be self-sufficient in way of vegetables, eggs, dairy produce and even home cured ham. After school we had to help feed animals, gather eggs, at weekend clean out the hen house and pig sty and make butter with the week’s cream in a hand turned churn.
It was at this time that I discovered that there was a set of bagpipes in the house and Dad could knock a tune out of them as well as a fiddle. This was the result of group entertainment in his younger days that were referred to as corn kisters. (a corn kist being a field storage metal box for feeding sheep and refilled as required by horse and cart) Neighbouring farmers and shepherds would meet at various venues and the younger ones just learned from the elders playing music reciting poetry, singing songs, telling stories etc. I am sure they enjoyed their own little world without phones, radio or TV. The post would be their only communication. However, my brother and I used to try our hand with the bagpipes and eventually managed to play the scale and a bit of a tune, but there was no such thing as a local pipe band in those days and travelling was very restricted. Even if a car was available, petrol along with everything else was rationed.
As I had an interest in music, I did pick up the basics at school. A music teacher came to outlying schools once a week. Miss Robertson never sat down but would bounce up and down when playing the piano. (Commonly known round all the schools as Stottin' Robby). Although I enjoyed music, singing was not a strong point.
There were village dances and social evenings on some of the farms. I remember the granary being cleared and prepared for a Kirn to celebrate the New Year. Dickman's band from Lauder supplied the music with two accordionists, pianist, fiddle and drummer. Although there are no other pipers in the Anderson offspring, two of my cousins took up the fiddle. The eldest now is in his 90's still playing with The East Lothian fiddlers.
The modern pop music does nothing for me. I prefer to hear someone singing with a true voice and not bawling down a microphone. I remember buying L P records in the 50's and 60's. Chris Barbour jazz band was a favourite, The Seekers, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosbie. One in particular, that tickled me was Bing's "Shillelaghs and Shamrocks." It can be found on youtube. It is easy listening Irish blarney with a touch of humour. " Ah the Shillelagh of course you know they call it the Tipperary rifle. You never have to reload it". Find it, listen and enjoy it I'll say no more.
I started work on the farm the day I left school a month before my 15th birthday, taking my brothers job when he was called up for national service. He volunteered for three years in the RAF. My sister had been working in the telephone exchange in Galashiels for several years and was in lodgings. We were fortunate to be offered a house in Stow which the neighbouring farmer in West Boonraw had purchased, anticipating retirement. We hoped that a council house would suit our family needs as both my brother and I had no desire to pursue the farming line.
A few months after arriving in Stow I volunteered before call up to join the RAF for three years to have a choice of trade and be better paid rather than two years national service. However, I delayed my intake until passing my driving test to be an M.T driver. It was July when I was eventually set off to Edinburgh on the one o'clock train and met a few more guys. We were given a rail ticket for the ten o'clock from Waverly to Bedford and 10/- (50p) to spend as we wished. Two of us went to a cinema, had a meal and I had my first pint of beer and still had some change left over. I remember at 10:45 pm, passing through Stow at great speed, pulled by a huge steam locomotive and hoping to get some sleep.
Within a month of my departure, my brother Rob was demobbed and arrived in Stow a complete stranger. Some people who didn't know the family very well thought, "They haven't kept that Anderson chap in the RAF very long".
The village policeman Bob Milne had come to Stow not long before us. He was a jeweller to trade and had been a piper with The Edinburgh Special Constabulary during the war before joining the Midlothian force. (Stow at that time was in Midlothian, the county boundary being at Boland). The first I heard of Stow Pipe Band was a letter from Rob when I was stationed in Germany saying that he had joined the band and was learning to play the tenor drum, probably because there was more pipers than they had instruments for at that time.
I don't know much about those early years other than P C Milne had an influx of young lads who were interested and maybe he thought it would be a worthwhile recreational pastime, other than football. Major Todd from Boland acquired some ex-army uniforms from his former regiment hence the adoption of the Cameron of Erracht tartan, as was proudly worn by The Cameron Highlanders. At that time all pipe bands wore the full number one dress with doublet, plaid, belts, hair sporran, diced hose tops and spats. I admit it is quite a spectacle to see a well-dressed band in full uniform, but, believe you me, it was not very comfortable on a warm summer day. Please spare a thought for these band members who turn out every night for The Edinburgh Military Tattoo!
When I was demobbed in July 1958, the family had moved to a council house in Earlston Road. The pipe band were playing at a few functions within the locality. Pipe major Bob Milne was supported by Sgt. piper Jimmy McAskill, a proficient piper from the Isle of Skye, who drove the bakers van delivering to the whole of Gala Water. A lot of preparation and rehearsal was going on for a floodlight display to be held over two nights at Torsonce House in September which would involve many local organisations. I did not get involved with the playing side until after this event, which was very successful both as entertainment and for fund raising, it also featured on Border TV news which had recently come on air; but not many homes had TV so most of us watched it in The Royal Hotel lounge bar.
I did join the band in October, learning the basic exercises from Logan's book 1. The staff notation came back to me from schooldays which was a bonus, so I caught up pretty quickly and having handled a set of pipes at home several years before, found the blowing technique quite natural. You may say I had put the cart before the horse as I found out years later when teaching youngsters for several months on the practice chanter, then having to master a set of bagpipes. It has been compared to wrestling with an octopus!
My first engagement playing in the band was the following year, up at Heriot in the school playground. It was a sort of fete to raise funds for the parish. Other events that year were the annual Oxton games and a Gala Day at Rosewell, which was opened by none other than the great Scottish singer (‘Voice of Scotland’ at the time) Robert Wilson. The following years saw the band going further afield. Greenlaw, Duns and Bathgate are a few that spring to mind.
At the start of my second year playing in the band, Pipe Sgt. Jimmy McAskill left Stow and returned to his native Skye. A vote was taken within the band to elect a successor which resulted in me being promoted to replace Jimmy. As it was the band members who voted for me I felt it was my duty to give it my best shot to help P.M.Bob.
The running cost was not much in these days. The uniform had been donated. I don't know where all the sets of pipes came from, but the set that were in the family are in the band yet as far as I know. The old rope tension drums can only be described as collector's items now. We hadn't the upkeep then that bands have now. But we did have local fund-raising events as well as other engagements. We played at Oxton games and Gala days for a fee of £10 to £20. Through Bob Milne's police connections, we acquired an engagement at Bathgate for the John Newlands festival. For the massed bands we played along with The Edinburgh City Police Pipe band, one of the top Grade one bands of that era. Another highlight was the pantomime in the Pavilion cinema/theatre Galashiels, which ran every evening from Monday through to two shows on Saturday. I will not mention names, but one of the pipers started dating one of the chorus girls and eventually married for a lifetime partnership. Torsonce floodlight display was an annual event for a while. The Bullock family, who lived there, were very supportive towards the band. Gala silver band, Girls Guildry dancers, Boys Brigade gymnasts and local talented musicians and singers put on a two hour show for a good attendance on both nights. I remember going out of a trapdoor onto a flat ledge three stories up on the roof and playing Lone Piper in pitch darkness with a spotlight on me. Where was health and safety then?
Fairgrieve's garage employed a variety of tradesmen in those days. An apprentice motor mechanic from Gorebridge, who was a side drummer in the Lady Victoria Colliery pipe band at Newtongrange, persuaded me to visit them on a practice night which I did just after New Year 1964. They had entered three piping quartets for an indoor competition at Motherwell on 29th February and were a piper short. That was me now a member of two bands, but on the understanding that Stow would take preference when dates clashed. I must say that the experience I gained at Newtongrange was passed on to Stow, which was a formidable asset and indeed a lifeline to the survival of the band. One of the benefits was that we got a set of matching chanters to replace the mixed lot we had persevered with for years. The chanters were easier to tune and created a better sound. We also acquired their drums when they upgraded and again their chanters when plastic was introduced. I believe Stow Pipe Band would not have been in a position to survive if Newtongrange had not come to the rescue.
When Bob Milne retired in 1968, he had to vacate the Police station house as it was then. He moved to a council house in Middleton, but there was no mention that he would give up the pipe band. The next edition of the Southern Reporter carried a brief story about Bob's retirement and to everyone's surprise I was now pipe major of the band. If I had not the experience playing at Newtongrange I doubt that I could have taken on the responsibility.
There was a time in the early 1970's when the band was at a really low ebb. We never had a committee in Bob's day. I decided we should call a general meeting to see if we could inject more local interest to keep Stow Pipe Band alive. I asked the late Tom Murray, who was a great servant to many organisations in Stow, to chair the meeting, to which he willingly agreed. As a result of that meeting, we formed a committee and had an influx of raw beginners, keen to learn. We more or less started the band up from scratch. It was a struggle, but we made it!
For our first engagements we enjoyed some support from Gala Ex-Service and Newtongrange Pipe Band members. In return I did all I could to help them whenever possible. Eventually we joined in with the Hawick and massed Borders Pipe Bands under directorship of Pipe Major Bob Short MBE. Bob could organise a massed band display of 14 bands in those days such as the Queen's Silver jubilee display at Berwick on Tweed in 1977 and the Edinburgh Festival parade. Having so many band members to contact, Bob had no problem arranging pipers and drummers to go overseas to promote British goods, which of course started off with Hawick woollens and Border textiles.
In November 1978 I was one of a combined Borders band of 26 members to have one month of preparation for a British Trade Fair to be held in the Olympic indoor stadium in Mexico City. On the last night there was a request for two pipers to play at the Polo club. Most of the guys wanted to pack their kit and go out on the town before leaving, so Neil Innes and I volunteered. It was to prove a move unexpectedly rewarded in kind. A piper from the Biggar Pipe Band had been going to the Middle East in February 1979 for a British promotion organised by Market Development Overseas (MDO) to coincide with the Queen's visit to the Gulf States. He slipped on ice and broke his arm. Early in January, I was opening the shop door after lunch and there was Bob Short sitting in his car. He greeted me with the words, " Happy New Year! How would you like a trip to the Middle East?" That was the first contract Bob had with MDO. So there I was, a solo piper in Doha with a team of 24, which included Miss UK, a Town crier, magician, Lyn Paul and band, Gordon Banks, Pru Leith, The Royal Shakespeare company, fashion models and various company demonstrators and reps.
A year later MDO phoned me about a piping job in Japan. I said it would have to be arranged through Bob Short as he was the link for all within the Border bands activities. However, when I called Bob, he said "I am not able to take on new contracts but if you are interested just make your own arrangements. I'll leave it in your hands."
There I was, entrusted with arranging pipers, drummers and dancers, to perform where and when required by MDO, as entertainers in British promotions in the Far East. In all I have been on ten Far East promotions with a number of other Borders band members, helping the British export, trade and sell anything from confectionary to motor cars. On one occasion I was with a mini band in Seoul, South Korea at the time Prince Charles and Princess Diana were there. It was a highly controversial tour, and us two pipers, with four highland dancers, were in Japan at the same time.
It was a wonderful opportunity to visit faraway places and experience different cultures. We were by no means tourists, as a very strict timetable was followed with military precision. I remember one occasion, preparing for a live radio programme, "You will play for 7 seconds." …….. utterly impossible when it takes time to strike the drones in, then the chanter. They managed to improvise by recording us playing them, editing 7 seconds in before the live interview.
The Japanese were the most punctual. I recall once, on the first day, we were briefed and had rehearsal on site. In the evening, "We will meet in the hotel lobby at 18:29." 18:30 we were getting into taxis and heading off to a traditional banquet with the Managing Director to meet our interpreters. Amanda, Miss Great Britain, was the leading light. She led the way but forgot about the Japanese footwear custom. Her stiletto heels did not impress our hosts. Our interpreters were mostly students hoping to improve their English. On a six-week trip to Japan, having a week in different cities, Kevin Stewart and I did get three days off, but not together. In Kurume I had a day off before Kevin, so he had lunch in the canteen with Tia who kept a notebook. Next day Kevin was off, and I was having a light lunch with Tia, as blowing bagpipes on a full stomach is not my way. She thought I should have more food, but I politely declined, so consulting her notebook she inquired, "YOU ARE BAGGI?" I don't think her English teacher would approve of Kevin's Scottish dialect, so I advised her to delete.
It is amazing the people we met with connections back home. I could write pages about unexpected meetings but to mention a few. In Mexico City I met Iris Murray who was at Stow primary school with my wife. In Doha, I saw John Todd, son of Major Todd, who acquired the first band uniforms. In Taipei, I met Ian McDougal who was working for the Australian tourist board. His father, who emigrated, was born at Bassendean Gordon, where his cousin still farms. At the Suzuka circuit in Japan, I saw Ray Russell, whose father Bert Russell I had played golf with, was manager of the Britannic Insurance Co. Galashiels.
What we did then could not be done now. Playing several performances every day meant at least two kilts were required as we couldn't wear the same one two days running. Full No 1 dress was worn only on special occasions such as at opening ceremonies for TV or visiting dignitaries. We also had what we called shirt sleeve No 1 (white shirt and tie without doublet or plaid) other times No 2 dress with or without the jacket and glengarry instead of feather bonnet. It would be impossible to board a plane as we did then, when there was no security check. On that subject, in March 2001 I was on holiday in California and went through two American airport scanners that did not detect my metal hips. That was six months before the 9/11 terrorist incident of the Twin Towers.
In 1984, Stow sports centenary year, several events to mark the occasion were organised. One item was the revival of the Torsonce floodlight display. I had been scribbling bits of music and eventually put four parts of a 4/4 march together. Jimmy Pryde, who was Pipe Major of the Royal Scotts Dragoon Guards when they recorded Amazing Grace which topped the hit parade, was a frequent customer of ours, so I asked for his opinion. He was quite complimentary. I gave it the title "Torsonce Floodlight Display 1984" and the band played it for the opening march at Torsonce. As a reminder I have had the tune printed and attached for prosperity.
After twenty years as Pipe Major, I thought it was time to let someone else take over while I was still able to give my support. Luckily Stuart Robinson and his pal Alan McGill, pupils of the defunct Gala British Legion Pipe Band and members of the successful Peebles band, joined Stow and were happy to relieve me of my Pipe Major duties and still are doing a good job today. I did continue to play in the band until the mid 1990's, when I underwent two hip replacement operations, a timely reminder that age was catching up with me.
A couple of years after retiring from the band, I had a call from Cammy Renwick Hawick Pipe Band. Cammy had been on Far East promotions and was left with a few remnants of a band and needed help to fulfil a St Andrews night engagement in Hawick. With my help we made up a mini band of four pipers and through the winter were able to get a reasonable size band on its feet again. I ended up playing with Hawick for fourteen years with various days of success on the competition field. I feel my time playing with Hawick Pipe Band was in some way compensation for the trips that I had to British Promotions far and wide, thanks to the trust that Bob Short bestowed upon me. Maybe this was because I volunteered to play rather than enjoy a night out in Mexico City many years ago. Bob also gave Neil Innes a free hand with the regular visits to Italy, which I also had the pleasure of on three occasions when I was available.
The last competition I played in was the day after my 73rd birthday. I pulled out of a golf competition to make up the minimum number required to get a late entry at Melrose. We won both our standard grade set and the March Strathspey and Reel which meant we also won the best Borders band trophy, a fitting time for me to bow out gracefully. The following year, Stow and Hawick joined up to form The Scottish Borders Pipe Band, a move that proved to be very successful in competitions, but prize money is not enough to sustain a band without sponsorship. All bands have their ups and downs, but to see youngsters joining gives us hope for the future and I have noticed in my time, most have a positive attitude to life and will find a suitable working career.
Since giving up Pipe Band and not keeping up regular practice, I have been playing solo events such as weddings, social nights, Burns suppers etc. This is fine, as long as I know long enough in advance, to prepare myself and the pipes. In April, and on the 22nd October 2015, I had the upper part of both hip joints replaced, not bad, as they had lasted over twenty years. Six weeks after my second operation, I was able to play, leading the torchlight parade to switch on the Lauder Christmas Lights. I didn't risk playing golf again until February!
I must say that I never professed to be a great piper, but I do believe that my input was rewarded because I was in the right place at the right time. I did what I could and didn't let anyone down. Many thanks must go to my wife Jean, whose tolerance goes without question. It has been a life more than I could ever have imagined when as a school boy in wartime and a total stranger handed me a parcel on the school bus.
Stow has a Pipe Band to be proud of. Long may it continue.