Stuart joined Stow Pipe Band and took over as pipe major when Archie Anderson retired roughly 30 years ago.
I’m from Galashiels and I was actually born in Gala on the Gala Day. My interest in music came from my father’s side. He was an accordion player and he played other musical instruments as well. He worked at Clinkscales in Melrose. He repaired musical instruments too, so in our household there were always accordions, modern keyboards and things like that about. He could play most instruments like keyboard, guitar and even trombone, I think. There was always music in our household.
I started learning an instrument in primary three when I was about eight years old. I fancied learning the accordion like my father, but he was awfully busy. He noticed a pipe band in Galashiels were looking for people, so that’s what I started. I play primarily bagpipes but can also play whistles and other instruments related to bagpipes. My brother is a very keen guitarist, but my other brother doesn’t play anything at all. My son plays bagpipes now too. The Galashiels British Legion Pipe Band was where I started, but it doesn’t exist now.
At home there was lots of folk music, but my Dad also played in a band as well, so there was a lot of modern music also. I listen to everything but if you look at my ‘Spotify’ playlist it’s mainly folk music – that’s the playlists that are retained on the phone.
I became very fond of competing and so I moved to the Peebles Pipe Band. They were Grade two at the time and a very good band. From there I went straight to Stow where I have been for a long, long time now. Archie Anderson was pipe major at the time and when he retired, roughly 30 years ago, he asked if I would take it over. It seemed a good idea at the time.
The pipe band meets once a week, sometimes twice in the Summer when we do competitions. Stow church is our main practice hall. If that is busy or we’re putting on an extra practice, we may use the town hall. Sometimes we practice at the Mac Arts Centre in Galashiels. Most of our drummers are from the Newtongrange area funnily enough, so we sometimes practice in Newtongrange.
There are two bands really. We have Stow Pipe Band and then the competing part of the band is called Scottish Borders Pipe Band. The adult section compete in Grade 3. The juniors compete in Grade 4. The Grade 4 band has young people ranging from 12 upwards. We start teaching youngsters from primary 5. Typically, they are on the chanter for a year. It’s quite a long haul for them. At the moment we have 12 young pipers and around 5 young drummers. When they come to the band, we give them a trial period of about 6 lessons and then they can decide if they want to continue or not. We have a set method of teaching…. It’s a bit like learning any instrument. You learn exercises and the rudiments of music. At the moment we have two tutors, so we are very fortunate. We get a grant, or we have done so far, from the windfarm and we use the whole of the grant for tuition. Our piping tutor is John Connor, who played with Shotts and Dykehead World Champions, Grade 1; and our drumming tutor is David Henry. This really helps us and the band. It means we’ve got professional tutors.
On a Thursday night the church is full. It’s not got very many rooms. We take up every single space. We’re in the vestry, the main church, the pews and the bible class room as well. The youngsters come in usually in sets of 4, from 7 o’clock up until about 9 o’clock. The main pipe band are there from 7 o’clock as well and we go on to about 10 o’clock. We contact the local schools at the beginning of each new school year to encourage new youngsters to join us.
We reckon the ‘modern day’ band was set up in 1953. On the band’s 50th anniversary in 2003 we thought we would go to the Scottish championships in Dumbarton and just have a bash. We went to Dumbarton. We came off. We thought – ‘That went Ok!’ We went on to the parade at the end where they announce the winners…. and we won it! That was a fantastic day because it was totally unexpected. We were going there for a day out, not to win anything. The announcers thought we were from England. They announced us as Stow (as in blow) Pipe Band, from England, first prize.
British Championships 2018
We go abroad typically once a year. I think our first trip abroad would be probably about 2005/6. We were invited to play at a folk festival in Bilbao. Through playing at that one event we got many more invites to folk and music festivals. There is a section on our website that has some old photos of us.
Stow Pipe Band has an excellent reputation and for a village the size of Stow to have a band is quite a thing. We play for Sports day in Stow every year, but there aren’t many other occasions to play. Anyone is welcome to come along on a Thursday night to Stow Church and listen to us at our weekly practices ….. and some folk do. In the Summer we play