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stories from some of the world's top pipers

Gordon Walker

Gordon spends his days teaching and his evening playing, with pipe bands and a hugely successful solo competing and recital schedule. When he left the Army he played with Scottish Power Pipe Band until one day he received a visit from an old Army colleague. “I got a visit from Captain Hunter of the 52nd Lowland Regiment based in Maryhill. Their Pipes and Drums were struggling a bit and they were looking to recruit, and he came round to see if he could sway me back into uniform. He came up to the Pipers Tryst at the Piping Centre for a coffee and a chat and asked me if I would go to see the Colonel of the Regiment, Colonel Pickard, who I knew anyway. They showed me the Pipes and Drums Hall and it was great. When I asked if I could meet the rest of the band I was told that therein lies the difficulty, there was only one piper left! Corporal John Ferguson. They wanted me to recruit a band, including a leading drummer.”

A huge task, but he did it, and they were ready to go in Grade 2 by the start of the next season with 15 pipers. So how did he manage it? “Lots of lies! It was a new band going into Grade 2 with new uniforms so they would look good and of course the TA paid for all the buses to take us wherever we were going, gave us food and they paid us to play, with double wages for the weekend and quarter or half wages when we practiced, so the guys were getting paid as well. We got into Grade 2 because they knew the calibre of the pipers – Finlay Johnston, Tam Campbell, Gary Caruthers, Calum MacCrimmon, and lots of students who would come in and out for a season or two. We lasted five years and did really well. I am pleased and proud to say that we were the best in the army, lifting thirty two trophies in one year alone.”

As so often happens with pipe bands though, the members found it difficult to maintain the momentum of combining military duties with band work, even although the conditions were better than in many civilian bands. “The TA band ran on the same basis as a regular unit, smart band with lots of uniforms, but it was difficult to retain the band because the army wanted them to be soldiers and I told the Colonel that the guys were there as musicians. They were all professional men in their own right, many of them married with families, who were only really there for the piping. I told him they would vote with their feet, that here would be nobody left, and that’s what happened. We got down to eight or nine pipers and I asked the guys if they wanted to split up and go their own way to other bands but they all said no. They would rather stick with me. We would go as a unit to Civvy Street.”

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