Strathendrick Pipe Band

village activities

A comforting and familiar sight and sound, the Band is a regular feature of village life, including its stirring playing at the annual Remembrance Sunday service and parade in November. Its weekly rehearsals at the Edmonstone Hall make themselves known to the Glasgow Road neighbours.

It was not actually the Blane Valley’s first local music group – that honour probably goes to the Blanefield Brass Band formed at the Printworks in the later years of the 1800s. There’s little information now remaining about its exploits, apart from a notice of what must have been a memorable New Year’s Eve concert at the works’ Hall featuring such “talented artistes as Miss M Eachran, a soprano from Glasgow, and Mr Alfred Edgar, the great negro comedian, vocalist and dancer”.

The band was originally formed as part of the wartime Home Guard, to be precise ‘S’ Company of the 3rd Dunbartonshire Battalion. Following the 1945 peace and the ‘Stand Down’ order to the Home Guard, the members decided to create the Strathendrick Pipe Band Association to continue its activities. Its objectives were …”to encourage piping and its kindred arts, ie country and Highland dancing.

“It is considered that such an association will prove a definite social aspect to the district. Already a considerable number of boys have received instruction in our national music and dancing. Any effort to promote and popularise our own Scottish cultural arts deserves the support of the community.”

 Its inaugural Pipe-Major was Tom McLean, a family name that has been closely associated with the band ever since.

The band’s focus has always been to bring in young people and enable them to learn new skills and become happy members of the band, while introducing audiences to traditional Scottish music – all with a firm emphasis on entertainment. Indeed during the war years there was a separate unit formed, the Strathendrick Juveniles, under the Pipe Major-ship of Tom McLean’s son – T.W. McLean – as young people were not then allowed to join a military organisation. This unit was integrated into the main band towards the end of the war.

In those early days band members were kitted out in Black Watch kilts and Army tunics. So attired it won its first trophy in 1947, the Ballochmyle Shield at the Cowal Games. Tutoring in piping and drumming was the main attraction for new recruits, not least because these skills were passed on free of charge by the senior band members. Practice sessions were held in the Haig scout hut at Balfron. Amongst the stalwart players and officials in those days was Jimmy ‘Habby’ Simpson, bass drummer and secretary.

From those early days the Strathendrick band endured the inevitable ups-and-downs of most volunteer-led organisations, with members coming and going in and out of ‘rival’ local bands, and finances often tight. It had a schedule of regular appearances, at local Highland games, county fairs, cattle shows, fetes, galas, church parades and indeed playing every Saturday during the summer in Drymen village square. However typically there was no charge for these appearances, the band being funded through a combination of player subscriptions and donations. Players would also pay for their own transport to such events.

One constant through those times was the McLean name, with four generations providing leadership at different stages. Founder Pipe Major Tom McLean, from Balfron, served as band leader on no fewer than three occasions.

The band still sports the tartan of the ~Anceint McLeans of Duart

During 1961 the band was provided with new kilts in the Hunting McLean tartan, and new tweed jackets, after some hard fund-raising by committee members. In 1964 it re-entered the competitions field, in the newly-formed Grade 4 category for smaller amateur bands with a minimum of six pipers and two drummers. It gained prizes in both major and minor competitions, without ever troubling the trophy engravers for outright first placings.

 In 1975 founder Tom McLean’s son, T.W., resigned as Pipe Major and was replaced by Tom Dingwall, who in turn retired two years later. He was succeeded by Pipe Major Archie B. Campbell from Blanefield where his dad had been a gardener on the Leddriegreen estate. PM Campbell would go on to hold the post on three other occasions and play a major role in the band’s long-term survival and successes. During his first reign Strathendrick again entered successfully in a number of competitions, in particular winning nine Grade 4 prizes in 1978 – considered a major achievement for a rural band.

A particular threat to the band’s future arose in 1982 when some of the senior players moved on. Then-Pipe Major Robert Cranston took over and stabilised the band by recruiting new members and creating a focus on training them up to become solid players.  More female players joined, a trend that has happily continued to this day. And by the time of its 50-year celebrations in 1994 the band boasted 25 members of which 15 were in the core chanter section.

The band then wore the tartan of the Ancient McLeans of Duart, in keeping with their founder and his descendants, the tartan that it still sports today.

Amongst Strathblane and Blanefield players and office-bearers during those years were local figures like John Muir, who with brother Kenny ran the village plumbers J&K Muir (and was also a coach-player of the Blanefield Thistle football in the 1970s-80s); Alistair MacDonald, Iain MacGregor and David Brown. Its appearances at the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Blanefield War Memorial, followed by the traditional parade through the village to the Parish Church, were a highlight.

Tom McLean (top) and John Muir (above) passing on their skills to a new generation of pipers, as they tutor the chanter classes in the 1990s

Strathendrick Pipe Band celebrated its first 50 years with a bash at Duntreath Castle. An accompanying piece in the Milngavie Herald included mention of its first local sponsors in the form of the Drymen Volvo Motor Company and its owner Ian Philp. Indeed as the association has necessarily focused more on commercial activities and fund-raising, other local business figures such as Sir Arnold Clark, Jim McPherson and Jim Hamilton have generously donated to keeping the band’s pipes skirling and its drums beating, while wearing splendid outfits.

The Pipe Band welcoming the announcement of sponsorship from Ian Philp and the Drymen Motor Company

Into the 2000s and Strathendrick Pipe Band continues as a significant force in the Blane Valley community. It has established relationships with local tourism bodies, ensuring that it is invited to play at many events. And it has built up a stock of chanters and pipe reeds to enable new pupils to acquire the basic equipment to learn their skills.

Under long-serving Pipe Major Colin Johnston it still rigorously competes in most local, national and even World piping championships. And most weekends, come rain, shine or midges (and often all three in the same day), the 25-strong band can be seen and heard playing at a wide variety of events.

A highlight of the pipe band’s calendar is its appearnace at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Blanefield War Memorial, followed by the traditional parade through the village to Strathblane Parish Church


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