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Wick Pipe Band - A Brief History by the Band Convener Willie Lyall

27th January 2003

(Written in 1994 to mark the Band's 75th Anniversary)

Since the band was first formed in 1919, we seem to have been a band of several names, several uniforms, and many ups and downs. We have had internal battles, external battles, special meetings, extraordinary meetings, promises and threats, not to mention dramas, which led to fall out and decline.

As an old piper once said "organising a pipe band is like pushing a barrow-load of dung uphill in three feet of snow". But in spite of all that the Band always bounces back and thankfully there have been many more "ups" than "downs", which is due to the determination of a strong hard core who were always there and always prepared to battle the odds and push that barrow.

There has been a long history of pipers and drummers in Wick going back to at least the Boer War. They served in the "volunteers" and "territorial" Battalions, as part-time soldiers. It was not until after the "Great War" of 1914-18 when soldiers came home that the first voluntary Pipe Band was formed in 1919. They were first named " The Wick Comrades of the Great War Pipe Band" and were part of that organisation which in 1921 affiliated to the "Royal British Legion". The band continued on its own and was renamed " The Wick Pipe Band".

During those early years the band was very popular in the town and enjoyed great support. The ex-army members in their ranks would have given them good discipline and a high standard of playing. Their uniforms were military full dress Mackenzie tartan kilts and plaids, buff tunics, white belts, Glengarries and white spats. The first Pipe major was David Steven, Cruives and the Drum Major was R Murray, Demster Street. An excellent beginning and should have led to better things but sadly it didn't happen. By the late 1920s the Band just seemed to fall into decline. By 1930 there was once again a cry for a Pipe band, and the Band was duly reformed. they had no uniforms so funds had to be raised. For about two years they played in civvies to raise funds as well as running the usual raffles, jumble sales and dances etc. Saturday evening parades at that time were a great earner for the band. Wages were always paid on Saturdays probably some as late as 5.00pm or 6.00pm. The shops were open till 9.00pm so the street was always busy with evening shopping. Funds were eventually raised, plus a generous sponsorship from Dr. Macrae. New uniforms were purchased from Mackenzie and Miller, Drapery Store, Bridge Street, Wick and because of Dr. Macrae's generosity the Band wore Macrae tartan. The uniforms were private dress with black tunics, tartan hose and buckled shoes, white shirts, bow ties, hair sporrans and Kilmarnock bonnets. This Band continued very successfully till the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

Obviously many members were called up to serve in the forces but those who were left formed the "Home Guard" Pipe Band, which continued until hostilities terminated. In 1946 the Band was reformed and once again got off to a good start. The old private dress uniforms were used for a few years, but it soon became obvious that the uniforms were old and needed to be replaced. It was decided to change back to Mackenzie tartan and full military dress, but this time the pipers wore green tunics, black belts, black Glengarries, hair sporrans and white spats. The drummers differed by wearing red tunics and white belts and diced Glengarries. Later the drummers added white hackles.

It was during the fifties the Band was often billed as "Wick Mens Pipe Band". This was because we now had the competition of the "Wick Girls Pipe Band" and it had to be made clear who was playing at a particular event. The Band played through this period without any serious trouble but during the late fifties the decline had once again begun.

By the early 1960's the Band was only accepting the necessary engagements. It dithered till 20th September 1962 when a special meeting was held to reform the band and was once again the band was back on parade. This band came through the sixties in very commendable form. There were many fund raising events to upgrade uniforms and equipment, and they accepted many engagements. During the seventies period, Band strength came and went, as did general interest. It never again disbanded but around 1973 a special meeting was called to pull the Band together again before it once again got on the slippery slope. This time there was still a good hard core in the Band who successfully brought it back on course. From that day to this, apart from the usual few hic-ups, the Band has never looked back. Training and fund raising were successfully organised and as the Band picked up so public interest grew and the Band once again became busy. It was about this time we again had a uniform change. The drummers changed to green tunics and black belts to match the pipers and the whole Band changed to feather bonnets. The Band continued to improve and was under good management.

It was during 1984 that the Band saw its next significant change. In the summer of 1984 we were invited to attend a Drum Head Service at the Riverside, Wick when the Wick Branch of the Royal British Legion Scotland were presented with their colours. We played massed bands with 2 British Legion Bands, Dingwall and Grantown-On-Spey. This service and parade impressed the Band members and at their next meeting the question was raised "Why don't we become a British Legion Band". The Band was already on a better footing than it had been for years but why not stabilize it even more and get the administrative backing of the Wick branch. It would certainly help to thwart any future decline that may happen. The Band decided to approach the Branch, and after several meetings between both sides it was decided the union should take place hopefully to the benefit of Band and Branch. On 2nd November 1984 the Band changed its name to the "Wick RBLS Pipe Band". Since then the Pipe Band has had the benefit of meeting other RBLS Pipe Bands having attended 8 massed Band retreats in Edinburgh. Our present Pipe Major, Bobby Coghill and Drum Major Grant Lyall have been selected as Senior Pipe Major and Lead Drummer at the more recent of these parades. Some of our members have attended conventions and meetings in Edinburgh and Bobby is now a member of the Royal British Legion Scotland Piping Committee. It was because of the experience gained at these parades that we were able to organise our main highlight at home. The "Quatercentenary Massed Pipe Band Parade" on 15th July 1989. Ten Bands took the town by storm and it we as the biggest ever Massed Pipe Band Parade ever held in Wick, and it was one of the main highlights of the Quatercentenary celebrations.

Since then the Band has continued to progress, our main problem today is trying to cope with all the engagements we're asked to play at. Sometimes over 50 a year. Add all that to the necessary meetings and practices and you have a very busy voluntary organisation, especially at the height of the season.
Another change in recent years has been the addition of ladies in the Pipe Band. We have 2 lady drummers and 4 lady pipers, 3 of the pipers are from the ex "Wick Girls Pipe Band". All of the ladies have been of a great benefit to the band.

The Band's appearance today is the smartest it has ever been. This is due not only to the support of our own "Wickers" but to the many organisations, businesses and authorities who gave grants and sponsorship. We will always be indebted to them and the general public for their generous support.
So what have we accomplished over the seventy-five years? Many Bands can boast of great achievements at winning many competitions and traveling abroad. Our greatest achievement has been pushing the barrow of dung to the top of the hill and keeping the Band equipped and on parade. Now we look forward to "Pipe Band Week" which begins with our 75th anniversary massed band parade. I hope the old stalwarts are looking down, because so many gave such a tremendous effort on our behalf. I wish I could name them all, but I will mention one "Pipe Major Dada Davidson BEM" who served the Band for 64 years and received his decoration in 1984 for his service to piping. I asked him once "why do we do it?" and his answer was "Wur Pipe Band Daft".

My thanks to drummer Sandy Reid for his painstaking research.


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