History


The Ayr Pipe Band was formed in 1910 with Pipe-major James Wallace in charge. After a break due to the First World War the band was resuscitated in 1934 under Pipe-Major William Johnston. There are 23 players in the band, which usually competes in Grade III. Recent trophies won include (a) Second Prize (Sir Walter Scott Trophy) in Grade II contest, Cowal Gathering, 1946 (b) Championship Cup for Drumming at Ayrshire contest, Girvan, 1946 Second Prize Grade III, Renfrew contest 1947 Ayrshire Pipe Band Championship, Girvan 1947.

The Band was self-supporting, although some financial assistance was obtained from Ayr Town Council for civic parades and public park engagements. Four pipers and two drummers served with HM Forces in the Late War. The patrons of the Band were General Sir Charles Fergusson, GCMG, MVO, DSO; Lieut. Colonel Sir Thomas Moore, CBE, MP; Colonel Claud L. C. Hamilton, CMG, DSO.

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Ayr Pipe Band Society history dates back to 1933 and was the creation of a young Dumfries Solicitor Robert G Anderson who practised in Ayr. He was approached by a former Military Pipe-Major and his brother (the Johnstons) to form a civilian band. He had no previous knowledge of Pipe Band music. Willie Johnson was a Pipe-Major with the R.S.F. and his brother Richard was Leading Drummer. They wanted to break away from the traditional Army Bands. Willie Johnson's son Richard was also involved. Mr Anderson agreed to help. His organising abilities and influence within the District were to become the strength on which the project was set.

The enthusiasm of the Johnston brothers was infectious. Interested groups in the town were approached by Mr Anderson and a trust was formed to raise funds in order to purchase uniforms and instruments. The term Society was added to Ayr Pipe Band as a result of this, and so 'Ayr Pipe Band Society' was born.

Ordinary membership was 2s. 6d. (Twelve and a halfpence) per year. Life membership was 10s. 6d (fifty-two and a halfpence) No subscription was required from Playing Members of the Band who were regarded as members of the Society.

The patrons associated with the Society at that time were:

The Marquis of Ailsa, 
General Sir Charles Fergusson 
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Moore MP
Colonel Claud L.C. Hamilton of Rozelle.

Appointed officials in 1933 were President, Alex J. Fergusson. Vice president, James Sloan, Hon. Secretary and Treasurer were Robert G Anderson.

The trust formed consisted of Ayr Town Council, Ayr Burns Club, Ayr Burgh Choir, An Comun Gaelic Ayr Branch, Ayr Rotary Club and the Ayr Branch of the British Legion, together with the Pipe Band Committee representatives. The Society in the late seventies was decimated by regionalisation. The present premises are the same as the original with the addition of the Gibson MacDonald rooms. Funds raised in the societies infancy managed to kit the playing members out in the Wallace tartan because of his (William Wallace) historical association with the town. Programmes for local engagements were printed in the Chairman's (Mr Fergusson) printing office. Volunteers handed these out to members of the public so they could follow the pipe music and dances.

In those days the public performances were accompanied by a group of dancers who performed flings, hornpipe jigs and reels. When the tunes and dancers changed a number board would indicate where the change took place and the public could follow the tunes and dances as they were performed - thus creating an educational interest. Mr Anderson's organisation was quite superb. Members of the Band would play at local fetes, galas etc. Dancers such as Gordon Callaghan whose father was Pipe Sergeant and of the original players, George McDowall, Ken and Tommy Cunningham, were pipers. Hugh Kennedy was leading drummer along with Jackie Cavan (who was also goalkeeper for Auchinleck Talbot). Others remembered were Peter McLaughlin, Sandy Wright, Tom Cousins and his wife who was also an excellent piper, Tom Martin senior, (piper) who joined in 1936 and became a playing member in 1946.

The Band played an active roll in the community until the outbreak of war in 1939. The members were mostly coal miners who were not called upon to the serve in the War. However, due to the turmoil of the War, blackouts etc. practices and performances were suspended until 1945. All uniforms were collected in and stored in the towns Carnegie Library.

Practices commenced in 1946 under the auspices of Mr Anderson with Pipe-Major Johnston at the helm and the first competition took place in Girvan, a Grade III contest. Pipe-Major Johnston retired in 1951. A pre war member James Dungavel was elected as Pipe-Major. Another well-known player in those days was Bob McCroskie who succeeded Jimmy Dungavel as Pipe-Major. The Band competed throughout 1946 1947 and 1948 progressing to Grade II. They appealed against upgrading as many players were leaving to work abroad (a migration that was to again blight the band in the early 80's)

Andrew McKissock (Piper) arrived in 1952 and is still a Pillar of the Band today. Also remembered are players like Willie Gilmour, John Manley, Mark Connell and Willie Whiskers (a tenor drummer from Fife). This was the start of the No1 Uniform days and it cost £1500 to dress a full band in No1's at that time.

Such is the history of the band that the names of members are like a roll of honour, with names like Johnston, Dungavel, Martin, McCroskie, Cunningham, Callaghan, Kennedy, Connell etc always being synonymous with the Band.

It is worthy of note that the Band achieved Grade 1 status under the auspices of Bob McCroskie during 1961.

In 1970 a young David Clark took over as Pipe-Major having served the Band as Pipe sergeant, Secretary and treasurer up until then. His Pipe Sergeant was Andrew McKissock who started a programme to teach young boys the art of piping. As a result of his classes and the drive and enthusiasm of David Clark, assisted by his other Pipe Sergeant Ian Mathieson and lead Drummer Bert Boyd, the band reached its greatest heights. All the youngsters went through a course of theory and practice, which was recognised by the R.S.P.B.A. and Piping College. This work progressed, culminating in a Grade 1 Band in 1977 and 1978 finishing 6th in the World Championships at Lanark. At about this time the Band made one of the biggest decisions in its history to change from Wallace Tartan to McLean of Duart.

During the seventies and eighties under the leadership of Clark, McKissock, Mathieson and Boyd the Band won many honours and set a record of thirteen Branch Champions in succession. They made two trips to the Canadian National Exhibition and on their first trip won the competition. There then followed many trips to Brittany to take part in Celtic Festivals. Toronto Canada, Lorient, Nantes and St Germaine in France are names casually mentioned when nostalgia creeps in, which is a far cry from the pre-war days in places like Girvan, Prestwick and Cowal. 
Bert Boyd retired from the Band in 1983. The Lead drummer then became Tom Andrews. David Clark retired from the Band in 1987 having joined the Band as a young boy in 1956.

The roll of honour continued to add family names to its list. Clark, Boyd, Andrew, Miller, McPate, Milby, Black, McLanachan, Milligan, Walker, McLaughlin, Martin, Ralston, Ash, Murray, Jardine, McCormack, Whiteside, Kerr and not forgetting Peter Smith whom today along with Drew McKissock, Kieran McPate and John Jardine are stalwarts of the band.

1988 saw a young partner ship on Pipe-Major Cameron Currie and Drum Major Tom Andrews having a fairly successful year. After a year the reins were handed over to Colin Whitelaw.

There has always been a thread of stability, which has run through the society since its inception, with Cameron and Colin becoming Pipe-Majors at a time when players were looking for instant success. It was an unenviable task to attempt to recapture the late 70's success. Migration blighted the Band again. Several pipers were to join the workforce, which would take them far afield, and with an ever increasing standard to meet, the RSPBA Grading Committee re-graded the band as Grade 2.

A further change of Pipe Major followed with Robert Thomson taking the reins. However following much effort on the part of the band members, the RSPBA Grading Committee re-graded the band this time as Grade 3.

In recent years the turnover of players has been like a stampede. The reasons for this probably have more to do with work, social conditions and circumstance than anything else. However the present crop of players have rediscovered the meaning of Ayr Pipe Band Society. Primarily to enjoy the art of Piping and Drumming and to look towards the promotion and encouragement of pipe band music. As a result we look forward with some confidence to a rewarding and enjoyable 21st century.

Under the leadership of Pipe Major Kieran McPate the band finished in 6th place finish in Grade 3 at the European Championships in Ayr 2000. This was the first prize won in a major championship by the Band for some years.

Turnover of players continues to be a problem that all Bands must face, however, with that in mind the family that was Ayr Pipe Band Society continues to this day.


The band would like to thank Kieran McPate Snr, Drew McKissock, Peter Smith and David Clark, for their contribution to this documentation.