About Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band

The first year

In 1972 a group of Boghall residents including Bob Austin (the band’s first president), James Galloway (the local butchery manager) and Minnie Waddell met to discuss the possibilities of forming a local pipe band. Shortly afterwards they formed the first committee of the band with other members including Mr & Mrs J Latta, Mr & Mrs I MacKay and Mr & Mrs I Reid. The committee then recruited their first pipe major, Bobby Allan, a former piper with Torphichen & Bathgate Pipe Band who resided in Boghall. They subsequently advertised in the local Courier paper looking for children to join the band and before long practices were underway in the annex classrooms of St Mary’s Academy in Bathgate.

After a short spell in charge P/M Bobby Allan’s work commitments increased and he was unable to continue running band practices. As such Kenny Watson, also a former member of Torphichen & Bathgate, took over as Pipe Major. Kenny also had a short stay in the role with P/M Bob Martin taking over in 1972. Bob had accumulated many years of sterling service to the Torphichen band and proved to be a fantastic servant to Boghall in the years to come. As Bob took over the need for tutors also increased and Bob was ably assisted by Clem Sim and Ian McNamee.

During this founding year numerous committee members carried out significant work behind the scenes to establish a structure for the band and to begin fundraising. They were very grateful for the support they received from the local community and received notable contributions from local businessman John Hardie and publican James Boyle of the Volunteer Arms in Bathgate.

P/M Bob Martin (1972-1986)

September 1973 saw the band gain their first exposure to pipe band competition at Peebles. It is worth noting that prior to the contest the band had to obtain permission from the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) to compete in civilian dress due to a lack of uniforms. Despite no previous competition experience the band exceeded all expectations, winning the Grade 4 contest - a sign of things to come perhaps? The following season (1974) was very successful with the band winning the Grade 4 Champion of Champions title and gaining promotion to Grade 3. A remarkable achievement for a band formed only two years prior.

Over the following years the band consolidated the progress they had made and continued to attract a lot of local children keen to learn the pipes and drums. This was particularly notable during the winter of 1976-77 and as such it was decided to form a Novice Juvenile band. The 1977 season was again extremely successful with the senior band gaining promotion to grade 2 and the Novice band winning the Champion of Champions title in their first year and with it promotion to the Juvenile grade. Incidentally, the average age of the senior band that year with the exception of four players was 13!

At the end of that season Bob Martin invited Tom Brown, a drummer with the famous Shotts & Dykehead pipe band, to take full control of the drum corps. Tom had supplied the band with talented young drummers for a number of years but taking over on a formal basis proved to be the start of a famed drumming legacy now known throughout the pipe band world. 1978 and 1979 saw the band’s significant success continue, winning the Grade 2 Champion of Champions award in both seasons. This was another remarkable achievement and earned the senior band promotion to Grade 1 for the 1980 season, a mere 8 years after the band‘s inception.

In their first season in Grade 1 the band made an immediate impact, achieving 4th place at the World Championships that year (1980) and 2nd place at the European Championships at Shotts. Success continued during these early years in Grade 1, winning the British Championships in 1983 and finishing runners-up to Strathclyde Police at the World Championship in Glenrothes, missing the top prize by only ½ point.

Boghall‘s most successful year in those early days came in 1986 when they won both the Scottish Championships at Stranraer and the British Championships at Birmingham, finishing runners-up in the Champion of Champions table by only two points to Strathclyde Police.

L/D Tom Brown (1978-1991)

Tom Brown, a member of Shotts & Dykehead’s drum corps under Alex Duthart, was already well established as a prolific drumming instructor in the West Lothian area before being asked by Bob Martin in 1975 to supply drummers and help out at the then Grade 4 Boghall band and again in 1977 for their new Novice Juvenile Band.

When he decided to have a year out from playing with Shotts in 1977 Bob Martin asked him to join the band and take over the full-time leadership of the Boghall drum corps. When Tom joined for the 1978 season half of the Novice corps, including his son Gordon, were ready to go into the senior band in its first season in Grade 2. The band and Tom’s corps went on to win just about every major Championship and competition they entered over the next two seasons in Grade 2.

In the band’s first season in Grade 1, the drum corps lifted the Cowal Championship – their first of many titles in Grade 1 – and the following season (1981) saw them lift the World Championship drumming title in Hazelhead Park, Aberdeen with a drum corps with an average age of around 15. This was the first of a fine hat trick of world drumming championships, a feat not often achieved at that time. During the eighties, the corps went on to lift every major drumming prize and was the first corps to win the “Alex Duthart Memorial Trophy” for the Grade 1 Champion of Champions Drum Corps.

In 1991 Tom decided to retire from the Grade 1 Band to spend more time with the Novice, Juvenile and Grade 3 corps’ and handed over the reins of the Grade 1 corps to his son, Gordon. However, when the then Grade 3 Band were promoted to Grade 2 a year later Tom was convinced to take over as Leading Drummer of the Grade 2 band.

Over the next eight years, Tom and the Grade 2 drum corps went on to win every major drumming award including three Grade 2 World Championship titles. Since that time Tom has stepped down from active competition and the structure of the organisation has changed. However, the experience gained from having a Boghall feeder system through the Grade 2 band has been continued and to this day almost all drummers joining the Grade 1 corps have received tuition from Tom or Gordon via the Novice and Juvenile corps’.

Tom now dedicates a lot of his time to teaching drummers joining the Novice Juvenile band and takes great pride at watching their journey through the Boghall organisation to the Grade 1 corps. His ability to get the best out of each player within the Novice corps is unsurpassed and we are very grateful for the time and effort he commits to the band.

Evolution (P/M Craig Walker, 1987 -1995)

At the end of the 1986 season Bob Martin stepped down as pipe major after seven long and successful years at the top of Grade 1. Bob handed over the reigns to Craig Walker who was one of the original members of the band from 1972 until 1982 when his work took him to London. Whilst down south Craig competed with the British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band under Harry McNulty but returned to play with Boghall for Bob‘s final season in 1986.

Craig led the band for nine years during which time the band achieved continued success in competition. Some highlights included winning the 1987 Scottish Championships (his first year in charge), the 1989 European Championships at Stranraer and the 1994 Cowal Championships. 1994 was also noteworthy for the band‘s runner-up spot at the World Championship in Glasgow in a very tightly contested event. This was the band’s third time being placed 2nd at the “Worlds” in Grade 1 and the big prize has remained tantalisingly elusive to this day.

The band also recorded their second album, ‘The Rubic Cube’ under Craig’s leadership in 1989 and made an appearance in that celebrated pipe band concert venue, the County Hall in Ballymena, the same year. At the end of the 1995 season, Craig‘s career took him south once more, this time to Southampton and due to the distance involved he handed over control of the band to his younger brother, Ross.

New Leaders: P/M Ross Walker, 1996-present

Ross started taking lessons from Bob Martin and his brother Craig in 1976 and had his first taste of competition at the end of the 1977 season with the Novice Juvenile band. He progressed through the ranks of the band, eventually becoming a Grade 1 player in 1983 at the age of 14.

During the 1986-89 seasons, in addition to his Grade 1 commitments, Ross also took on the duties as P/M of the Juvenile band. This was a successful time for the Juvenile band, winning most of the competitions they entered - including the 5 major titles in 1988. This experience was to prove incredibly useful with Ross taking over the senior role in the organisation in 1996.

The first year of Ross‘s stewardship saw the band placed 5th at the Worlds and similar positions in the other championships that year. This was achieved despite losing nine pipers from that 1994-95 corps, most of whom left to devote more time to families and careers. The following three years saw the band enter a transition period as pipers were ”grown” from the Grade 2 and Juvenile bands and others recruited externally. It took some time for this new pipe corps to gel and produce the performances expected of Boghall, however the first signs of improvement became apparent by 1999. This improvement continued through the 2000 season with the band achieving a top 6 place in each of the five championships and, more importantly, achieving consistently high levels of performance. The revival of the band’s competition efforts was confirmed when the band re-captured the Cowal Championships in 2000 and the European Championship in 2003.

During this time the band also recorded their third CD, Inspired in Belfast. This was a live recording of a concert at The Spires Centre and captured the band in fine form in preparation for the highly successful 2001 season. In 2004 the band continued to compete at a high level whilst also taking on the pre-worlds concert hosted by the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band. The band delivered a sterling performance accompanied by the Whitburn Brass Band and The Porridge Men. The concert was recorded and is available on the band’s fourth CD.

Since that time the band has continued to compete at the top end of Grade 1 and has consistently placed in the top six at major championships. Between 2006 and 2010 the band started to reap the rewards of a re-established Novice and Juvenile setup with a number of players graduating to the Grade 1 band. Over time the performances increased in consistency and the real benefits of this were seen during a very successful 2010 season during which the band won the Cowal Championships and placed third in the Champion of Champions table.

Most recently, Ross has led the band through an incredibly busy and successful 40th year, with the band winning two major championships, the European’s in Belfast and the Cowal Championships for the second time in three years. The band also returned to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall stage and put on a very well received concert, Forte, which was testament to the hard work put in by all the band, but particularly the excellent musical direction of Ross and L/D Gordon Brown.

New Leaders: L/D Gordon Brown, 1992-present

From an early age Gordon showed a keen interest in drumming. His father, Tom, taught him on an informal basis during his early years, but in 1976, at the age of 12, he took up drumming seriously. He joined Boghall’s Novice Juvenile Band in November that year, where his dad was already teaching youngsters. Shortly afterwards Gordon placed 6th in the Juvenile Section of the 1977 World Solo Drumming Championship at his first attempt and the following season, Gordon and the Novice corps won the drumming prize in every contest they entered including all five major championships.

In 1978, Gordon was promoted to the Grade 2 corps under the leadership of his father. The two seasons that followed saw Gordon and the corps win almost every major championship drumming award and at solo events, Gordon steadily moved up the prize lists at the World Championships. During this time Gordon became involved at his dad’s famous ‘Tuesday night drumming class’ and since that time either Tom or Gordon have taught almost every member that has graduated to the Grade 1 corps.

In 1991, Gordon took over as leading drummer of the Grade 1 corps from his father. Since then his corps have consistently challenged for the drumming prize at major championships and have won the Scottish, British, European and Cowal Drumming Championships on multiple occasions. In 2001 Gordon achieved a lifetime ambition when his corps won the World Championship title. The corps came close to repeating this feat in 2011 when they won the MSR drumming prize, before going on to lift the overall title again in 2012. Gordon’s corps have also shown great consistency across championship seasons and have won the Champion of Champions award in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

On the solo side, Gordon won the senior Juvenile section at the World Solos in 1981 and 1982, also winning every solo event he entered during that time. In 1994 Gordon’s greatest ambition was realised when he became World Solo Drumming Champion. He had made it through to the final on several occasions previously and placed 4th in 1993, but to have won such a prestigious award in 1994 was truly a dream come true. He repeated that feat again in 2002 and has placed in the top four of the event every single year since (with the exception of 2012 following a short spell in hospital) with notable results being 1st in the MSR in 2008 and 1st in the Hornpipe and Jig in 2009.

Gordon has also taken a lot of pride in Boghall’s teaching programme and currently tutors the Juvenile Band. He has overseen recent Championships wins with the current juvenile corps and has also seen some his students win notable awards such as Craig Brown’s multiple World Solo Drumming Championship awards. Out of the current Grade 1 corps six players have competed in the semi-finals of the Adult World Solo Drumming Championships with the others either narrowly missing out or being too young to compete in the adult section!

Outside the Boghall organization Gordon also works as a drumming tutor at Glenalmond College and Morrison’s Academy in Perthshire and is in constant demand for tuition throughout the UK and abroad. He runs the TG drumming company founded with his father and is also heavily involved in product development with Andante Drums.

Staying at the top

An important factor in the band‘s ability to maintain its presence in the top grade has been the continuity of players in the band with some of the Grade 1 members having played with Boghall for over 25 years. New players joining the Grade 1 band, either from the Juvenile band or from outwith the organisation are able to draw on the vast experience of these players and quickly appreciate what it takes to perform the ‘Boghall way’. It is also significant that the majority of people who join the band seem to stay, only leaving through work or family commitments. This helps a great deal in maintaining continuity and achieving consistent performances from year to year.

Combined with this continuity we are extremely proud of the band’s continued involvement in teaching piping and drumming to the youngsters of the local area and beyond. The organization is renowned throughout the pipe band world for the amount of time and effort it dedicates to tuition and the value of this is clear to see through the success of our Juvenile and Novice Juvenile bands.

This focus can be traced back to the development of the Novice Juvenile band in 1976 and with both bands still competing today, we have around 50 young people from Bathgate and the surrounding area playing pipes and drums within our organisation. These junior bands have been every bit as successful as the adult band, winning 5 World Championships between them and over 11 World Drum Corps titles. It is also interesting to note that the current Grade 1 Pipe Major, Ross Walker and Leading Drummer, Gordon Brown are products of this Pipe Band ‘academy’ having earned their spurs in the Juvenile band in the late 70‘s.

Both under 18 bands continue to receive tuition from members of the Grade 1 band in both piping and drumming and this ensures both the highest quality tuition and preserves the consistency in playing and style that will ensure the Boghall legacy continues well into the future.