Ballater and the surrounding districts are in an area rich in musical tradition and talent for many differing types of musical instruments. Two of the most stirring of these have to be the bagpipes and the drums. There are many well known local exponents of these instruments, including the two Bobs of Balmoral – pipers Bob Brown and Bob Nicol, who are to have a room at the Royal School of Music named after them. There are also Jimmy McGregor and Sandy Beattie who played for Ballater pipe bands in the 1930s and 1940s. Among the most well known drummers from the area are John Milne, Douglas Davidson, and Tam Fraser. More recently there have been Bob Shaw, Ian Smith and Alan Davidson in the 50s and 60s, and Martin Johnston, Neil Fraser and Ian Esson in more recent years.
For the roots of today’s pipe band, we have to look back to the 1950s when Ballater had an Air Training Corps (A.T.C.) squadron. (The A.T.C. was an organization for boys – cadets – interested in flying and the Royal Air Force.) A Pipe band was formed from within the ranks of the squadron. The youngsters were trained by former members of the Pipe Band. On the 31st December 1955 the A.T.C. Pipe Band had their first outing, leading one of great local institutions, The Little Mason’s, through the streets of the village. They went on to feature in more ostentatious occasions, with a parade of inter-service cadets in Edinburgh and even played at the Albert Hall in London. They marched and played, as the Ballater and District Pipe Band do today, in the tartan of the ‘Ancient Hunting Robertson’ by kind permission of Lady MacRobert and the MacRobert Trust from Douneside, Tarland. The band of today continues to have close ties with the Royal Air Force, the Air Training Corps and Douneside.
The Braemar Gathering of 1993 saw two gentlemen having a few drams together, courtesy of Glenfiddich, and discussing the spectacles of the day, while listening to the sounds of the pipe bands in the background. These two gentlemen were Aboyne piper Ian Smith and Bill Lyon, B.E. M, originally from the fishing port of Buckie but now a firm fixture in the burgh of Ballater. Mr. Lyon enthused about how wonderful it would be if Ballater had its own pipe band, with which Mr Smith wholeheartedly agreed. And so the seeds were sown! A public meeting was called and on 21st October 1993, Ballater and District Pipe Band was formed.
From the ranks of the old A.T.C. Pipe Band came a number of pipers and drummers, now a little older but no less enthusiastic. One of these men was Drum Major Norman Barbour, today’s figurehead of the band – just as he had been back in the days of the A.T.C. band. Another was Ian Smith, who has been made up to Pipe Major as from last year and has this year received the M.B.E. for working with pipes of a different sort. Having served together with the A.T.C. band, these two men have given 10 years to Ballater and District Pipe Band.
The name Ballater and District is an apt one, as there are members hailing from Braemar and from the Dee valley all the way to Aberdeen and beyond. The first Pipe Major of the band was a Braemar lad living at Inchmarlo, John Wright. He served as Pipe Major for seven years and still plays with the band. He had the hard task of steering the band in its early days – a job well done. On a Millenium Tour of Ontario, Canada, as guests of Streetsville Pipes and Drums, whose pipe sergeant Neil Forbes is a former Ballater lad, the band gained a new Pipie, Tom Peggie. Tom, from Braemar, had also been in the A.T.C. He piped us in Holland in competition, and to entertain, before the band’s return to Ballater for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.
As mentioned, the band’s Pipe Major in 2010 was Ian Smith, M.B.E., one of the founding members of the band. The band was thrilled to have him in charge for its tenth anniversary year. It honoured Ian at the 2010 Spring Ball in the village by presenting him with a bronze figure of a Pipe Major at that time Ian had 50 years of experience in piping and was the driving force behind the band’s then, new Junior Section, tutoring the youngsters from scales on the chanter through to playing the bag-pipes. The Junior drummers too were a great asset to the band, and were well taught by Sergeants Andy Yarnell and Louise Grubb. The junior tenors had a foot in the past, as they each play drums from what used to be a Braemar Pipe Band, now unfortunately long defunct.
Ballater and District Pipe Band is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year (2013). All the pipers and drummers of the band wish to thank everyone in Ballater and elsewhere for their support and look forward to entertaining their public for many years to come.