The Band was formed at the latter end of 1969 following an enquiry from Caledonian/BUA to Mr Jim Hamilton who lived in Crawley. The Pipes & Drums were to come under the direct control of the Publicity Department of Caledonian/BUA headed at that time by Mr Chris Tear, but it took the best part of another year before the band was finally settled in and uniforms were ordered. After much discussion Ancient Caledonia tartan finally selected as the official dress of the Band. In the interim period, the band used the Mackenzie uniform of the Addiscombe & Shirley band.
The Pipe Major was Ian MacLeod and the Drum Major Mike Sterling. Other members at that time were: Pipers David Stark, Tom Dingwall (now PM Callandar), Mick Farrell, Andrew Smith, Angus Macleod, Ned Dunne, Douglas Campbell, Len Hogan, Jim O'Hara, Joe O'Leary, Dennis Rosie, George Nichols, Dave Hickey, Kenny Leisk (now PM Queensferry & Dist), and Bill Rennie (Pipe Sgt). The Drum Corps: Ian Milton, Mick Bicknell, Dave Lewis, Stuart King, Barry Slade, Bill Hewson and Ron Palmer. Rod McFadyen and Tom Jackman joined shortly afterwards.
Sir Adam Thompson
The obvious choice for band patron was Sir Adam Thomson who gave the Band tremendous support from the outset and always tried to attend as many functions as his extremely busy schedule would allow. Sir Adam was instrumental in finally giving Band members the same privilege travel as all employees of B.CAL. Jimmy Liddell composed a now, very popular pipe tune in honour of Sir Adam, when he received his Knighthood.
The Band President was Mr Ian Ritchie who as Director of External Affairs for B.CAL instigated the Band to become part of the Publicity Department, which reported directly to him. Being a Scot by birth (and an ex-Royal Scot officer), Mr Ritchie was extremely proud to be associated with the Band and it was mainly through his efforts that the Band gained their privileged position within the company.
We also had the support of other B.CAL managers during our association with the Airline; namely, Mr Gordon Mason who attended the initial meeting of the Band's officers and the airline; Mr Tony Cocklin, Mr Chris Gilbert, Mr Brian Folley, and Mr Simon Ames. Initially Mrs Jan Oliver, followed over the years by Silvia Morant and Liz Ross were responsible for the organisational administration of the Band on its many overseas trips, and without their help and support the Band would not have been able to function properly. They were also responsible for booking tickets for member's holidays.
Many Jobs, Many Secretaries
Over the years, there were several Band elected secretaries who organised the job lists and booked the bands private engagements. In one period, in the month of January, there were over 30 jobs to be organised abroad, ranging from single pipers to small bands. The secretaries were Mike Sterling Stuart Sinclair, Jim Barnard, Malcolm Lay, Tom Hair, and Rod McFadyen. Stuart Sinclair and Les Walker the QM, were the only non-playing members and therefore did not benefit from overseas jobs. We did eventually manage to get them both out on a tour with the band in Texas, USA. Stuart was in office when the Band was based solely in the South of the country and was our direct link to the airline when organizing airline tickets, etc. Stuart had three sons who played in the band, over the years, Iain, Graeme and Alistair. PM Angus MacDonald, Glasgow Police, played at his wedding and Donald MacLeod used to pipe for his wife Iris MacLeod when she danced in her native Stornaway. R.S. (Roddy) MacDonald, who was a very good friend of Stuart, composed and named a tune after him, which Vale of Atholl used as an introduction to one of their selection
Getting off the Ground
1971 saw the Band beginning to gel together as a single unit. Practice sessions were held regularly in midweek at a temporary office complex rented by B.CAL in the centre of Crawley. We experienced problems with suppliers of uniforms mainly because of our lack of knowledge on who to approach in Scotland (at that time there were very few band outfitters, now you can't move for them!) hence the delay in kitting out the band. There were also budget restrictions and not all the uniform could be purchased at the same time. It was decided that instead of proper doublets, the band would purchase ex-army tropical white jackets. This proved a boon when the first overseas company engagement was in the far east. It was also decided that feather bonnets had to be a casualty until funds were available in the next years budget, but it was agreed that the Drum Major should be supplied with the only feather bonnet in the band.
After many months of practice and learning tunes, we were requested to appear in front of Mr Ian Ritchie at Gatwick Airport to demonstrate our potential as a Band and Ambassadors for B.CAL. Unbeknown to us as members, it was also being used by B.CAL management to ascertain if the Band was ready for its first major overseas engagement. And so on a Sunday morning in September, the Band assembled on the grass outside the canteen area in full kit and in front of Mr Ritchie and Gordon Mason. We performed our complete programme of marching and tunes, and both managers were impressed at our progress.
Mr Ritchie announced the company's intention to fly the whole Band to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in November. Other trips were to follow in quick succession: Uganda, Zambia Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Japan, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Holland, Germany, France, Italy and many States in North America, from
New York to Houston. The Bands final overseas trip was on behalf of B.CAL and the Hilton Hotel group playing in Hong Kong and then on to Taiwan.
Because of the excessive number of overseas engagements that the band were requested to participate at and in those days of full employment and only 2 weeks holiday, we had to augment the band with pipers and drummers from Scotland. Robert Richardson, Jimmy Anderson and Bob Turner from Muirhead & Sons, were the first of many. Members from Renfrew, Red Hackle and the Glasgow Police pipe bands followed shortly afterwards.
In 1973 the Renfrew Borough band gained sponsorship from the airline which had now become registered as British Caledonian Airways, they being titled British Caledonian Airways, Renfrew. The pipe major of Renfrew was Willie Connell who became joint pipe major of both bands until his company transferred him to Canada shortly afterwards. Robert Stewart and Iain MacLeod followed as Pipe Majors of Renfrew.
Pipe major John Roe; ex-Scots Guards took over as pipe major of the Gatwick based band for a short period, followed by Robert Richardson in 1973. Bob was a member of Robert Hardies 5-in-a-row Muirhead & Sons at the time, and was guesting with us on band trips.
The Gatwick based band at that time was a non-competing band and Renfrew were in Grade One and always in the first three with a championship winning drum corps under Joe Noble. Robert Richardson was given permission to import a few players down from Scotland to strengthen the band. Hugh McInnes, Eric Richardson, Joe Richardson, C. Phair, K. Ross were invited to join, plus John Martin, Steve Cooper, John Newlands, Martin O'Hara, Bob Skinner, Norrie MacLeod, Malcolm Dowie, Barney McKillion and Jim McCombie from the London area, and the band began to change for the better.
At that time, Ian Craig was travelling down from Oxford and he picked up PM Angus MacDonald on the way through. Angus persuaded his sergeant at the Scots Guards Piping School in Pirbright, Gavin Stoddart (later Pipe Major and currently major in charge of army piping in Edinburgh) to join up with us. As well as the competing members there were others, including some of the founder members that played on band engagements and had equal standing on band trips and company perks. These included: John Campbell, a close friend and best man at the marriage of Col. David Murray, John Boyd ex-8th Argylls and a prisoner of war, Mick Farrell, Jim O'Hara, Ned Dunne, Joe O'Leary, Rab Smith, Iain Macdonald, Seamus Murphy and Graeme Sinclair.
The drummers at that time were Bobby Orr, who was a professional drummer and had played with all the big bands, i.e. Ted Heath, Jack Parnell, Benny Goodman, and played for Sammy Davis on his last British tour; Andy White, famous for playing on the Beatles recording of Love, Love Me Do and others, and most of the Bay City Rollers recordings. He was also Melody Maker session man of the year at the time. It didn't do us much good in our first competition in Grade 2 held in Princess Street Gardens - first in piping, last in drumming!
The following season David Bruce was made leading drummer, with Campbell Drummond coming with him from the Glasgow Skye. Alec Garry was the bass drummer with Bill Hewson and Iain Sinclair on tenors. Iain was the first Brit. to play with Simon Fraser University in Canada. When the band first travelled north to compete, we were accommodated at member's houses in Glasgow. Namely Joe Richardson, Tom Johnstone, Campbell Drummonds mother, Dave Stark's parents, and Stuart Sinclair's brother in law. The following season B.Cal funded accommodation at hotels. The Excelsior at Glasgow airport was almost like a second home. We would fly up on Friday and hold a practice at the Scotstoun Church Hall.
Champion of Champions
The band had an amazing season in 1977 winning every competition that it entered, including all the major championships, even the M&D at the worlds with four army bands competing! At that time we had 7 MacDonalds in the band: PM Angus, Anthony, Dr Angus, Allan, Kenny, Roddy and Iain; Gavin Stoddart, PM Joe Wilson, Hugh McInnes, Campbell McGuigan, Tom Johnson, Charlie Cochrane, Jim Hardie, Rab Kelly, David Stark, John Martin, Rod McFadyen, Ian Craig, John Newlands and Jim McCombie.
On Sunday mornings, the members from Scotland would fly down on the 7 am flight; have the practice until 1 pm; Wingspan Club for refreshments until closing time, which was 2 pm in those days; then around to Les Walker's council house in Crawley for a ceilidh until the evening flight at 8 pm. There were so many Gold Medal winners playing, we could have held the Inverness Clasp Competition there! It was lucky that the neighbours liked piping - well we never had any complaints! No kitchen piping here, apart from the MacDonalds.
Into Grade 1
In 1978 the band was upgraded to Grade 1, with Bob Turner from Muirheads taking over as leading drummer and bringing Tony Burns, Jimmy Andrews, Jimmy Collins, and Willie Jarvie with him, Allan Dawes came in on the bass. At that time there was a bit of an exodus from Renfrew as they had lost their sponsorship with BCAL, and we gained Jimmy Liddell, Willie Beveridge, Fleming McAlpine, PM Calum Campbell and Jack Henderson. Renfrew later became sponsored by Black Bottle Whisky and are currently David Urquart Travel.
Arthur Farrell, son of Mick, and a member of the Mad Mitch team in Aden, joined the band after completing his tour of duty in Oman. He had been on a number of BCAL piping engagements during his time in the Argylls. Iain MacPherson, MM, Sir Patrick Grant were among the many names at that time, also John Walsh before he migrated to Canada and the 78th Fraser Highlanders. In 1982, because of the large number of Scotland based members, and the aside, the band transferred from the London branch of the RSPBA to the West of Scotland branch. Later that year, the management at BCAL decided they wanted a change of pipe major and Harry McNulty joined us from the Lothian & Borders police band. Bob Turner had left for Dubai to take up a post. The legendary Alex Duthart filled the position of leading drummer. He brought the rest of the Shotts drum corps with him: Bert Barr, Eric Ward, Arthur Cook, Drew Duthart and Tucker Johnson.
Alex was to tragically collapse and die whilst playing with the band during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. During a break in the parade (a bit like the London Lord Mayors Parade) shortly beforehand, he was surrounded by drummers from all sorts of bands participating, explaining drum rudiments and its history. He was forever passing on his incredible knowledge and technique to anyone who was interested, right up until his end.
Craig Walker had moved to London to work after leaving university, also Eric Ward and Chris Lyttle joined up with us in the south. Other new members at that time were PM Brian MacRae, PM Dixie Ingram, Angus Ingram, Linden Ingram, and Peter Ferguson in the south. Roddy MacLeod, Iain Roddick, David McRoberts, Alister Fletcher, Willie MacCallum Willie Bowes, Andy Young, John Patrick, Peter Hunt Gordon Buchanan, Gordon Grant, William Shearer, Greg Dinsdale and Jim Schotther in the north.
British Airways Take Over
In 1988 B.CAL was taken over by British Airways, and it effectively put an end to the sponsorship of the band as a single unit. The committee led by Harry McNulty tried to obtain sponsorship to keep both units together, but were not successful. The Scottish contingent gained sponsorship from Scottish Power, which has proved mutually beneficial under the leadership of Pipe Major Harry McNulty and leading drummer Eric Ward.
At the same period Jimmy Banks had the backing to form a band for Dan Air, and 9 members of the Gatwick group took the opportunity to join up with him, to compete in Grade 2. The band later changed their name to Clan Sutherland, and moved north a couple of years later under PM Tony Sloane.
Gatwick Caledonian Pipe Band
The remaining members of B.CAL Gatwick decided to keep together and with the uniforms that were given to the Band by B.CAL formed a small group based in Crawley. Ex-founder members Ian Milton, Mick Bicknell and Bill Hewson decided to return, now that they had more spare time. In 1999 the Band rejoined the RSPBA London Branch and started to enter the local competitions, albeit now at the bottom rung of the grading ladder. A new cap badge was designed by Graeme Sinclair, which incorporated the rampant lion of B.CAL.
To Sum Up
In its 19-year history, the British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band played before The Pope, Royalty, Presidents, Ambassadors. In most parts of the World, appearing on State television wherever they went; the World Football Cup in Mexico; Top of the Pops with the Scottish Football team; at a Beatles concert in the Royal Albert Hall, with Queen Elizabeth II present. There were so many major events and venues ranging from Palaces in the Middle East to the Astrodome in Houston.
Individual Pipers also met Presidents and Royalty and even some met their future wives on trips abroad. One Piper was made an Honorary Tribal Chief in Uganda - it was a bad move to drop him from the competition squad! The Band was unique and the Piping World will never see the like again. The quality of players within its ranks will never be bettered. Certainly not the camaraderie.
The last overseas trip was made in 1988, which included playing at a large arena in Hong Kong in front of thousands. The Tattoo was based on the Royal Tournament with the B.CAL Pipe Band being the only non-military unit to take part. At the finale the Band had the honour to lead all the participating bands onto the arena, which included the Band of the Coldstream Guards and the three pipe bands from the Brigade of Gurkhas. British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band received a standing ovation from the vast audience. From Hong Kong, the Band was flown to Taiwan as guests of the Hilton Hotel Group, where the band played at the Chang Kai-Shek Memorial and for some very important Chinese Guests at the Hilton Hotel.
And so ended an era, never to be repeated - Or will it!