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Scotia Pipers

Vale of Atholl Pipe Band

Over one hundred years ago in the very heart of Scotland, within an area of Highland Perthshire called Atholl, there was formed an association to maintain and encourage the art of Highland Piping.

In recent times, the present day custodians of this cultural heritage have now established one of the most exciting and innovatively musical pipe bands in the World... The Vale of Atholl Pipe Band.

The Vale of Atholl Pipe Band are believed to be one of the first Scottish pipe bands to broadcast on radio in 1928 and each member was given a print of the photograph taken for the Radio Times.

In 1931, now under Pipe Major Robert Pirnie, the band entered it’s first contests under the Perth and Angus Pipe Band Association at Airlie Horticultural Society Games and the Dundee Flower Show. In 1953, the band played at Coronation Day celebrations and competed at the Aberfeldy Pipe Band contest.

These early competitive outings would prove to be only the prelude to a much more focused future in pipe band competition, as in 1965 a man from Aberdeenshire by the name Ian Duncan joined the Vale, taking over as Pipe Major in 1973.

Competing now within the hospices of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, in 1976 the Vale entered competitions at Scone Palace and in Hawick. They were originally assessed as Grade 4, but they were there for only a short time.

At their first ‘Major’ in 1977 they were awarded sixth place in the Grade 4 World Championship. The following year they swept all before them winning all Grade 4 Championships including the World Title.

Promotion to Grade 3 was a formality but this only extended the Vale’s horizons because they immediately cleared every hurdle in that grade including, once again, the World Championships.

The next three years saw the band in Grade 2 winning many of the top trophies, including the Scottish and British Championships.

At the end of 1983 came the ultimate accolade, appointment by the R.S.P.B.A. as a Grade 1 band, joining the elite and playing with such famous names as Strathclyde Police, Shotts and Dykehead etc. in the premier grade competitions. Grade 4 to Grade 1 in only seven short seasons.

In 1985 the band made the opposition – and their now large group of supporters – sit up and take notice by winning the prestigious indoor R.S.P.B.A. Grade 1 Mini-Bands Championship in Glasgow. They then went on to take both first and second places in Ulster’s biggest Mini-Band contest.

After an exhaustive search for additional funding via a sponsor, a partnership was agreed with Scotrail. A new identity for an up and coming band.

By now, the Vale were recognized not only for their characteristic late “E” introduction but also for the innovative style of their arrangements and their new settings of old, sometimes almost forgotten tunes from the Scottish and Irish folk library. The versatility and individual style of the band’s first class solo players was showcased in a cassette recording called “Salutations”, where no less than 14 different members of the band were featured on instruments as diverse as Xylophone and Bouzouki, in addition to the bellows blown small pipes and Great Highland Bagpipe.

Their 1987 recording “Both Sides of the Tracks” has been acclaimed as one of the greats, with one reviewer reporting “Arguably the piping technique might be the finest ever recorded by what many feel is the most exciting band in the World”. The band’s follow up recording, “No Reservations”, included a wide variety of melodies from Ireland, Bulgaria, Mexico, Spain and even some classical melodies – as well as traditional and contemporary Scottish compositions. This album was awarded a Silver Disk for its Worldwide sales.

The late 1980s saw the Vale placed second (twice) in the Champion of Champions Grade 1 table where they secured the European and British Championship titles at Glenrothes in seasons 1988 and 1989 respectively.

Also at this time, they travelled on a two week tour of the USA and Canada, competing at the North American Championships at Maxville only to be ‘pipped’ by the 78th Fraser Highlanders. This was followed up by a trip to Japan the year later.

With a wide range of music in their repertoire, the band became a popular choice for concert promoters, a reputation maintained to this day. In 1990, the Vale performed at the famous Ballymena concert in Northern Ireland – which was recorded for BBC Radio Scotland and later released on video.

Many of the original Junior band’s members were now playing in Grade 1 and such was the number of younger pipers and drummers coming up through the ranks, a second Junior band was formed – competing in the Novice Juvenile grade. This gave the Vale an army of 3 bands – Grade 1, Juvenile and Novice Juvenile – which at one stage pushed the playing membership close to 100.

In 1999, the Vale Grade 1 band had their most successful season in recent times, winning prizes at all five Majors – notably at the World Championships, where they progressed through the new qualifying format to take sixth place, despite performing in an exceptional downpour! A year later they were one of four bands invited to play at the Millennium Concert in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

Ian Duncan stepped down as Pipe Major at the end of the 2000 season and was succeeded by Andy Renwick. After two seasons without any long term funding, The Vale of Atholl secured a deal with Robert Wiseman Dairies.

To this day the Vale’s busy programme continues, supplementing band funds through concerts both home and abroad and playing regularly at top venues throughout Scotland and abroad.


  • Playing at Hopetoun House - copyright Steve Lindridge


    Playing at Hopetoun House - copyright Steve Lindridge

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