History

By Drum Sergeant John Hilliard, with excepts from Pipe Majors Jim Kirker, Avon McMillan, John Downie and Peter Duncan

Before 1929 an Auckland Pipe Band included Pipe Major Jock Robertson, Drum Major Davie Court, Bill Rankin, Len Amor, Tom Stewart, Bob Shedden, Jim and Ken Court and George Robertson. They had broken up by 1929 and members went to other bands, mainly St Andrews Band, while Len Amor and others formed the Auckland and District Highland Pipe Band.

In 1937 the Scottish Regimental Association (“The Jocks”) approached the Auckland and District Highland Pipe Band with the view to their becoming the Association’s official band. The members were divided, and some left to form the Scottish Regimental Association Pipe Band. Len Amor, as Pipe Major of Auckland and District, felt obliged to stay and served them faithfully for many years. This band later became Innes Tartan, then McLeay Duff, American Airlines, Toshiba, and most recently Dalewool Auckland and District Pipe Band.

The remainder formed the new Scottish Regimental Association Band. The Jocks Band spent several years raising money for uniforms and drums, but in 1942, when the time came to purchase these items, the Jocks would not supply the accumulated funds. The players decided to break away en masse – this was the foundation of the City of Auckland Pipe Band. Thus it was that many of the old Auckland Pipe Band (1925) became member of the City of Auckland Pipe Band. They included Jock Robertson, George Robertson, Harry Storrie, Bill Rankin, Jim Rankin, Tom Stewart, Alex Livingstone, Davey Campbell, H. Satchell, J. Ferguson and Dave Laird. Their first meeting was held on the 1st of October, 1942. John McDonald (Kiltmaker) was elected President, and Jack Yeats was made Secretary/Treasurer, a position he held for 24 years. Jock Robertson accepted the position of Pipe Major. The Band was formed into an Incorporated Society in 1944.

Due to World War 2, funding was scarce and the Band initially paraded in white shirts, grey slacks and MacNeil tartan ties. Funds were raised in the post-war years for uniforms and instruments, and in 1946 the MacNeil of Barra tartan was chosen, after receiving permission from the Clan’s Chieftain. The Band turned out with army styled khaki officer jackets, plaids, kilts and belts.

In 1947, under the direction of Pipe Major Harry Storrie, the Band entered the contest scene. A group from the defunct New Zealand Scottish Territorial Pipe Band, keen to continue piping and drumming, joined the City of Auckland Pipe Band in early 1949. The first National Contest, in New Plymouth, was also in that year, where they were placed fourth in the B grade division (A grade being the highest). The following year, at the National Contest in Auckland, they were 2nd in B Grade, beaten by only half a point.

The Band continued to develop, however in 1953 there were management problems and membership declined. A re-building programme restored numbers and the Band was again active in local parades. However, it was not until 1960 that the Band again competed at National level. In 1973 the Band was fortunate to gain a piper from Scotland – John Downie – who became Pipe Major in 1975. Under his enthusiastic leadership, the Band’s standard improved. They placed well at a number of Mini Band contests, and in 1978 they travelled to Sydney, coming 4th in the Australian Grade 2 and winning the Quickstep event. In 1978 the Band came third in Grade 2 (the old B grade) in Wanganui. In 1979 the Band won Grade 2 at the National Contest in Dunedin, thus earning promotion to Grade 1.

In 1984, the City of Auckland Pipe Band was one of the first bands in New Zealand to replace the traditional military pipe band uniform (feather bonnets, horse-hair sporrans, thick woollen doublets, tartan plaids and white spats) with smart, modern cutback dress jackets, practical leather sporrans, long socks and brogue shoes.

In 1989 the Band played exceptionally well, winning the Mini Bands at Whangarei and coming fifth at the National Contest in Dunedin. They won the Dress, and Pipe Major John Downie and Drum Sergeant John Hilliard won the Dewar’s Dirks. The Band was renowned throughout New Zealand for its series of distinctive Marching Displays and its Drum Majors’ Staff Flourishing presentations. These events incorporated innovative non-traditional music, which was very popular with the players and the public. The Band took part in many parades, three military tattoos, two television appearances, and commercials for Woolworths and MacDonalds. A number of Band personnel also came to the fore in solo competitions, which brought the overall standard of the Band to the notice of the judges.

The early to mid-nineties were the golden years for the Band, with impressive numbers, innovative music and excellent commitment from the membership. It was routine to attend eight to ten contests a year, along with numerous play-outs, concerts, fund-raising projects and social events. The Band won Grade 1 National Marching Displays, and Drum Major Graeme Running won the Mace Flourishing competition on three occasions. There were amazing contributions from John Hilliard, Leading Side Drummer for nearly 30 years, and Des White, whose proud record with the Kitto Cup for Bass Section Flourishing will probably never be bettered.

The Band suffered at setback in 1996 when the grading system was altered, and despite being placed sixth out of ten bands in Grade 1 at the previous National Contest, it fell just below the cut-off mark, and was regraded to Grade 2. Morale declined initially, but again spirits improved with an influx of members from the learner group, and the Band commenced the task of re-building.

Overseas trips (and the necessary fund-raising) have been a feature of Band activities, with trips to Sydney (1973 and 1978), Melbourne (1982 and 1994), Newcastle (1988), Japan (1993) and Fiji (1998). In the most important event in its history, and a significant milestone in its members’ playing careers, the City of Auckland Pipe Band attended the 2003 World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, competing against over 200 bands from around the world. Another momentous occasion was playing in the Edinburgh Tattoo when it was held for the first time outside Scotland, in Wellington, 2000.

With increasing work commitments and the range of activities and hobbies available in Auckland, the pipe band movement has been steadily declining over the past decade. This waning interest affected the City of Auckland Pipe Band as well, but good Band morale, team spirit and professionalism has kept it in the forefront of the Auckland scene. Membership is growing again as the Band is attracting experienced young players back into ‘pipebanding’ and is encouraging youngsters to come and try out piping and drumming as a hobby.

The band is active in playing in public parades and other engagements, and takes part in competitions throughout New Zealand. The future for the Band looks promising.