Founded in early 1906 and known as the Vale of Atholl Pipers’ Association, the pipe band wore the Murray of Atholl tartan. Nine months later, on Wednesday 3rd October, 1906, the first AGM took place in the old school buildings in Pitlochry where an excerpt of the minutes reads:
“The receipts since the inception of the society about nine months ago have been most satisfactory and amount to £89-12-8 and expenditure amounts to £89-9-10. There is therefore a balance of 2/10 in hand.”
The Patron of the band in 1906 was The Most Hon. The Marquis of Tullibardine D.S.O and the Pipe Major was Mitchell Pirnie.
‘The Vale’ is 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. These were at Airlie Horticultural Society Games and the Dundee Flower Show and held under the auspices of the Perth and Angus Pipe Band Association.
In 1953, the band played at Coronation Day celebrations and competed at a pipe band contest in nearby Aberfeldy.
Such was the recurring hardship in these days, it is noted in the early minute books that the Vale travelled in a ‘charabanc’ around the villages of Highland Perthshire, stopping off to give performances and collect donations.
In the late 1960s, the Vale created the first ‘Highland Night’ of the tourist season in Pitlochry – where the band presented an outdoor production of traditional entertainment every week during the summer months. This tradition is still going strong and has celebrated its 40th season. Click here to find out more.
Those early competitive outings would prove to be only the prelude to a much more focused future in pipe band competition. In 1965, Ian Duncan who was originally from Aberdeenshire, joined the Vale, taking over as Pipe Major in 1973.
Competing now within the auspices of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, in 1976 the Vale entered competitions at Scone Palace and in Hawick. The band was originally assessed as Grade 4, but was in that grade for only a short time.
At its first major pipe band competition, in 1977, they band was awarded sixth place in the Grade 4 World Championship. The following year it swept all before them winning all Grade 4 Championships including the Worlds title.
Promotion to Grade 3 was a formality but this only extended the Vale’s horizons because it 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.
To supplement the achievements of the band during this successful era, a Junior band was formed in 1980. The teaching of youngsters was seen as a major part of the Vale set-up and this feeder system would prove to be highly successful. Click here to download our Child Protection Policy.
Through the years, band trips to far off climes have always been a prominent feature in the Vale’s calendar. In 1984 the band travelled to the west coast of America; to San Francisco and then on to compete in the highland games at Santa Rosa.
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. It 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, the national train operating company of Scotland.
By now, the Vale was recognised not only for its 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 canon. 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.
The band’s 1987 recording Both Sides of the Tracks has been acclaimed as one of the greats, with one reviewer stating, “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 Disc for its worldwide sales.
The late 1980s saw the Vale placed second (twice) in the Champion of Champions Grade 1 table where it secured the European and British Championship titles at Glenrothes in seasons 1988 and 1989 respectively. Also at this time, it 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. In 1990, the Vale performed at the famous concert in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. The show was recorded for BBC Radio Scotland and later released on video.
As plans pressed ahead around this time to restructure the railways of Great Britain, the Scotrail sponsorship ended. In 1993, sponsorship was agreed with Macnaughtons of Pitlochry – specialists in highland wear. This partnership lasted over ten years and saw the band change from it’s traditional Murray of Atholl tartan to the Muted Macnaughton and strengthened the band’s link with it’s home town even further.
This spell for the organisation as a whole was particularly fruitful. James King joined the Grade 1 band as leading drummer as the Grade 1 band re-established itself as contenders at the major championships. The Vale’s concert tradition also continued as it was invited to play at the Motherwell Civic Centre – the previous venue for Glasgow Skye’s pre-Worlds concert, where the CD Live ‘n Well was recorded.
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 three 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 it progressed through the new qualifying format to take sixth place, despite performing in an exceptional downpour. A year later the band was 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. Adrian Cramb was appointed Pipe Major at the end of the 2008 after Andy stepped down, becoming Pipe Sergeant.
The Grade 1 band came to end in 2018. However, the organisation still boass three bands today: a Grade 3 band, a Grade 4 band and, once again, a Novice Juvenile band.
To this day the Vale’s busy programme continues, supplementing band funds through concerts both home and abroad and playing regularly at top venues including Gleneagles Hotel, Glamis Castle and Hopetoun House. The Novice Band also recently played at the Albert Hall in London.