100 years of piping – and band is still going strong

Morpeth  Pipe Band lead the parade on Remembrance Sunday
Morpeth Pipe Band lead the parade on Remembrance Sunday

CIVIC events around Morpeth would simply not be the same without the town’s pipers and drummers.

And no wonder, for the Morpeth Pipe Band is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and has been involved in such occasions for as long as residents can remember.

The band was formed in 1913 with donations from the Renwick family, from Whalton, when pipers were playing near to Newminster Abbey during excavation works led by Sir George Renwick.

The Morpeth Highland Pipe Band, as it was originally known, lost several members in the First World War and played for soldiers returning home at the end of the war.

There are anecdotal accounts that it played at the first Morpeth Remembrance Parade, and taking part in the commemoration remains one of the group’s proudest traditions.

This year around 25 members took part, wearing full dress uniforms and ostrich-feather bonnets that are the traditional uniforms of Scottish bands and follow the general pattern of the Gordon Highlanders’ uniform.

However, civic events are only part of the band’s activities and it is involved in parades, galas and community events, including Penrith Carnival and the Durham Miner’s Gala.

Last year it performed at the Metro Radio Arena and next year members will be travelling to Holland.

Such events provide much-needed funds when a uniform costs around £1,500.

The band has been granted the Honorary Freedom of the Borough and is affiliated with HMS Northumberland.

Assistant Secretary Stewart Todd said: “We are proud to still be here. It is unusual now.

“There are some bands in recent years that have folded completely. There have been huge changes in the military so a lot of the Scottish regimental bands have gone and a lot of the police pipe bands in Scotland went when they were amalgamated into a single police force. There are other bands that seem to come and go because of funding.

“The best bands seem to be the ones established in towns and villages where there is a sense of community.

“Our strength is the dedication of the members, but also the support we have had from the community. Whether it is the town council, the borough council before that, or the old Castle Ward, the support goes back a long way.”

The band is currently led by Pipe Major Colin Smith and Drum Major Edward Mogey, who help to teach new recruits. Anyone is welcome to join, of any age.

Mr Todd said: “The band is actively looking for new members who can already play, or beginners who are prepared to set their tablets and computer games aside and leave the warmth of their homes and sofas to learn to play the pipes and drums.

“This will ensure that there is a continued presence at Remembrance Parades and another 100 years of the Morpeth Pipe Band.”

He added: “It is looking quite rosy for the future of the band. We have a number of engagements confirmed next year and we have new members coming through.”

The band hopes to stage a special anniversary performance next year, and is also seeking to re-establish links to Northumberland shepherd shows.

It rehearses every Monday in the Boys’ Brigade Hall in Manchester Street, from 7pm. Anyone is welcome.