The following is a brief history of the band extracted from a newspaper article by L. Hart Lawrence Sunday Sun, October 8, 1972 with input from many, especially from Ken Haslam, a band member for over 50 years and Ed Morrissey, Drum Major from 1964-1996 and compiled by Pipe Major Bob Johnston, September 15, 2000
The Clan MacPherson Pipe Band was organized in 1921 when a committee from the local Clan MacPherson 80, O.S.C. (Order of Scottish Clans) was formed to raise funds to buy the necessary equipment to start the band. The first elected officers in 1921 included the following clansmen: Thomas Bruce, President; Walter MacLaughlin, Vice-president; Robert Anderson, Secretary and Thomas Lees, Treasurer. The band made its first public appearance in October 1921 at the big soccer game between England and Scotland held at the Balmoral Park Soccer Field in Shawsheen Village. The first pipers were James Armstrong, William White and John Young. They had been taught the pipes by Peter Rennie, Pipe Major. The bass drummer was George Campbell who had moved to the area from Gillispie, Illinois. The snare drummers were George Blyth and Harry Rose.
Originally, all members of the pipe band had to belong to the Clan MacPherson O.S.C and live in Lawrence within so many miles of the practice hall as a condition of membership. The band practiced in Lawrence, and was closely associated with the city in its early years. Of the original band members, most were mill workers or in work associated with the textile mills in Lawrence. There were many Scottish immigrants in the area at the time. As the band grew in popularity and increased in size, it drew many British Army veterans. By Memorial Day, 1922, the committee had raised enough money to purchase more pipes and drums. Additional members included pipers William Kinnaird, Thomas Bruce, Jr., Charles Fraser, John Hay and James Clader and drummers Thomas Cruickshank and Anderw Duncanson. More pipers were imported from Scotland. William Clader, Alexander Whyte, John Mullen and Thomas Ross added their piping talents and George MacIver added to the drum corps of this growing organization.
The early band made frequent appearances throughout greater Lawrence and also took part in the highland games held in Boston at that time, but still had no kilts or highland outfits of their own in which to perform. Fortunately, the band had the support of an extremely active committee from both the Clan MacPherson and Ladies Auxiliary who were busy in various fundraising ventures. At the band’s annual meeting that fall, the members decided to equip the band with regulation kilts and tunics. Some current members believe that the Black Watch in Scotland gave the band permission to wear their regulation uniform. The drummers wore bright scarlet tunics and the pipers wore green tunics. All the band members wore kilts made of Royal Stuart tartan. These purchases involved a tremendous outlay of money, and the hardworking committees raised the needed capital aided by contributions from several leading businessmen in the city including A.B. Sutherlands and Irving Rogers.
The annual Burns concert presented by the Clan MacPherson in 1923 was the first time that the band performed completely outfitted in pipe band regalia. In addition to kilts and tunics, wide black belts adorned with highly polished silver buckles plus silver trimmed white horsehair sporrans with two black tassels, gleaming white spats, and black glengarries with eagle feathers gave each band member the impressive “ten foot tall look” of a classic Scottish pipe band.
Although tunics and tunic colors have been changed several times over the years, the band uniform has remained essentially the same since 1923. Over the shoulder plaids and feather bonnets adorn the cold weather uniform and short-sleeve khaki shirts and glengarries replace upper body wool in warmer weather. To this day, the band has retained its military dress akin to the uniform worn by the Black Watch Regiment.
From its inception, the band’s public performances have chiefly been at parades and various social events (graduations, town faris, civic events, etc.) with the odd wedding, open house, centennial celebration or funeral. At one time, the band had as many as 36 performance engagements in a given season including several past repeating engagements such as the annual clan memorial service at the Cathedral in the Pines and the Hopkinton Faire in New Hampshire, and Abbot Academy, now Phillips Academy in Andover. The band began performing at Bradford College graduations in 1973 – a tradition that continued until the college’s sudden and unfortunate closing in May 2000. Since at least as far back as the early 1950’s, the band hs performed at Phillips Academy graduations.
The Clan MacPherson band was one of the few feature bands at the first Loon Mountain Highland Games in New Hampshire in 1975. These games have grown into one of the largest highland festivals in North America. The band participates in these and other highland games and in grade V band competitions across the region sporadically. At one time, the band regularly played various concerts in the area that included highland dancers entertaining the audiences. There have been five women dancers in recent years performing with the band. Once in the 70’s the band put on a concert with the Andover High School Band that included the two bands playing together. Many of the band’s jobs are annual events throughout the region from St. Patrick’s Day to Christmas parades.
Over the years, band membership has fluctuated according to the availability of pipers and drummers. During W.W.II, the band did not disband, but suspended regular performances for lack of sufficient players, many of whom were in various branches of the armed forces. Whenever sufficient members were home on leave, the ranks got bolstered and (presumably) were heard performing in the area. After the war, the band was fully reactivated as band members returned from active duty. As charter members of the band passed away or retired, the lure of the pipes, the pageantry and pride in Celtic heritage symbolized in the Merrimack Valley has kept the band alive. Men and women have performed in the band now for several decades, and not just people of Scottish or Irish heritage. Today, the band remains a popular features of many annual parades and graduations averaging 25 engagements each year. Membership includes men and women from eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Recent bandmembers include musicians both with and without Celtic ancestry brought together by a common love of the music. Although many band jobs are within the Merrimack Valley, the band still performs both out-of-state and across Massachusetts. Often, families have been involved with the band with more than one family member performing either as a piper, drummer or dancer. At one time, the band was very much a family affair for many who socialized and accompanied the band on road jobs. The oldest serving band member to date is Ken Haslam who began as a snare drummer back in his youth in 1948. Two of Ken’s sons have been band drummers and one was a piper and pipe major. Bruce Douglass, a piper, and two daughters at one time as dancers in the band. The Bushnell family has also made a large contribution to the band over the years in all performing roles: drummers, piper and dancer. Brian Ford is the only born and raised Scot currently in the band which he joined shortly after immigrating to this country in 1962. No other member speaks with an authentic Scottish accent! Most current band members have been with the band for 20 years or more. Many individual pipers and drummers have been band members for over 25 years. For many years since he joined the band in 1964, Ed Morrissey, Drum Major, came to be recognized throughout the Merrimack Valley as “Mr. Clan MacPherson.” Morris Campbell, Pipe Major at the time, asked Ed to fill n for the regular Drum Major who was sick and unable to march. The old drum major never returned. Tall, thin and distinguished looking, Ed cut a striking figure as drum major in full dress uniform, and was a great ambassador of the band until his retirement in 1996. Once the band’s bass drummer, Ted Snell was the Drum Major at Ed’s retirement until 2002 when the mace was transferred to Chris Spanks.
The Clan MacPherson Pipes and Drums remain one of the oldest pipe bands in New England with strong ties to the Merrimack Valley. The band was originally based and practiced in Lawrence. For a time prior to 1973, the band practiced in Andover. Since 1973, the band has held practice and been based out of the North Andover VFW Post 2104 on Route 125 in North Andover. Some band members belong to the post. This has been a great practice hall that is big enough to allow indoor marching practice. The band performs two jobs each year for and with the VFW Post 2104 Color Guard (annual Massachusetts Vets Convention and North Andover Christmas Parade) in lieu of rent for this excellent practice space. The band remains independent of the VFW in its identity. Many band pipers are asked to perform solo at the events from weddings to funerals. For 20 years, a piper has participate in the Andover Veteran’s Day ceremonies. The band remains a truly democratic organization voting on both new members and jobs. Seasoned musicians routinely teach piping and drumming to new students who range in age from school aged youth to adults. In the original by-laws, all band equipment was to be returned to the Clan MacPherson O.S.C if the band ever disbanded. The MacPherson O.S.C disbanded first! The band continues on as its own private, nonprofit corporation well known throughout the Merrimack Valley.
Bob Johnston, P/M September 15, 2000
Copyright 2008 Clan MacPherson Pipes and Drums, Ltd.