Pipers return pumped

The pipe band at Perth’s Scotch College has returned home after being the only youth band to perform in the most prestigious military tattoo in the world, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The Tattoo is the most important date in the celtic music calendar and was held from August 7 to 18 in the centre of Edinburgh.

“Its invitation only, so the fact that we are a school in Perth, Western Australia … it’s a great honour,” said pipe sergeant, David Graham, 18, who is second in command on the pipes.

Dylan Flecker, Marshall Barrymore, Oliver Heath and David Graham show of their memorabilia.

Dylan Flecker, Marshall Barrymore, Oliver Heath and David Graham show of their memorabilia.

Craig Bailey, the band’s pipe master (similar to the manager of any musical act), has long been a member of Perth’s pipe band community and grew up watching the Tattoo on TV.

“[The Tattoo] is the ultimate,” Mr Bailey said.

“It’s probably one of the greatest shows on earth, so its just an awesome honor to be regarded amongst that sort of calibre of bands.”

The original pipe band at Scotch was formed in 1947. The band originally had only had eight pipers and five drummers.

“I think it’s sort of part of our fabric,” Mr Bailey said.

“From the get-go, we’ve had a pipe band so it sort of separates us from quite a lot of other schools.”

Now, 68 years later, the band stands at 65 to 80 members strong with an intricate sound combination of bagpipes, snare drums, tenor drums and bass drums.

It also includes a 20 to 22 man A-Team consisting of the elite players from Years 9 to 12.


Dressed casually, the band prepares for a school assembly at Scotch.

“It’s like the icon of the school, so when ever someone thinks of Scotch they think of the pipe band, so its pretty much an honor to be part of it,” said Dylan Flecker, the band’s pipe major (or lead piper).

Being in the pipe band is a big commitment for the Year 12s who balance lots of study and sporting commitments, but the returns are evident.

“I suppose the first thing that it teaches you is a lot about commitment …,” said Oliver heath, 17, the band’s drum sergeant (or lead snare drummer).

“[The scotch pipe band] have been renowned for being strictly regimental and punctual … in a military sense almost, which is sort of being lost in schools.

“It’s teaching you how to become respectable.”

Mr Bailey understands how much of a commitment being part of the band is for the boys.

“I think it’s definitely a hard road, the pipe band,” he said.

“It’s not easy.

Standing by, through intense rehearsals.

Standing by, through intense rehearsals.

“But the kind of kids we have are really disciplined and everything they do is over and above.

“It’s a feather to their cap the amount of work they do.”

After auditions at Scotch, and almost a year of preparation, the boys spent their first four days in Scotland waking up at 6.30am, making a half hour trip to Redford Barracks to begin hours upon hours of intense rehearsal, then returning to their accommodation as late as 11pm.

“It is gruelling,” Mr Bailey said.

“It’s a whole month and they had to study, so yeah they were long days.”

Being in a pipe band carries with it aeons of tradition and strict guidelines on dress code and the formalities of keeping a tight drill.

Marshall Barrymore, 17, the drum major (who carries the staff at the head of the ensemble) said that in Edinburgh the boys were placed in a circle in order to demonstrate they were able to play the tunes confidently. They then began marching drills, a rigorous process of making sure that all performers had the ability to mark time and stay in rank.

Scotch College Pipe band (middle, marroon uniform) performs at the Tattoo.

Scotch College Pipe band (middle, marroon uniform) performs at the Tattoo.

“[The organisers of the Tattoo] would get people with these specially marked out ‘dressing sticks’ … they went around checking that you were two paces apart from everyone and if you weren’t you would get yelled at,” David Graham said.

“Those were scary blokes,” Oliver Heath said.

After this intense period, the boys would study in the morning, enjoy a break during the day and perform in the evenings.

“A lot of the people that watch the Tattoo forget the military part of it,” Heath said.

“It’s the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.”

Dylan Flecker said he would have “almost been disappointed” if the organisers hadn’t have been strict.

Mr Bailey said the boys would remember the Tattoo “to their dying days”.

“I think, and it chokes you up a bit when you’re on the esplanade, and it’s like a full finale and there’s eight-and-a-half thousand people cheering or a standing ovation.

The Scotch pipers march through the streets of Edinburgh.“You don’t forget those kind of moments.”

The band’s involvement in the tour sparked a lot of interest from other Tattoos, including Basel (a Tattoo in Switzerland), Nova Scotia and a Chinese contingent which expressed interest in having Scotch play in Shanghai at a music festival.

For the Year 12 boys, the future looks vastly different in terms of leaving the school and the pipe band to pursue their tertiary studies.

The pipes and drums, though, will be a permanent fixture in their lives.

“I think all of us here have got our own sets of pipes, and there’s no point having your own set of pipes if you’re not going to play them,” Marshall Barrymore said.

The official Scotch piper's uniform

Official Scotch piper’s uniform

Graham said he has plans to attend the Tattoo again through The Pipers Trail, a program that gives young pipers, drummers and dancers an opportunity to audition specifically for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Flecker said the experience made him nervous at first, but noted that lots of people would never experience anything like playing in the Tattoo or being part of a pipe band.

“I think, looking back on it now and probably more so in the future, it’ll just be a sense of pride and just how lucky we are that we get to experience something like this at such a young age,” he said.

Top two photos and cover image by Lizzie Ayers. Other photos by Rene Greyling.

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