These days, within a Scottish clan or family, there are usually those who have embraced the musical culture of Scotland and play the bagpipes. Although not originating in Scotland, the pipes have become synonymous with and remain an important part of our identity. It was pipers who famously led Scottish regiments into battle especially so in the first and second World Wars, many under a hail of bullets. To a true Scot, the skirl of the pipes makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up and the heart to the point of bursting with pride. This is something that is shared by all proud descendants of Alba, irrelevant from where the come from. Today therefore, I wish to highlight one of our own who is an artisan in their craft.
Andrew Carruthers – The Man
Andrew’s family left Dumfriesshire to move south settling in Whitehaven over the border in Cumbria in the 18th century. Like many Carruthers of the day, they left their homelands seeking work, in this case to work in the coalfields initially in the west but then moving east into Northumbria. These were tough times and Andrew’s great-grandfather told stories of being winched down the pit as a child, on the shoulders of his father while his father clung to the knotted rope of the cable. Not unsurprisingly, Tom became the first of four generations of that branch Carruthers to leave the mines and become a policeman finally ending up in South Shields in County Durham, producing three generations of builders. Inevitably, Andrew’s cousins both near and distant, probably now spread across the whole of the north of England.
Andrew’s own father moved down to the London area where he set up his own building business in the 1930s, a business which was continued by his older brother until very recently. His mother was a Chalmers originally from Edinburgh, and when Andrew qualified as a town planner, he moved to Edinburgh to work, subsequently moving on to Gordon District Council and latterly Aberdeenshire Council, where since 1980 he has lived with Mary his wife and his 4 children, two girls and two boys, in Alford on Donside.
Andrew Carruthers – The Piper
Andrews introductions to the bagpipes was during his undergraduate year at Cambridge in 1966. This carried on the piping tradition from two uncles who served in the Great War. Initially Andrews uncles were introduced to the violin but the pipes became their chosen instrument. As an aside, Andrew also played the violin which took him on one occasion under the baton of the late great Yehudi Menuhin. He eventually turned to his instrument of choice which was to lead to a lifelong passion, that of playing the pipes. Initially Andrew only played in public at New Years Celebrations and the like until his two sons were old enough to follow in his footsteps. They took tuition from the Pipe Major of Lonach Pipe Band, Alistair Lang, practicing the tunes of the band with their father. This lead to Andrew joining the band in 1995, initially with his eldest son, then his younger son joined them, but sons both now having moved on. Andrew’s tenure with the band is only dwarfed by Alistair (the Pipey), who is in his 60th year with Lonach.
The Lonach pipe band itself comes from upper Donside in Aberdeenshire, effectively from Alford to the Lecht, although work now takes some members to live a little further afield. It has been in existence since the first half of the 19th century, and for as long as the Lonach Gathering, which is the major annual highland games for this area. This has led to the claim by some of being the oldest non-military band still in existence. Their main role is to play the Lonach Highlanders up the glen on games day and back to the games park, originally to gather all the young loons (men) to join in the sports. It is approximately a four hour march, including six dram (whisky) stops at different houses on the way. It is these stops that gave them some notoriety a while back when Billy Connelly took over one of the houses and inherited the duty to provide that particular dram (of course, when I say dram, it is probably about six crates of whisky for each stop, when you have allowed for all the band, the Highlanders, and the horse and cart that comes behind to pick up the stragglers). Apart from the Lonach Gathering, they also play at the round of highland games in this area, including Braemar, where this year they won the shield for best band for the third time, which was presented to us by the Queen herself.
Andrew recalls the highlights of his time playing with the band, include trips to Hungary to help celebrate the 1000th year since the country’s foundation, to Norway to help celebrate the 100thanniversary of their independence, and to St Petersburg in Russia. The band were actually invited back to St Petersburg three times, and on one of those occasions the Russians flew the saltire from the Peter-Paul fortress in their honour, apparently the first foreign flag ever to fly there. On the third occasion they were due to provide the half-time entertainment at a Russian cup match between St Petersburg Dynamo and Moscow CSKA. It was a fairly dirty first half in which CSKA had clawed their way to a 2-0 lead, and the home crowd were baying for blood at the point when the band marched in past the riot police. The latter being fully armed and ready to wade in on their own account. However, the band seemed to have a mesmerising effect, not just on the crowd but also on the home team, who made a comeback in the second half and won in extra-time.
The band could also argue of having the same impact after playing at Murrayfield in 2002 on the day that Scotland beat the Springboks! Other memorable occasions include marching up the Royal Mile with the Lonach Highlanders at the Scottish Homecoming, the day-long march over the hill to the Braemar Gathering to celebrate their 200thanniversary, playing alongside the Scottish National Orchestra at Glamis, Angus, Scotland, and a number of trips to France, Germany and Eire. However Andrew suggests that outwith all his adventures and experiences with the Lonach Pipe Band, his proudest moment still comes every year when he plays the lament for the fallen before the minute’s silence on Remembrance Sunday in his local village.
Andrew was awarded the very prestigious Eric Brady Memorial Trophy for “band member of the year” in 2018. and being the humble man he is, states: “As a dedicated member of the rear rank, it is not something you expect, but for me is a very great honour as a mark of appreciation voted on by all band members and something I’m very proud to have received”.
Our clan and society are proud of all our sons, daughters and cousins. We believe we are honoured to be pat of one of the finest names in the world, both for our history and the achievments individuals have made. We feel that there is enough in the facts and current evidence without embellishment, to carry our name with pride, and we definately do.
We thank the Lonach Pipe Band for the use of their photographs in commemoration of one of their own.