Pipe Major Bill Robertson, formerly 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots

A brief account of the piping life of Pipe Major Bill Robertson who was tutored by Pipe Major Wille Ross, MBE and how he went on to became a top Piper in his time

With more than 70-year involvement with piping, at a high level, Bill has been involved with most aspects of piping. From competing, composing, directing, judging, teaching and of late documenting his knowledge with the development of his world renown Bagpipe Tutorials.

The Boys Brigade ...

At the tender age of 11 he started taking lessons with the Boys Brigade 1st St. Andrews Company. 

His Military Experience ...

Pipe Major Bill Robertson - 1958Pipe Major Bill Robertson - 1958

Upon turning 18 he was called up for National Service and was drafted The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). At the time, The Royal Scots were the oldest serving regiment of the British Army. 

After completing his basic training at Dreghorn Barracks, Edinburgh, he was able to progress with his piping when he was accepted for the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion of the regiment under Pipe Major Willie Denholm (ex K.O.S.B's); a fine piper and composer of the 6/8 march "El Alamein" and "The Royal Scots Polka". 

After his national service, Bill continued his service with the regiment and pursued his piping there until the late 1950's.

In 1953 PM Willie Denholm retired and was succeeded by Pipe Major Hugh Fraser a renowned piper and solo competitor who transferred from the Cameron Highlanders to take up the appointment. 

Bill was fortunate enough to be taught and influenced by Hugh who had so much to pass on with his experience in the "Old School" of Army piping pre-war and of the 40's and 50's. He was also a composer of note. Both these Pipe Majors and he had some of their compositions published in pipe music books. 

Pipe Major Willie Ross, MBE ...

At the age of 23 he gained the much coveted Pipe Majors' Certificate at Edinburgh Castle under the direction of the famous Pipe Major Willie Ross MBE (ex Pipe Major of the Scots Guards and renowned prizewinning soloist), who was the director of the Army School of Piping and Drumming.

The board of examiners then was made up of reputable members of the Piobaireachd Society and a knowledgeable representative of the Army who was then and now well-known Major David Murray, Cameron Highlanders.

At the age of 23 he succeeded Hugh Fraser as Pipe Major of the 1st Battalion.

Foreign Fields ...

Late 1958 he resigned from the British Army. After being so much time abroad in Germany, the Middle East and the Far East, he had a desire to settle down in New Zealand where he has resided since 1959. 

Band Associations ...

Once in New Zealand he started directing and training a group of youngsters of the Hamilton Caledonian Society's Pipe Band and brought them up from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1 and reached third in the National Grade 1 Championships 1963/4. That band had half the piping section with these developed youngsters playing at 17 and under, years of age.

Some years later he was promoted in his regular work and this necessitated him moving to Auckland. 

There he directed the Auckland and District Pipe Band (later P&D of Innes Tartan and now back to Dalewool Auckland and District-) and took them to a good number of Grade 1 New Zealand championships and many more Grade 1 winning music events, but devalued in the aggregate by having less drill points that counted towards championships back then. 

The same happened in Australia Grade 1. They won the music, but too low in their different form of drill movements. 

International Events ...

When the band changed its name through sponsorship to the Pipes and Drums of Innes Tartan they won the open events in Vancouver, B.C. and Santa Rosa, California, in 1972.

See picture below of the band in Vancouver BC 1972.

Pipes and Drums of Innes Tartan Pipe Band, Vancouver B.C. 1972Pipes and Drums of Innes Tartan Pipe Band, Vancouver B.C. 1972

Prior to that they gained seventh place in Scotland at the Scottish Grade 1 (open) Championships, and the highest equal points for tone. He retired from the band in the 1980's and the band is still one of the top New Zealand bands. It was after his retirement the ideas for more effective ways to present bagpipe tutorials where spawned.

Personal Achievements ...

Being more dedicated to bands both in the Army and in New Zealand, as a means of being more helpful to piping, he seldom competed in solo events and when he did he had some notable success.

Bill rates some of his best achievements being placed first in the Highland Brigade Piobaireachd event in 1957, winning of the Comunn na Piobaireachd, New Zealand Gold Medal in 1962, The Australian Open March, Strathspey and Reel competition held in Sydney, 1967.

He also takes part in seminars, workshops and has been on judge’s panel of both pipe bands and solo piping in New Zealand.

His Piobaireachd composition 'Lament for Pipe Major Hugh Fraser' was placed third equal in the BBC competition for new Piobaireachd in 1965 from 66 entries word wide. It has been published in the book 'Collection Ceol Mor - composed during the Twentieth Century 1930 - 1980' by the Piobaireachd Society

It also appears with his 6/8 march 'Pipe Major Bill Boyle, New Zealand Scottish Regiment' in honour of one of New Zealand's most famous pipers, and compositions of Pipe Major Denholm and Hugh Fraser in the Royal Scots Pipe Music Book. 

Effect on New Zealand Pipe Bands ...

In an interview with Trevor Andrews, QSM, published in the New Zealand Pipeband Magazine - May 2009. Trevor states the following:

"... After Bill Robertson took over and he had a massive influence on me and the band - mainly in the area of sound. He had perfect pitch and as far as I am concerned he revolutionized sound in NZ pipe bands at that time. He was recognized for his ability across the country, having been through the castle ..." 

Bills Family ...

Kade playing Bills Chanter Bill and Elizabeth where married in 1967 and are proud parents to Rhona. Rhona excelled at sport and went on to represent New Zealand for badminton in the  Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games. She is happily married to Greig Bramwell. Bill and Elizabeth are the proud grandparents to two lovely grand children.

Bagpipe Tutorials: Bill's Passion ...

Bagpipe lessons from Bill are now on a more limited scale. He spends most of his time fine tuning his bagpipe tutorials for his DVD lessons and teaching some young students at two schools as well as a few private pupils. A recent development is this web site, which he is using to bring to you samples of his bagpipe tutorials.

Bill at his daughters weddingBill at his daughters wedding
Pipe Major Willie DenholmPipe Major Willie Denholm
Pipe Major Hugh FraserPipe Major Hugh Fraser

Obituary to Hugh Fraser – The Piping Times – Vol 17, No 11. August 1965. 

It is with regret that we have to record the death of Pipe Major Hugh Fraser, Royal Scots, and formally Sergeant in the 1st Battalion Q.O. Cameron Highlanders, on 3rd May, 1965, at Culduthel Hospital, Inverness, in his 48th year.

“Chug”, as was known by all his army and piping friends was in indifferent health for some years back, and has been sadly missed from piping circles everywhere.

He joined the 1st Camerons as a boy, and served in India, France and Burma. After the cessation of hostilities he left the army, but being a born soldier, he returned as Pipe major of the Royal Scots about 1953. He served in Korea, until eventually ill health truck him, and he had to leave the career he loved.

He won many prizes for piping in the army and at Highland Gatherings in his earlier days, and his love for the pipes spread to the younger pipers under his care, who respected this man for his upright bearing and sincere character.

His ashes where laid to rest in his native Kingussie, where the service included a lament played by Wm. M MacDonald, Inverness, and the Last Post sounded by Sgt. T. Pentland, Q.O. Highlanders.

Article of interest

Bruce Campbell from Piping World interviews Bill.