August 31, 2010

Bill Livingstone steps down as 78th Frasers’ Pipe-Major

After 29 years at the helm of one of the world’s most famous pipe bands, Bill Livingstone has stepped down as Pip-Major of the 78th Fraser Highlanders. Livingstone made the surprise announcement to his band on August 25th after careful considerations over the last year.

His successor is not yet known, but it is thought that it could be any one of several pipers, including Sean McKeown, Doug MacRae or Bill Weir, as well as possibly others. According to Livingstone, his desire is to stay with the band as “a bank-rank player,” but he says that he will leave that to the band to decide.

He said that the drum section and the band membership as a whole are intact, and the Lead-Drummer Drew Duthart has received the news with understanding and acceptance.

“It just feels right, natural and normal,” Livingstone said. He compared the decision to step down as pipe-major to when he decided to stop competing as a soloist.

At age 68, Livingstone has played a significant role in shaping the pipe band world. Of his most famous achievements with the 78th Fraser Highlanders were the band’s 1987 World Championship victory and the band’s landmark Live In Ireland recording that same year – events that are seen by many as seminal in changing the complexion of pipe bands as a whole. Live In Ireland is considered by many to be the greatest pipe band recording yet made.

Before creating the 78th Fraser Highlanders, Livingstone was Pipe-Major of the Grade 1 General Motors Pipe Band, and before that was with the City of Toronto Pipe Band. He was one of the first serious North American solo competitors to go to Scotland, and one of the first non-Scots to gain the Highland Society of London Gold Medal.

Under Livingstone, the 78th Fraser Highlanders have travelled to compete at the World Pipe Band Championships for 27 consecutive years, first making the trip in 1983. After failing to qualify in 2009, in 2010 the band successfully made it to the Grade 1 Final, and finished tenth overall at the World’s.

Livingstone holds the distinction of being the only person in history to have led a Grade 1 band to a World Championship and to have won a Clasp for piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting -the two pinnacles of pipe band and solo competitive success, respectively.

Under Livingstone’s tenure as Pipe-Major of the 78th Fraser Highlanders, the band has won 13 North American Championships.

Stay tuned to pipes|drums for more on this story.


  1. Personally and as a piper I have drawn huge inspiration from the seemingly limitless creativity and energy of the music that Bill brought to us — both as a composer and soloist, but (for me) most importantly through his leadership and direction of the legendary 78th. In my view the Live in Ireland” concert of 1987 in Ballymena completely tore up the book on what pipe bands were

  2. Regardless of the reasons, a hearty thanks and congratulations to Bill. Having watched and enjoyed this band since its inception I have to say it’s been a great ride. I’ll leave the superlatives to others as I’m sure there will be many and all well deserved. Cheers.

  3. I have been a long time admirer of Bill’s piping genius. The first time I heard Journey to Skye I was in my car and almost had an accident. I wish Bill and the band nothing but the best in the years to come.

  4. The Frasers played a large part in my development as a piper; ergo, I owe a large part of who I am as a piper to Bill. Congrats on a long run Bill…we all owe you one.

  5. What a true legend! Being a piper first, one of the first CD’s I got a hold of was the Live In Ireland” recording and it still inspires me today. It would be hard to find someone in pipe bands or a solo competitor who didn’t have the utmost respect for the works of Mr. Livingston. Have fun playing in the back rank and possibly some harmonies! haha Best of luck!! Glenn Kvidahl”

  6. What a great legacy this band has produced, and continues to produce, in innovative approach to music and pure talent. Live in Ireland is on my iPod and gets played regularly. After twenty years, I’ve never grown tired of listening to Journey to Skye or the finale track of The Fair Maid of Barra, The Gold Ring, and The Clumsy Lover. Many thanks for your contributions to the world of piping Bill! Cliff Davis, Midwest Highland Arts Fund-Winter Storm

  7. Won’t be the same seeing the 78th at the line without Bill at the helm.He spoiled a good run for us in 1987 when he won the worlds but I’m glad it was the 78th as it was exciting to listen to and totally changed the music which was being played at that time. Never mind playing in the back row Bill get on the judging panel and bring some of your forward thinking with you to freshen it up. Best wishes Neil Strickland

  8. Bill, congratulations on your spectacular run. It was a pleasure to be a part of the band, even though it was only 19 years. We had a great time, many laughs, and played some OK music. Enjoy yourself and see you soon I hope. Stu Liddell

  9. Last thing, thanks Bill for that concert, and thanks to Bruce and Michael on two of the best solos at a concert ever recorded. I know slurs aren’t supposed to inspire but they did.

  10. In a way this marks the end of an era, and perhaps the beginning of a new one. Bill’s contributions to the world of piping and pipe bands is hard to measure in words. Over the years the Frasers pushed the envelope of the ‘traditional’ format of medleys to a level that has inspired many, and has been matched by only a few. I’m sure with Bill stepping aside to assume a role as a player (back rank, my ****!) the band will continue to benefit from his virtuosity and remain a force in the grade one arena. All the best to Bill and the band in the coming years.

  11. My first experience with Bill Livingstone and the Frasers was LIVE IN IRELAND: I, too, nearly drove off the road while listenin to the cassette tape! My second experience was at the Cambridge Clinic, where he was teaching a class on strathspey playing. I loved that he wouldn’t let us out of the first measure until we got it just right. My concept of how to work a pipe corps, how to play a strathspey and what a band should sound like are all because of this tremendous musician and leader. Thanks for the inspiration, Bill Livingstone: you are The Man!

  12. Many here have known, played,worked and studied with Bill Livingstone over a long number of years. I just want to add in to the comments, a word from those of us who have never met him, or even know very much about him, other than our recent experiences of seeing him at the helm of an amazing power to be reckoned with. Seeing the way the band comes walking on to the field at the Worlds eg., with him at the helm, only one word resonates round and round in the head. Professional. And that, imho, sets a standard for all to aspire to in terms of attitude of mind, focus, and attending to the most important thing of all, the music. So from someone who would have loved to know you, thank you for leaving that great impression and representing so magnificently, hope for the future. Did I read that you Bill have links with Ayrshire – if so, since I’m writing from there – here’s a drop of the sea and a breath of the Ayrshire hills, for all the best in your future piping and personal pursuits!

  13. Congratulations to Bill on a fabulous career. Bill’s many accomplishments in the solo and pipe band competitive arenas only tell part of the story. Bill changed the piping world like no one else has. When he began to compete regularly in Scotland it was a place where few non-Scots could succeed. The Scottish judges were just not open to overseas players at that time. Bill had a combination of talent and determination which had rarely been seen before in piping. He just kept giving great performances year after year in the big contests. In the end he was just too good and the judges would award him all the top prizes. His trail-blazing solo career paved the way for many of us who would come in the next wave. His accomplishments in the pipe band arena were just as significant. I believe history will view Bill as the person who did more to change pipe band medley and non-competitive performances than any other. Bill and the 78th Fraser Highlanders pioneered many things that we now take for granted….medley orchestration, bridges, changing time signatures on familiar tunes, different formations, etc. Their medleys were exciting and memorable. Who can forget their Mason’s Apron medley, for example? Bill – congratulations on a job very well done. The piping world appreciates and thanks you.

  14. From being the first North American to win the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1977, to the founding of the 78th, the World Championship in 1987, the creation of the modern pipe band concert concept when none other had the vision to take it on, the Laird of Anapool and the Prince in 1981 and 1983, the superb World’s Greatest Pipers album as well as Northern Man in 2009, numerous victories from a mostly unbeatable 78th in Ontario pipe band competitions throughout three decades and hundreds of professional solo triumphs the man has done it all. A place in piping folklore is secure Bill, you will be in the front rank, not the back rank of everything you do. Congratulations on an unmatched, unique, and brilliant piping career.

  15. Well done Bill, I’m proud to have played in all 3 of your bands over the years. You made Tom Bowen and I’s childhood (ripe old age of 11) dreams of walking off the field in Maxville with the grade one trophy a reality, we didn’t even know about the Worlds’, and that happened for us in 87 too. Glad to see you’re not quitting altogether, take a turn in the ashtray” for me! Mike Baker”



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