January 31, 2013

Ian Cramb, 1936-2013 – a testament

Mr. Cramb, Ian, Drum-Major, President, and affectionately amongst friends – but never to his face! – Spam. A lot of names for one m

I first knew Ian as the parent of one of my pupils at Crieff High School – that pupil was of course Adrian. It wasn’t long before Adrian was playing in the Vale’s junior band of the time, and Ian became a parent – not of a pupil, but of a band member, a quite different thing.

Now, if Ian was going to do something, that thing would be done 100%, or not at all. Adrian’s dad would be no sit at home parent. In no time at all Ian’s blue van was to be seen driving assorted Crieffites around Perthshire roads to practices and engagements. We don’t know exactly when, but sometime in the early-ish 80s it was put to Ian that if he was spending so much time with the band, he might as well become a part of it, and given his previous military experience during National Service, combined with his bearing and build, why not train to become a drum major?

So it was that in his late 40s, under the initial tutelage of D-M Jimmy Shaw, Ian learned the art of drum-majoring. Again, memories are vague (ah, digital cameras with your precise date and location functionality, where were you then?) but in only his second – or was it perhaps his first? – parade as D-M with the Vale, Ian Cramb stepped out in front of the massed pipe bands onto the grass of Hampden Park at a major football event. That must have been a lonely place for him. I’ve done a few stints as D-M, and the first couple of times even I felt a bit strange and not quite at ease. For Ian who had never been involved in pipe bands in his life, to have marched on that day showed a huge degree of courage. And did he betray any inkling of unease before marching on, no one in front of him, unable to turn around to check what was happening behind him? Of course not. That would not have been the Ian Cramb way.

And so began the era of Ian Cramb, D-M of the Vale of Atholl. The perfectionist in him was instantly recognisable in the care and attention he paid to his turn out. Every trick he had learnt as a National Serviceman was called back into play. He was always intently observing other D-Ms, learning from them how he could improve his dress yet further. Whether he was in No 1s, No 2s or in civvies, whenever Ian was representing the Vale he was meticulous in his dress.

As D-M of the band, Ian travelled widely with us in those years; to Canada (twice), to Japan, to Baku, to Brittany – wherever the band went Ian went with us, proud to be D-M and statesmanlike at all times. (A good thing when not all of us managed to maintain that standard all of the time.) He thoroughly enjoyed those trips, and Aids tells me that the globe Ian kept is still in the house – with all the trips he made marked on it, a succession of lines arcing out all over the world from Crieff.

However Ian’s support of the Vale wasn’t limited to being a figurehead. As I’ve already mentioned, if the band needed transport, the blue van of Ian Cramb, Slater, Crieff was always available. Swept out, the bench seats in the back covered in plastic and a bit of carpet on the floor to provide a little home comfort, the blue van was ready to roll. How many miles did that van journey for the Vale? And how many cheery hours were spent in the back, travelling to jobs and festivals as far afield as Skye and the Uists, forbye the trips to Perth and Scone Palace and, and, and . . . Of course, no question of claiming mileage back from the band – that was not the Ian Cramb way either. Indeed, he’d have been black affrontit had anyone even suggested the idea. He might have been a man with an eye for a keen price in everyday life, but the Vale was different.

Ian was that bit older than the rest of us (we were a pretty young band – 30 was old!) and he quite naturally slipped into a kind of father figure role. He was more than happy to join in the socialising that plays such a part in the team building, so important part for a pipe band. But never to excess. In my mind’s eye I have a picture of Ian standing at the edge of the company, his arms folded across his chest, a dram glass like a thimble in one of the spades that doubled as his hands, a smile on his face and in his eyes – just watching over his brood, making sure nobody came to any harm, ready to step in if it should ever be necessary.

And if ever he felt a quiet word was necessary – whenever that might be, and be it a word of sympathy, of support or of advice then it would be forthcoming. But it would be quiet and it would be discreet.

Despite his pride and his love for the Vale, Ian did not crave the spotlight (rather strange given a D-M’s role.). He always preferred to act in the background, subtly, with no fuss. In the days of the ScotRail sponsorship, the band played at the Savoy in London. That great musician and composer Roddy MacDonald came across town to see us. Ian, quite unprompted, quietly and unobtrusively slipped a good bottle of whisky (the only kind he knew) into Roddy’s hands, although he could hardly have known Roddy then – just to let him know that his work for the band was appreciated. Such an act was typical of the man. Needless to say the source for that story was not Ian.

Week after week Ian would drive the Crieffites to the Sally for the Grade 1 practice, and stand at the back of the function room holding that black heavy duty Sony Walkman that could have been dropped from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle and survived, patiently recording every practice. No fuss, no hassle, no ‘look at me’; just getting on with what had to be done.

Another thing that Ian instinctively understood was loyalty. He gave his unqualified, 100% support to all the three pipe majors he served under. To paraphrase an expression I heard last weekend, being a pipe major is not just about standing in the circle, tapping your feet. There are all sorts of unforeseen issues and worries to cope with, from the musical to the financial and last but not least, personnel management. To know that your D-M will support you unquestioningly, no matter what, is no small thing.

No talk of D-M Ian Cramb and the Vale of Atholl would be complete without a mention of Troodos. Stops in Troodos – whether on the way to, or on the way back from a contest – were a part of the whole Vale experience. Troodos became a home from home for the Valeites. Always Wilma fussing over us, offering us cups of tea, spoiling us with sandwiches or cake; and always Ian spoiling our livers with Cardhu – or something else from one of those large decanters almost lost amongst the Troodos clock collection. Or in the morning, a rum and port to set us up for the day’s competing.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Vale of Atholl family has lost a dear old friend today. We all share the loss felt by Wilma, Adrian, Lorraine, Ian and the wider family. But paradoxically isn’t that feeling of loss a right and a good thing – after all, what would it have meant if we had met the news of Ian’s death with a disinterested shrug of the shoulders?

And, you know, despite everything, our sense of loss will be tempered when we gather together later on today. We’ll start to swop the first Spam stories, the smiles will start and then the laughter will begin – quite possibly mixed with a few bittersweet tears. We’ll go home with warm and loving memories of a fine man – and who could want a finer testament than that?

Gus Clarke was a piper with the Grade 1 Vale of Atholl Pipe Band of Pitlochry, Scotland, for more than two decades, and now serves as the band’s chairman.


  1. Tragic news to hear the passing of Ian. I knew him all of my life and was one of those kids he didnt mind carting about all over the country!! My thoughts go out to my great mate Aidrian and his family for all the wonderful times we had back in those days with the Vale.



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