June 30, 2011

Ian McLean, 1936-2011

Ian MacLean, ex-bass drummer of Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band, passed away on June 20, 2011, at Stirling Royal Infirmary after a long illness. He was 75.

Born on April 5, 1936, Ian joined the Boghall organization in 1977 after playing with the BP Grangemouth Pipe Band under Pipe-Major Colin Drummond and quickly established a reputation for delivering an improved quality of sound from the bass drum.

In those early days, Ian formed the experienced backbone of that young Boghall band alongside Pipe-Major Bob Martin and Leading-Drummer Tom Brown. During that time, Ian pioneered many of the techniques used in today’s bass sections, manufacturing his own sticks and developing new ways to dampen the drum, bringing a rich bass drum sound to the band that had never been heard before.

Recalling a conversation with Ian, Tom Brown said, “I asked Ian one time how he knew when his drum was in tune. Ian replied that he could tell by the vibrations on his chest. It was becoming apparent that he was a bit special when one day I discovered he had cut up sheepskin rugs to put in the drum, just to get the sound he was looking for.”


The success of the band during those early years in Grade 1 was mirrored by Ian’s achievements, winning the first World Championship prize for best bass in 1980, the first of his three titles. Ian also took great pride in his contribution to some memorable and pioneering drum fanfares with the young Boghall corps that were traditionally performed by the defending grade drumming champions as part of the march-past ceremonies at the World Pipe Band Championships in the early 1980s.

He played with the band until his retirement in 1995, handing over his sticks to Darren Owenson, who remains Boghall’s bass drummer. Ian did come out of retirement, briefly at the British Pipe Band Championship at Banbridge, Northern Ireland, in 2001 to cover for Darren, which was a real joy for the band and Ian alike and spoke volumes for his commitment to the cause.

Ian was well known for his energetic and friendly personality. In addition his generosity was always reflected in the ability to share his knowledge with anyone who asked. He was instrumental in teaching all the Boghall bass drummers who followed in his footsteps over the years. In remembering him, Darren Owenson remarked, “Ian was a real character, full of fun and loved his bass like he loved his wife Agnes.”


Ian’s memory will live on in the band and with everyone who met him and heard him play. It will also live on through the famous Boghall hornpipe that was named in his honour and his role in the mining industry.

There was only ever one “Big Road Brusher” and the pipe band world is just that little bit less colourful for his passing.

Ian’s funeral will take place on June 27th, at 10:30 am at Carriden Church, Bo’ness, Scotland, and then at 11:30 at Falkirk Crematorium in Camelon.

– contributed by Pipe-Major Ross Walker, Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band


  1. When I first began my career in pipe bands in 1987 I remember how much of an impact Ian’s playing had on me. The sound he managed to produce from his bass drum was incomparable to anything I’d ever heard…it was simply magnificent. He had an incredible feel for the music and was such an integral part of that amazing Boghall midsection sound. He was one-of-a-kind. RIP, Ian.

  2. Ian was indeed a mentor to so many Boghall bairns and it is sad to see yet another pipe band figure disappear from the 70s and 80s pipe band generation. Very few knew that Ian was THE big road brusher” sadly missed”

  3. ‘Big Ian’ was the real heartbeat of our band….not just as our iconic bass drummer, but as a mentor ‘off the field’ for all our bandsfolk…. pipers as well as drummers…..another legend now in a better place. PM Craig Walker

  4. I remember meeting Ian in the mid 90’s when we were over for the worlds with the NZ Police. He came along to practice to help out with setting up our bass drum and did a fantastic job of it. He was a fantastic genuine guy who was quite happy to spend some time chatting with the young guys and sharing his knowledge. My thoughts and condolences are with Ian’s family and his Boghall family.

  5. One of the coolest people ever to grace a bass drum. In his heyday in the ’80s to early ’90s, Grade 1 was spoilt for choice with truly world class bass drummers, but Iain was in a league of his own in my view. An absolute gentleman, a credit to the Boghall & Bathgate band and totally irreplacable. My thoughts are with Iain’s family and friends in the Boghall organisation.

  6. Ah Ian, you’ll be missed. He was such a great guy. I remember congratulating Ian on his Worlds Best Bass Prize in his retirement year and we had a great chat. He basically walked me through the entire recent history of Pipe Band Bass Drumming in about 15 minutes. The big corps in the sky has another great drummer added to it. Thoughts are with Family, Friends and everyone at Boghall for their loss. Craig J. Colquhoun

  7. I was just speaking about this gentleman last week but was unaware of his name, as in the 80s I used to be in awe of his playing (I’m a piper) and as youngsters we would watch him whilst the rest of the Boghall band was playing in a circle! I can remember the drum salute at Cowal in the early 80s and the complete silence in the arena as they marched forward to play it. Ian was again the focus. What charisma and presence.

  8. The whole Boghall camp must have been delighted when they drew the Big Road Brusher set at Annan yesterday. Once again, an inspired performance with big Ian looking down no doubt, and happy what he heard.



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