Receiving the Queens Service Medal on December 31, 2009, for services to pipe bands, Jim Fraser passed away just five days later.
Born on September 15, 1934, when Jim was six years old his father decided that Jim would learn the side drum – no option was given to start the pipes. Jim’s dad was a tailor, who made suits for a Cecil George Smith, and leading-drummers for City of Christchurch (A-Grade) at the time. Cecil became Jim’s first tutor who would outline a small circle with a 20-cent piece on a wooden stool and tell Jim, “If you can roll inside that for 10 minutes, you’ll make a drummer.”
Well, Jim did “make a drummer” and played in Christchurch Boys High Brass Band, Christchurch Municipal Junior Brass Band, and together with his sister and two brothers, in a mandolin band, fund raising for the troops in WWII.
His launch into pipe bands was at a Provincial contest at Rangiora, December 1951, when he was allowed to replace his tutor C.G.Smith, in City of Christchurch for the Street March and Display. Prior to this he was considered too small to carry a drum.
The next Provincial, at Methven 1952, he played lead for the City of Christchurch B Grade band. Jim admits to “not being very good at retaining drum scores,” and for the Selection (MSR, with a Slow Air to start) at this contest, decided to play safe by pinning the score to the belt of the tenor drummer in front of him. “It was either that, or the band couldn’t play,” Jim reflects.
While a member of “The City,” he began his committee life, representing the band on its Board of Control. At about this time, he began to exhibit his entrepreneurial skills, using his initiative to organise concerts in the Mayfair Lounge, several Balls, and one he is especially proud of, a Tattoo at English Park in the 1960’s, which involved brass and pipe bands playing together, possibly for the first time in Christchurch.
Anyone in NZ band life (above a certain age) knows the name Bill Boyle, Pipe-Major of City of Christchurch through the 1950s and ’60s. Jim remembers Bill as having “an exceptional talent,” but being a “stern taskmaster and forceful leader,” often berating members for their efforts, only to hear from his father who was tailoring for Bill, which, in Bill’s words: “The band is going extremely well!”
The City was the only band Jim played in, and by his own admission, it was family that convinced him to retire.
After active playing, he remained involved in the movement by helping with catering at Canterbury based Band events, until being invited to join the organising committee for the Christchurch Dominion Contest in 1985. In total, he has served on five such committees for Christchurch based National contests, including three as Contest President in 1985, ’93 and 2003.
Jim was asked to take charge of fundraising for the Canterbury Caledonian band’s trip to North America in 1988, six years after the band’s inaugural North American tour (Penticton and Portland highland games). After successfully funding and organizing the trip, it was – in Jim’s words, “a boomer.” On that tour, the band performed at a number of contests and other engagements, including Grandfather Mountain; Cambridge, Ontario; Barrie, Ontario; Maxville and Montreal highland games, and competed against such notables as 78th Fraser Highlanders, Clan McFarlane, Dunvegan, Toronto & District, Metropolitan Toronto Police, and ScotRail Vale of Atholl.
In 1988, Jim became aware that Pipe-Major Nat Russell was resident in Melbourne, and invited Nat to judge at a local Canterbury Centre contest. This started a long relationship between Jim and Nat, their families, and the Canterbury Caledonian Pipe Band.
Jim’s presence in the Cale band was immense, and could well be considered the motivation for a couple of prominent members of the Caledonian fraternity and pipe band drum corps, choosing to shift house and family to Melbourne to play with the Victoria Police. This was obviously a great experience for the players concerned, and of great benefit to the Cale band and society, in both short and long term.
In an era when the New Zealand pipe band movement was managed by a National Executive, this being prior to the complete Association restructure by the now former President of the RNZPBA, Nigel Foster, Jim was the resident delegate representing the Central North Island Centre, and even under the revised National structure, continued in this role . He held this position for more than 10 years.
Jim Fraser served Canterbury bands (and the movement as a whole) in another way, on Plains Radio 96.9FM, 12.30pm on alternate Sundays. He had done this continuously for 18 years with only occasional help from others. Jim was a familiar figure at South Island band events, recording bands for the program. Plains FM is true community radio, and Jim Fraser became a prominent member of this institution.
Jim’s other passion in life was motorcycles. He started riding in his teens, and as we would expect, was soon involved with administration in his Tai Tapu club. He was instrumental in raising money to bring overseas riders to NZ to boost the profile of the sport, and in the late 1950s organized the first tour of New Zealand motocross riders’ tour of Great Britain.
He was past President of the Canterbury Centre, President of the Canterbury Caledonian Society, President of the Ethnic Council, and Chairman of the Community Broadcasting Society. He has Life Membership of the Canterbury Caledonian Pipe Band, the Canterbury Caledonian Society, Central North Island Centre and the Royal New Zealand Pipe Band’s Association.
Jim Fraser was a fundraiser and manager extraordinaire.
– Submitted by James Loughlin
Get the Newsletter!
Sign up to receive our most popular stories in your inbox every month.