From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, there was probably not a more consistently excellent pipe band drummer than Tom Brown. Leading his Boghall & Bathgate drum section to four World Drum Corps Championships, Brown revolutionized the way drums and pipes played together in a pipe band.
His corps style was one that served as a benchmark for the competition. His inventive use of the bass and tenors brought the concept of the bass section to a new level. His ensemble approach with Pipe Major Robert Martin was the envy of the pipe band world.
The height of Boghall’s undeniable and formidable excellence unfortunately came at a time when the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band was in full flight and in the midst of their six consecutive world titles. There were occasions when, even if Boghall may have deserved to win the big one, the politics and polemics of pipe bands prevented it. Through that period, there is no denying also that Tom Brown’s charisma and positive nature helped to keep the bond that was Boghall & Bathgate together.
Bathgate is a small industrial town in West Lothian, roughly half way between Glasgow and Edinburgh, just off the M8 motorway. The regional pipe band triumvirate of Shotts & Dykehead, Polkemmet Colliery, and Boghall & Bathgate made for intense rivalries, which still exist. The area’s tradition of drumming excellence evolving from the likes of Gordon Jelly and Alex Duthart are today continued by Jim Kilpatrick, Tom Brown, and now Brown’s son, Gordon.
Tom Brown was born in Whitburn, West Lothian, in 1940. He was introduced to the art at age nine by an uncle, a drummer with brass bands, who gave Tom his first drumsticks. He got his first lessons from Jack McLeish of the now defunct, but still famous, Whitrig Pipe Band. Whitrig would later become the even more famous Polkemmet Colliery Pipe Band under the leadership of Johnny Barnes, from which would come such notables as Kilpatrick, Robert Mathieson, and Barnes’s son, David.
Largely through happenstance, Tom Brown, still playing with Whitrig, met up with Alex Duthart, and soon joined him and his new Shotts corps in 1969. Like Brown in the 1980s, Duthart was to hit his greatest stride with Shotts in the 1970s, marking perhaps the most important period yet in pipe band drumming. It is in fact Alex Duthart who Tom Brown credits for making him the drummer he became.
A born leader and proven teacher, Brown was convinced by Martin to join the then Grade Two Boghall in 1977. The band quickly moved to Grade One, and, by the early 1980s, was on the brink of capturing the World’s. Martin and Brown worked diligently to create something of a piping and drumming manufacturing facility, cranking out dozens of top quality pipers and drummers of the last three decades. It cannot be doubted that this manufacturing strategy has resulted in Boghall being on the World’s top Grade One bands for nearly 20 years.
Over the years, Boghall has won every championship except the World’s, and every drum corps title was Brown’s several times over. It is a testament to his personality and integrity that Tom Brown says that he would happily surrender his four World Drum Corps titles for one World Pipe Band Championship for his great friend Bob Martin.
In 1994 Brown voluntarily retired as lead drummer for Boghall’s Grade One band (which Gordon Brown now leads), but was convinced a year later to take the corps of the organization’s very successful Grade Two band. He teaches the four Boghall bands and learners two or three nights a week, and is high demand for drumming workshops all over the world.
Tom Brown still lives in Whitburn (a “Downdie,” as they’re know in the area), with his wife, Isabel, a pianist, and Gordon. His daughter, Sandra, also an accomplished drummer with Boghall, made Tom Brown a grandfather with the birth of a girl on April 14, 1999.
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