December 12, 2022

After two decades as FMM L-D, Keith Orr retires from competition; Gareth McLees takes on role

Gareth McLees (left) with Keith Orr at the 2022 World Championships.

Reigning and 13-time World Champions Field Marshal Montgomery of Lisburn, Northern Ireland, are making their biggest leadership change in 20 years, as Lead-Drummer Keith Orr has decided to retire from competing.

Long-time Field Marshal Montgomery corps member and many-time prizewinner at the World Solo Drumming Championship Gareth McLees is taking over the role. Apart from a stint with Shotts & Dykehead from 2013-15, the Ulster native has played with Field Marshal Montgomery since 2007.

In addition to the band’s pipe-sergeant change in 2018 when Alastair Dunn stepped away from the band and Matt Wilson took the front left flank, the move is the most significant for FMM since Lead-Drummer Andy Scullion handed over the position to Orr after the 2002 season.

Orr retires as one of the greatest pipe band drummers of all time, having helped guide the band to 10 World Championships, 12 RSPBA Champion of Champions awards, 49 RSPBA championships, and 13 All-Ireland Championships during his two decades as lead-drummer. He gained renown as a master of ensemble, working with Parkes to create a successful signature sound during an era of the greatest rise of tuning and unison standards in pipe band history.

Under Orr, the Field Marshal Montgomery drum section won a World Pipe Band Drumming Championship in 2013, two RSPBA Champion of Champions drumming titles, and altogether 13 RSPBA Championships and 11 All-Ireland Championships. Field Marshal Montgomery’s drum section under Orr was outside the top-six at RSPBA major championships only a few times in 20 years.

“Keith has been key to the band’s success since he joined in 2003,” said Parkes. “Our partnership has been one of the most successful in pipe band history and his knowledge and leadership will be sorely missed. I wish him the very best for his retirement from competitive playing.”

Now feels like the right time to step back. – Keith Orr

Orr leaves on a high, with his final competition being the band’s win at the 2022 World Championships. He cited a nerve problem as helping to inform his decision.

“This has been a difficult decision to take,” said Keith Orr. “After competing for almost 40 years in Grade 1 and the demands that the role of lead-tip of a Grade 1 band entails, it is time for a rest. After the career highlight of leading the drum corps to the band’s and Richard’s thirteenth win at the World’s, and with nerve damage in my hand becoming more challenging to deal with, now feels like the right time to step back.”

“I am honoured to have been asked by Richard and Keith to become leading-drummer,” says Gareth. “It is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I will be so proud when we step back into the competition circle in May 2023.”

Orr will reportedly step back from competition altogether but will join the RSPBA judging panel next year. McLees officially takes over January 1, 2023. The news was shared with band members at a year-end band party in Belfast on December 10th.

Keith Orr is no relation to Gavin Orr, who recently took over as lead-drummer of Grade 1 Johnstone.

In an exclusive interview with pipes|drums following Field Marshal Montgomery’s thirteenth World Championship win, Parkes said that he has no plans to retire.

Here’s a slideshow of photos of Keith Orr and Gareth McLees:






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