Australia gets a jolt at the top with resurrection of City of Whitehorse
Former Clan Gregor Pipe Band Pipe-Major George Shepherd is leading a new band in the Melbourne area built on the four-years-dormant Grade 1 Nunawading Pipe Band / Australia Highlanders, reforming as the City of Whitehorse, with an eye on the top grade, with some 21 pipers on the books to start. The band plans to come out strong with the start of the Australia season in December of this year.
City of Whitehorse has Olav Goud as leading-drummer, bringing a resume of experience in Grade 1 with the likes of the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, Polkemmet and Lothian & Borders Police under his belt in Scotland. The Pipe-Sergeant is R.J. Houston, formerly with the Australia Highlanders and originally from the Vancouver area, playing in the Simon Fraser University organization with Robert Malcolm Memorial. Kirsty McLellan is lead-tenor with experience in Shotts & Dykehead in the late-1990s and early-2000s.
The band is already planning to compete at the New Zealand Championships in 2015 and hit Scotland and the World Championships in 2016.
“The initial response and uptake has been very promising,” Shepherd said. “Currently I have 21 pipers on roster, which is somewhat of a rarity in the Southern Hemisphere. Low numbers are always a concern for bands on the Australian circuit. Olav and Kirsty also have healthy numbers throughout the drum core so it looks well for the future.”
Shepherd is best known for his leadership of the now-defunct Clan Gregor of Scotland when the band in its first year in Grade 1 made the prize-list of an RSPBA major, taking fifth at the European Championship in 2004. The band won Grade 2 at the World’s the previous year with Shepherd as pipe-sergeant. He immigrated to Australia in 2006.
The assets of the Australia Highlanders were looked after following the band’s hiatus in 2010 after Pipe-Major Danny Boyle and Leading-Drummer Alastair Boyle resigned, after the band cancelled plans to compete at the World’s that year, citing costs. Following the 2014 Australian Championships the band was officially reformed, under the City of Whitehorse name.
Located near Melbourne, the suburbs of Box Hill and Nunawading amalgamated in 1994 to become the City of Whitehorse.
The pipe section will use sheepskin bags and cane drone reeds with Shepherd chanters, while the drum section will use Andante instruments. Grade 1 Boghall & Bathgate Caledonian bass-section leader Stevie McQuillan’s Pro-Line company will outfit the bass and tenors, and the Go Drumming company will also contribute to the City of Whitehorse corps.
As for the grade of the new band, Shepherd said, “We will be at the mercy of the local grading committee – and hopefully we’re good on the day. We’ll fit in where they see fit. The goal of the team is to establish and maintain a band capable of competing on an international stage in the premier grade.”
The Australia pipe band scene has grown thinner in the top grades in the last five years, with only a handful of bands competing in Grade 1 in the expansive country. The Western Australia Police won the 2014 Australian Pipe Band Championship with a group rounded out with guest players, topping the Queensland Highlanders and Moorabin City, the only other Grade 1 bands in the country.
“I’m looking forward to the season ahead with great excitement and optimism,” Shepherd continued. “We have a fantastic blend of youth and experience within the group. The initial response and commitment has blown us away. The leadership team we have in place all read from the same page sharing a burning desire to build a band capable of competing on an international level.”