Bob Shepherd, 1938-2019
Robert T. “Bob” Shepherd, one of the greats of the modern pipe band era, died on October 25, 2019, after an illness. A native of Fife and a lifelong resident there, he gained huge notoriety as the leader of the Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band organization, teaching pipes at Ballingry School in Lochore where he almost single-handedly brought a small group of students from Novice Juvenile to Grade 1 World Championship victories in 1977 and 1978.
He was born on April 28, 1938, and grew up in Lochore, Fife, a mining community where, like many in Scotland, supported a local pipe band. He started on the pipes at age 10, and was a member of Lochore Juvenile under Pipe-Major Hugh MacPherson. At 14, Shepherd became a member of Dundonald Colliery, which would subsequently become Dysart & Dundonald.
After completing his National Service with the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, he became a certified school teacher in mathematics, taking a job at Ballingry School. Dysart & Dundonald had gone on hard times, and Shepherd soon became its pipe-major, and commenced trying to resurrect the group through teaching, tutoring new young players during school lunchtimes and after school.
The band got back to competition success, with a win in Grade 3 at the Dunblane Highland Games in 1968 , promotion to Grade 2 in 1970, a Scottish Pipe Band Association Grade 2 Champion of Champions title in in 1971 and promotion to Grade 1 in 1973.
Meanwhile, Shepherd’s teaching program blossomed at Ballingry, and he almost single-handedly created the pipe band feeder system that we see today. With Ballingry School working to provide a steady stream of well-taught pipers, and drummers under the care of the great James King, Dysart & Dundonald rose within 11 years to rub shoulders with legendary Grade 1 bands like the Edinburgh City Police, Glasgow Police and Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia, much to their frequent chagrin.
The band’s signature sound was pronounced with chanter dominance, pipers often cutting back on their drone sound to better show off the close chanter tuning that Shepherd achieved. Embellishments were often sacrificed in exchange for unison, and the strategy was a constant recipe for success, reaching its apex in the late 1970s with Champion of Champions titles and the two World Championship wins.
The band recorded several albums, each featuring new repertoire and often inventive arrangements of tunes. Shepherd’s background in piano allowed him to build harmonies and counter-melodies unlike any heard from a pipe band. He would borrow concepts from many musical genres, including classical, and would occasionally take pieces from other bands and make them his own.
After stepping down as pipe-major in the early 1980s, Shepherd devoted himself to his thriving bagpipe and reedmaking business, R.T. Shepherad & Son. His products were in high demand by both bands and soloists. The combination of the Shepherd chanter and chanter reed for two decades was a dominating sound at all grades, most famously by Field Marshal Montgomery and Shotts & Dykehead, taking both bands to numerous world titles in the 1990s and 2000s.
In addition to the pipe chanter, he was an innovator of piping products. Bob Shepherd is credited with creating the first 100% synthetic drone reed, and he developed and patented a machine that could on its own create a chanter reed with little or no human intervention, great automating his manufacturing process. As well as his sons, he employed numerous pipers over the years in the business, and R.T. Shepherd & Son was a significant contributor to the regional economy.
Bob Shepherd was heavily involved with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association. He was a member of the organization’s music board for many years, but was most known for his judging. Never afraid to make bold and often controversial decisions, Shepherd was generally seen to either love or hate certain bands, and allegations of favouritism abounded. When confronted with accusations of bias, he would matter-of-factly deny them, saying he judged competitions simply as he heard them, sometimes even appearing to revel in controversy.
“Bob was a musical innovator in the pipe band competition and concert arena,” said Robert Mathieson, former pipe-major of Shotts & Dykehead and a winner of five World Championships. “He was an entrepreneur when it came to instrument and reed production. First and foremost he was a great educator of piping and pipe band musicianship in his local community and indeed globally. Ahead of his time for most of his piping and adjudicating career. His words of advice will be relevant and quoted by many for decades to come.”
Regardless of his reputation with some, Bob Shepherd’s contributions to the pipe band world were immense and undeniable. He was made a Member of the British Empire in 2002 in the Queen’s Honours for his services to piping, rightly acknowledging his teaching work not only in Scotland but around the world.
At this sad time, we offer our condolences to Bob Shepherd’s surviving family and friends around the world.