Remote possibilities: a conversation with WAPOL P-M Alisdair McLaren – Part 1
For much of the piping and drumming world, the Western Australia Police Pipe Band is the best band they might not know about. The Perth, Australia-based group, led by Perth native Pipe-Major Alisdair McLaren, who took the role in April 2020 after living in Scotland for 13 years, is also one of the world’s most remote Grade 1 band, able to sustain a world standard at the western-most point of the massive country.
“WAPOL” hasn’t competed at the World Pipe Band Championships for more than a decade. The band is financed by the police force, and they are kept busy as one of its flagship public relations vehicles, making appearances as official functions, parades, schools, and all manner of events where the police realize the powerful positive message that excellent piping and drumming communicates to the public.
Travelling to Australia’s more pipe band rich eastern and central states like Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria is demanding enough; getting to Scotland is a massive commitment of time and money.
When WAPOL did make bi-annual appearances at the World’s in the 2000s, it turned in solid Grade 1 performances, usually qualifying for the Final. Indeed, WAPOL was catapulted to Grade 1 after winning Grade 2 at the World’s in 1998, the same year that their Australian counterparts Victoria Police gained the ultimate prize, making the competition a historic showing for antipodean piping and drumming.
Despite a dearth of competition, WAPOL has been steadfast in its commitment to excellence. Highland Society of London Gold Medallist James Murray was recruited as pipe-major in 2012, staying in the post until 2019. Murray maintained the band’s quality, delivering regular full-length concerts and recordings along the way.
After a long search, McLaren was convinced to return home to take over WAPOL. He had actually served as P-M of the band in 2005 and 2006 before going to Scotland to join the Grade 1 Strathclyde / Glasgow Police, and then Field Marshal Montgomery for 13 years, enjoying five World Champion wins with the band.
In another boomerang move, Alisdair McLaren was pipe-sergeant of the Glasgow Police from 2016-18 and, just as the COVID pandemic took hold was appointed pipe-major of the band. During his time in Scotland, he worked as a full-time instructor at the National Piping Centre as for 10 years was the director of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland.
So, when WAPOL came calling with an offer of a full-time paid position as pipe-major of the band, and a plan to build a youth program, there was no better candidate than McLaren to take on the post.
The Western Australia Police have a long and glorious tradition of piping and drumming. The police force clearly understands that an excellent pipe band is a positive and invaluable reflection.
But without competition constantly pushing the band forward, how does WAPOL maintain such a high standard?
We asked Alisdair McLaren if he could take time from his busy day, and he kindly agreed. With a 13-hour time difference between Toronto and Perth, it was 8 am for us and 9 pm for him, not to mention an outdoor temperature of minus-19 and plus-35, respectively.
We hope that you enjoy our two-part conversation with Alisdair McLaren, as he discusses his approaches and philosophy for success – literally, the remote possibilities of excellence.
Here’s Part 1:
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our conversation with Alisdair McLaren.
McLaren appointed pipe-major of WAPOL
April 23, 2020
McLaren ready to rev up Glasgow Police
September 4, 2019
McLaren joins Glasgow Police as co-P-S
August 20, 2017
McLaren appointed Director of National Youth Pipe Band program
January 31, 2009
Western Australia re-starts in-person competitions
August 20, 2020
WAPOL could travel internationally – with permission
April 29, 2020