Robert Turner, 1944-2019
Robert “Bob” Turner, the former lead-drummer of Grade 1 Muirhead & Sons for many years, died on October 22, 2019, at the age of 75 in his adopted home of New Zealand.
Turner was for more than 20 years one of the pipe band world’s top players and leaders. Born January 10, 1944, in Glasgow, he took up the pipe band snare at age 12, and was originally taught by George Hunter of the Grade 1 Renfrew Pipe Band.
As with so many young Scottish males, Turner’s first pipe band experience was with the Boys Brigade, and in 1956 he became a competing member with the 214th Glasgow Company Boys Brigade, which also featured pipe band legend Joe Noble in the ranks. The band won the World Juvenile Championship several times in the late-1950s and early-1960s, and Turner served as Leading-Drummer in the unit from 1959 to 1962, winning the British Boys Brigade Solo Drumming Championship in 1958 and ’59.
Today, the Muirhead & Sons Pipe Band of Grangemouth, Scotland, is rapidly fading from memory, but for more than 20 years was a major force in Grade 1, winning the World Championship five times along with every other major in the United Kingdom. It was in 1962 when Muirhead & Sons lead-drummer Jim Hutton asked Turner to come aboard to begin a 15-year stint with the group.
Although Hutton had an Alex Duthart-inspired style, and Turner was taught a different approach to the art, Turner melded with the band, and in 1965, when Hutton departed to play with Duthart at the newly formed Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band, a 22-year-old Bob Turner was made lead-drummer at a time when the band was about to commence its remarkable five-year run of consecutive World Championship wins, a record that would stand until the Strathclyde Police achieved six straight from 1981 to 1986.
“Muirhead’s” success gradually dissipated in the mid-1970s, and in 1977 collapsed altogether. (The band’s uniforms were purchased by the Denny & Dunipace Pipe Band, which today still wears Muirhead’s Princess Elizabeth tartan.)
Pipe bands evolve, and the aforementioned Renfrew Pipe Band was to take on a sponsorship with now-defunct British Caledonian Airways, which wanted a colourful, musical spectacle to market its brand around the world. Along with former Muirhead’s piper Robert “Bob” Richardson, Turner joined the leadership team at “B-Cal,” and the band went on to enjoy good success, carrying many all-star players who were attracted to the jet-setting perks of the group.
Turner stayed with B-Cal until 1981 when he was wooed by the United Arab Emirates Army to become its pipe band instructor and musical arranger. He settled in Dubai until 1987 when he moved to New Zealand, playing with the Whangarei & Counties Pipe Band and then the then Grade 2 Wellington Police Pipe Band.
One of the first pipe band musicians to leverage endorsements and design work, Turner was aligned with the Rose-Morris Drum Company of England, a maker of pipe band and marching drums, and his signature drum sticks were for many years the most significant alternative to Premier Percussion’s Alex Duthart signature sticks.
Recordings of his playing with the Muirhead & Sons and British Caledonian Airways pipe bands were few, and difficult to source today. Commercial Muirhead’s LPs that feature Turner’s scores include, Champion of Champions (1967, Polydor Special 236 211); Scotland the Brave (1969, CBS SPR 59); Sound of the Champions (1971, CBS SPR 59); and Champion Du Monde (1976, ARFOLK SB 351).
The Robert Turner Solo Drumming Championship was started at the Waipu Highland Games in New Zealand in 2013 in honour of the great drummer.
We extend our condolences to Bob Turner’s surviving family and friends at this difficult time.
An interview with pipe band drumming great Robert Turner
November 30, 2012