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Pipe Major Brett Tidswell


Pipe Major Brett Tidswell is the Principal of Piping with the Australian Pipe Band College. This organisation is the educational branch of the Australian Pipe Band Association and manages educational programs, certificate courses, training and qualification of contest adjudicators, and the grading of pipers and pipe bands for competition purposes. He is also a qualified examiner with the Piping and Drumming Qualification Board – Scotland. He has a long and respected history as an educator of pipers at the highest of levels.

Having been employed as a piping instructor in the Defence Force and for some years as a full-time bagpipe teacher; in 1991 he was asked to take on the role of Pipe Major of the newly formed, City of Adelaide Pipe Band. This band consisted primarily of young pipers, some of whom had never played in a band before and the majority of whom had only ever competed in Grade 4 or Juvenile competitions. He took them on to win Grade 2 in the Victorian and South Australian Championships within 12 months of their formation. In 1998 they won the Australian Grade 1 Championships. The band remained at the top of Grade 1 under his leadership for the next 10 years. These feats are attributed to a thorough program of educating the band’s pipers. He also competed during the Scottish competition season with the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band (20 X World Pipe Band Champions).

Brett is a soloist of International renown with many competition successes and a demand to perform at recitals around the world. His students also have a history of such success, with many solo prizes and even Pipe Band World Championships to their credit. He is author of the much acclaimed "The Complete Pipers Handbook" and his technical articles have been published in some of the World’s most recognised piping publications including; Pipe Bands Australia Magazine, New Zealand Pipe Band Magazine, The Voice - USA, Pipes/Drums - Canada and the Piping Times Magazine – Scotland.

Pipe Major Tidswell has been described by Piping World Magazine as the only piper to win Australia’s top solo piping competition (a record 12 wins of the R U Brown Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal) as well as pipe majoring a Grade 1 Australian Championship winning Pipe Band, “an impressive feat that will not be beaten in this generation”.

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Colin Melville

Colin hails from Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland. He grew up immersed in traditional Highland music and culture and from an early age received tuition from many of the most notable names in piping, including Duncan MacDonald, Alex MacDonald, John D. Burgess, Norman Gillies and Evan MacRae.

After securing an impressive record of competitive success, Colin’s musical career progressed into the sphere of traditional folk music. He has worked with many of the most prominent performers in the Celtic tradition. He is best known for his work with the world renowned band The Tannahill Weavers. The band has been at the forefront of the traditional Scottish music scene for over forty years. Colin was an integral member of the group from 2001-2014 and toured extensively with them around Europe and North America. He has performed at many of the biggest venues and events in 20 countries and has featured on numerous successful recordings.

Outside of concert performance, Colin has also gained a great deal of experience in tutoring, particularly of young learners. Passing on his knowledge of piping is something of a passion and has been one of his biggest contributions to the local community since immigrating to South Australia in 2014.


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Pipe Major Bill Robertson

When it comes to piping, Bill has been involved with most aspects of the Art, from competing, directing, judging, giving lessons and developing bagpipe tutorials. At the tender age of 11 he started taking lessons with the Boys Brigade 1st St. Andrews Company. Upon turning 18 he was called up for National Service with The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). At this time The Royal Scots were the oldest serving regiment of the British Army.

After basic training at Dreghorne Barracks, Edinburgh, he was able to progress with his piping when he was accepted for the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion of the regiment under Pipe Major Willie Denholm (ex K.O.S.B's); a fine piper and composer of the 6/8 march "El Alamein" and "The Royal Scots Polka". After his national service, Bill continued his service with the regiment until the late 1950s.

In 1953 PM Willie Denholm retired and was succeeded by Pipe Major Hugh Fraser a renowned piper and solo competitor who transferred from the Cameron Highlanders to take up the appointment. Bill was fortunate enough to be taught and influenced by Hugh who had so much to pass on with his experience in the "Old School" of Army piping pre-war and of the 40s and 50s. He was also a composer of note. Both these Pipe Majors and he had some of their compositions published in pipe music books.

At the age of 23 he gained the much coveted Pipe Majors' Certificate at Edinburgh Castle under the direction of the World famous Pipe Major Willie Ross MBE (ex Pipe Major of the Scots Guards and renowned prizewinning soloist), who was the director of the Army School of Piping. A year or so later he succeeded Hugh Fraser as Pipe Major of the 1st Battalion. Late 1958 he resigned from the British Army. After spending so much time abroad in Germany, the Middle East and the Far East, he had a desire to settle down in New Zealand where he has resided since 1959.

Once in New Zealand he started directing and training a group of youngsters of the Hamilton Caledonian Society's Pipe Band and brought them up from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1 and reached third in the National Grade 1 Championships 1963/4. That band had half the piping section with these developed youngsters playing at 17 and under, years of age.

Some years later he was promoted in his regular work and this necessitated him moving to Auckland. There he directed the Auckland and District Pipe Band and took them to a good number of Grade 1 New Zealand championships.

When the band changed its name through sponsorship to the Pipes and Drums of Innes Tartan they won the open events in Vancouver, B.C. and Santa Rosa, California, in 1972. Prior to that they gained seventh place in Scotland at the Scottish Grade 1 (open) Championships, and the highest equal points for tone. He retired from the band in the 1980s and the band is still one of the top New Zealand bands. It was after his retirement the ideas for more effective ways to present bagpipe tutorials where spawned.

Being more dedicated to bands both in the Army and in New Zealand, as a means of being more helpful to piping, he seldom competed in solo events and when he did he had some notable success. Bill rates some of his best achievements being placed first in the Highland Brigade Piobaireachd event in 1957, winning of the Comunn Na Piobaireachd New Zealand Gold Medal in 1962, The Australian Open March, Strathspey and Reel competition held in Sydney, 1967.

He also takes part in seminars, workshops and has been on judges’ panel of both pipe bands and solo piping in New Zealand. His piobaireachd composition 'Lament for Pipe Major Hugh Fraser' was placed third equal in the BBC competition for new piobaireachd in 1965 from 66 entries word wide. It has been published in the book 'Collection Ceol Mor - composed during the Twentieth Century 1930 - 1980' by the Piobaireachd Society. It also appears with his 6/8 march 'Pipe Major Bill Boyle, New Zealand Scottish Regiment' in honour of one of New Zealand's most famous pipers, and compositions of Pipe Major Denholm and Hugh Fraser in the Royal Scots Pipe Music Book. His excellent DVD-Rom tutorials are available from the School of Piping shop.

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R U Brown Piobaireachd Society of South Australia

The R U Brown Piobaireachd Society of South Australia was formed to honour the memory of the late Pipe Major Robert Urquhart Brown, MBE, of Balmoral, Scotland who visited Australia in 1972.

Brown was born on 1st May 1906 and began piping under William Fraser at the age of 10. He was employed as a piper and ghillie at the Balmoral Estate and in 1928 was sent along with Bob Nicol to John MacDonald, MBE (Inverness) for lessons up until 1939. During the war years, he was Pipe Major of the 5th/7th Battalion Gordon Highlanders.

Known for his fluidity of style Brown won the Gold Medal for Piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting-Inverness in 1928 and at the Argyllshire Gathering-Oban in 1931.

Unfortunately, on his way to Australia, Bob suffered from thrombosis in the leg which proved to be troublesome but initially seemed to respond to treatment. However, after judging in Hobart, Tasmania at the Australian Championships, he was forced to abandon his tour and return to Scotland where he died a few days after arriving at his home.

During his stay with us here in Adelaide, Bob repeatedly expressed a wish that we should regularly come together and play, not in the spirit of a competition, but just to listen and enjoy all types and levels of pipe music. Shortly after his death, all who had attended his tutorials were called together. The first meeting of attendees at the tutorials decided to fulfil Bob Brown’s wish and so a Society was formed bearing his name. Ewen Masson, OAM (also Chief of the Australian Pipe Band Association) was unanimously elected President and Hamish Mackenzie the position of Principal of Piping. It was with Hamish that Bob stayed during his time in Adelaide, as they had known each other back in Scotland where Hamish and his father, Donald Iain Mackenzie (Gold Medallist- Inverness 1912, Oban 1936) had also been taught by John MacDonald of Inverness.

Browns’ teaching can be heard on the Masters of Piobaireachd collection of CD’s. These include some of his tutorials held here in Adelaide in 1972 and are an invaluable reference source.

Each month pipers gather to perform and socialise, or to attend tutorial evenings. In addition to a number of local competitions, a major competition /recitals and tutorials are held in May of each year where internationally renowned competitors vie for the R U Brown Gold Medal for Piobaireachd Playing. This is now regarded as one of the premier piping events in the Sothern Hemisphere. Details of upcoming events can be obtained from their website at

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Strathclyde Police Pipe Band

Undoubtedly the most famous pipe band of all time, the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band was formed in 1883 as the Burgh of Govan Police Pipe Band, making it the oldest pipe band in the world outside of the British Military. In 1912 the band changed its name to the City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band and then in 1975 after a regional restructure it finally became known as the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band.

Over the years the band has won an astounding 20 World Pipe Band Championships, the first in 1920 under Pipe Major William Gray, seven between 1936 and 1951 under Pipe Major John Macdonald and a legendary six wins in a row in the 1980’s under Pipe Major Ian McLellan BEM. This broke the record of five wins in a row previously set by Muirhead and Sons Pipe Band in the 1960’s. Distinctive in the Royal Stuart tartan the band today remains one of the top competitive bands in the world with most members being serving Police Officers supplemented by top guest players like Brett Tidswell, who has performed with the band during the Scottish competition season.

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City of Adelaide Pipe Band

In 1991 the state of pipe banding in South Australia had deteriorated to an all time low. The highest graded Bands were in grade 3 and the future for Pipe Bands looked grim. A number of experienced musicians led by the Australian Pipe Band Association’s National Principal of Drumming, Greg Bassani gathered at the School of Piping that was being run by Brett Tidswell, who was well known as an experienced solo piper and instructor who along with Greg, had 2 previous Australian Pipe Band Championships to his credit, although he had not played in a Band for some years.

It was decided to form the City of Adelaide Pipe Band, to establish a group that would present our traditional music at a high level and represent the State in national competitions. The Band met with resistance to its formation and was given little chance of long term survival. Within 12 months of its formation the band had established itself in Grade 2, a significant step above any other Band in the state and had won the South Australian and Victorian State Championships in that grade. A considerable feat considering many of the pipers were below 18 years of age and some had never played in a Band before.

In 1998 the band was in a position to play up in Grade 1 at several competitions and after a string of successes, including wins in the South Australian and Victorian Championships the band was officially upgraded and went on to win the Australian Championships in Newcastle that year. Not only did the band win overall, but it had the highest points for both piping and drumming in all elements. This was the first time a South Australian band had ever won an Interstate or National Championship in the top grade.

The Band had a reputation for its refined, harmonic sound and traditional style of playing and has been the highest placed Australian Band in several National Championships, has placed in the New Zealand Championships, and has performed at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, during a tour of France in 2006. The Band has won every South Australian Championship since its inception, and continues to go from strength to strength having now established a highly successful learners program.


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    © Brett Tidswell 2011