Belfast Telegraph

Former champion band left with just two pipers, but veteran Drew (84) says he’ll teach new members

By Donna Deeney

An award-winning band is facing an uncertain future after almost 90 years — because of a lack of pipers.

Killen and District Pipe Band in Co Tyrone has just two pipers left.

Now one of the oldest members, 84-year-old Drew Forbes, is appealing for new members, either experienced or novice, to join the ranks so it can get back to doing what it loves — taking part in competitions.

Killen Pipe Band, the marching band for LOL 1272 and Black Perceptory 682, started from humble beginnings in 1931 when it evolved from a flute band. The early days were focused on practising the art of the bagpipes and drums and it wasn’t until 1953 that the first uniforms — which consisted of Black Watch tartan kilts — were bought for the princely sum of £410 from James Hutching, Londonderry.

The skills of the band paid dividends once it started entering competitions in 1977 in grade five, playing against Ballybriest, Woodburn and Faughan Valley.

In this first competitive outing Killen Pipe band scooped the first prize — a magnificent achievement which continued in the years that followed, and ambitiously included the world championships.

After steadily rising through the world championships, in 2002 the band won first place at grade 4A and in 2009 another first, this time at grade 3B.

Mr Forbes has been at the core of the band since he was in his teenage years and is keen to pass on his knowledge to new members. With just two pipers left and six more in training, he told the Belfast Telegraph it needed between six and 10 more to keep the band in competition.

He said: “Last year was the first year we didn’t have enough pipers for competition, which was an awful shame, so we really need new members.

“It doesn’t matter if they can’t play the pipes, that can be taught and we can supply the pipes for them to practise on.

“When the band started it had 10 pipers, four drummers and two tenor drummers and a base drummer. In the early days they didn’t have any uniforms and just marched in their own clothes.

“I joined the band when I was around 16 or 17 as a piper.” He added: “The pipes are a difficult instrument to learn, they are complicated, but if you practise you can master them. There is nothing like the sound of a good pipe band and Killen had done well in competitions over the years, but last year was the first we weren’t able to compete.

“In a grade 4 band you need eight pipers, four side drums, a tenor drum and a base. It looks great when you have a full row of pipers, but we only have two pipers now. We need about six or eight new pipers and it won’t matter if they’ve never played before, because I will teach them. We will welcome whoever wants to come — boys or girls, they’ll all be welcome.”

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