Reports of a band in Neilston date back around 200 years. Records of 1819 say that a band from Neilston played “Scots wha hae wi Wallace bled” at a rally of Scottish Radicals in Paisley on 11 September. On that occasion, the band sensed trouble with police — a tradition we maintain to the present day — and escaped down Storie Street. However, it is equally probable that the band was double-booked — another tradition we maintain to the present day — and had to rush off to another gig.
In more recent times, a band re-formed in 1970, and that marks the start of today’s Neilston & District Pipe Band. It draws its members from the townships of Neilston, Barrhead and Newton Mearns, 15km southwest of Glasgow. The band has a pipe corps playing the great highland bagpipe, and a drum corps of snare, tenor and bass instruments. The ensemble is led by Pipe Major Russell Mechan, who has been associated with the band since 1974 when he was only 8 years old and was voted in as Pipe Major in 2020 after the death of long serving Pipe Major Iain MacDonald.
After the band re-formed it was predominantly a competing band, travelling the length and breadth of Scotland competing in Grade 4 (with the odd promotion to Grade 3), playing at local parades, gala days and corporate events. Nowadays you are less likely to see the band competing but are more likely to see them playing at corporate events, local parades and travelling to international festivals.
The first time the band travelled abroad was in 1978 to the world renowned International Bagpipe Festival, Strakonice in what was formerly Czechoslovakia — a tradition the band keeps to this very day as we still travel to this biennial festival. The band were there for 2 weeks and because the band were still in their infancy and most of the gigs they did were in Number 1, the Number 2 uniform consisted of kilts and demin shirts — thankfully we have moved on a bit from then. After this first trip abroad the band started to get a taste for travelling and so a few years later they travelled to Israel — which they did on a couple of occasions — and we have kept on travelling ever since. We have been very fortunate to play at festivals worldwide, from Barbados and Dominican Republic to China and Japan, and plenty of other countries in between.
The band also has a connection with another pipe band from south of the border, the Rothbury Highland Pipe Band. PM Iain MacDonald was on holiday with his wife in 1975 and were staying at the caravan park in the village of Rothbury, Northumberland where he came across a sign outside an old POW hut indicating when practices for the band were, This intrigued Iain and he duly asked about the sign at the local pub, to which the barman pointed to a man in the corner saying that he was DM Jack Miller. In typical Iain fashion he walked up to him, began chatting and after a few drinks it was agreed that Iain would go to their practice for a listen. After practice finished, Iain asked if there were any upcoming engagements that they were due to play at and was told the next one would be the local Alwinton Agricultural Show so Iain agreed that he would bring down a few from the band to play along side Rothbury. As they say ‘the rest is history’ and both bands celebrated 40 years of friendship back in 2015 with a huge ceilidh and party. The band travel down to Rothbury 3 times a year for various events including Alwinton Agricultural Show, Rothbury’s Wold Tour of Coquet Valley and also Rothbury Traditional Music Festival — of which PM Iain is a founding member.
The tartan of the band’s kilts is MacKenzie — Army 5a — worn of old by the Seaforth Highlanders (72nd and 79th Foot) and, of course, Glasgow’s own regiment, the Highland Light Infantry (71st and 74th Foot).