Tribute to Bob Shepherd – one of the true greats of modern pipe band era

Bob Shepherd
Bob Shepherd

Robert T. (Bob) Shepherd was one of the greats of the modern pipe band era, and a figure known and respected wherever bagpipes are played.

Born in April 1938 in Lochore, Fife, he grew up in a mining community which, like many in Scotland, supported a local pipe band.

Bob started to pipe at the age of 10 and became a member of Lochore Juvenile band under Pipe Major Hugh McPherson.

When he was 14 years old, he became a member of Dundonald Colliery, which subsequently became Dysart and Dundonald Pipe Band.

He played with the band before undertaking National Service with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and then became a mathematics teacher, taking a position at Ballingry School.

The Dundonald band was well supported by the community, and each miner at the colliery had a penny a week deducted from his wages to help with its funds.

Dundonald Colliery closed in 1965, but Francis Colliery in nearby Dysart decided to adopt the band which then became known as Dysart and Dundonald Pipe Band.

Bob took over as pipe major when Robert MacKay retired in the summer of 1966 after 16 years’ service.

Dysart and Dundonald was struggling at the time, and Bob tried to revive the band through teaching, tutoring new young players during school lunchtimes and after school. It began to win titles again, among them a Grade Three in the Dunblane Highland Games in 1968, promotion to grade two in 1970 and promotion to grade three in 1973.

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Under his tutorage the band also won a Scottish Pipe Band Association grade two champion of champions title in 1971.

Almost single-handedly, Shepherd is accredited with bringing a small group of students from Novice Juvenile to Grade One World Championship victories in 1977 and 1978.

His teaching programme at Ballingry showed what could be achieved and created the successful pipe band feeder system now widely used.

His efforts at providing a steady stream of well-taught pipers were augmented by drumming skills taught by James King, and within just over a decade Dysart and Dundonald was in the same league as bands such as Edinburgh City Police, Glasgow Police and Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia.

The band recorded several albums, each featuring new repertoire and often inventive arrangements of tunes, including one recorded in Ballymena Town Hall in the 1980s under Bob as Pipe Major.

His background in another instrument, the piano, provided the understanding of how to build harmonies and counter-melodies unlike any heard from a pipe band.

Bob stood down as pipe major in the early 1980s, and devoted himself to his thriving bagpipe and reedmaking business, R.T. Shepherd & Son.

His products were in high demand and the combination of the Shepherd chanter and chanter reed for two decades was a dominating sound at all grades, and took Field Marshal Montgomery and Shotts & Dykehead, to numerous world titles in the 1990s and 2000s.

Bob is credited with creating the first 100 per cent synthetic drone reed, and he developed and patented a machine that could on its own create a chanter reed with little or no human intervention, greatly automating his manufacturing process. As well as his sons, he employed numerous pipers over the years in the business, and R.T. Shepherd & Son was a significant contributor to the regional economy.

He was heavily involved with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, being a member of the organisation’s music board for many years, but was most known for his judging, when he was never afraid to make bold and often controversial decisions.

Bob’s contributions to the pipe band world were immense and undeniable. He was awarded an MBE in 2002 for his services to piping, acknowledging his teaching work not only in Scotland but around the world.

In a tribute, Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band said: “Bob was one of the greats of the pipe band world, having helped shaped our art in modern times as a craftsman, teacher, leader and adjudicator. The band are grateful for the part Bob’s chanters have played in our continued success since 1999. We are raising a wee whiskey in his memory and thinking of his loved ones during this sad time,”

Robert Mathieson, former pipe-major of Shotts & Dykehead and a winner of five World Championships, said: “He was an entrepreneur when it came to instrument and reed production. First and foremost he was a great educator of piping and pipe band musicianship in his local community and. indeed, globally. Ahead of his time for most of his piping and adjudicating career, his words of advice will be relevant and quoted by many for decades to come.”

Bob hads been ill for some time, and he died at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy. His funeral will take place on Tuesday, November 5, at Kirkcaldy Crematorium.

Donations in lieu of flowers have been encouraged to the Renal Unit, Ward 22 at the Vic.

The innovative figure in the pipe band world is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughter Elaine and son Douglas, grandchildren Zara, April, Jillian, Robbie and Douglas and great-grandchildren Robbie, Kieran, Logan, Clay, Kayla, Robert, Billy and John.