If there was any band that truly deserved to have their sepia tone photo colorized, it was this one, the Pipe Band of the Black Watch. These 15 pipers, 12 drummers, and one drum major are members of the Black Watch , a Scottish Regiment of the British Army. The postcard publisher lavished extra attention to painting their white tunics and brightly colored tartans, even adding just the right amount of gold gilt to the drums.
But pipers were given the honor of also wearing the more familiar red plaid of the Royal Stewart Tartan which is the pattern reserved for the British Royal colors.
This Black Watch Piper from the same postcard series wears the Royal Stewart sash and kilt while his jacket and bagpipes are in the Black Watch. He also sports a tall bearskin hat with the Red Hackle. This red plume, supposedly of vulture feathers, marks an heroic military action in 1795 and is an award worn only by the Black Watch. As it happens, the official Red Hackle Day is celebrated on January 5th which makes this photo an appropriate choice to start the new year.
This card is captioned Kettledrummer, “Black Watch” but the bandsman's instrument is actually a field drum or side drum. Drummers were used by armies for thousands of years, even into World War One, to play the signals used to direct troop movement on the battlefield. The Scots added the bagpipes as a way of getting these important orders heard over the din of battle. The drum heads are held together with rope and tensioned with the white leather tabs on the side. Typically there was also a snare of wires that vibrate on the lower head and could be released if desired.
Pipe Major dates from around the same period but was published in a Valentine's Series postcards whereas the others are marked P & W.M. , Ltd. All of the cards were never posted, but I have found identical cards that are postmarked 1904-05, so these bandsmen were photographed pre-WW1.
The pipe major wears the same uniform and bearskin hat with red hackle as the previous piper with only a slight difference in colorizing. His sporran, the traditional Scottish men's purse, is made of horsehair and has a distinctive design with five black tassels that was unique to the Black Watch. His bagpipes are held with the three drones draped over his arm and the chanter in his hand. Adjusting the drone's single reeds to be in tune with the chanter's double reed is a very challenging skill, and one that often requires the assistance of a third hand. No doubt this was an important duty of the pipe major to have all his pipers agree on pitch.
Besides a pipe band, there was also a Brass Band of the Black Watch. Here the 52 musicians are dressed in just the green and black tartan with white tunics and green field caps. The caption says brass band, but there are some clarinets lying on the carpet next to some horns, and a string bass player hiding behind a cornet player on the right. According to the official Black Watch museum, the unit's band was discontinued in the 1990s.
Queen's South Africa Medal for service in the Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. The number 42 on the drum refers to the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot which was one of the Scottish regiments that merged to form the Black Watch. It's quite possible that this drum may have even kept the beat since the Napoleonic Wars.
Just to right of the Black Watch brass band is a sign on the wall. It says:
Sundays 10 to 4
Weekdays 11 to 3
Sundays 10 to 4
Weekdays 11 to 3
It is the sign on the Royal Palace at Edinburgh Castle informing the public when they may see the Scottish Crown Jewels. The great castle in Edinburgh has been around since medieval times and in the 19th century was used as a prison and army garrison. The Black Watch was officially established in 1881 and when these postcards were published the castle management was being transferred from the War Office to the Office of Works which handles the Royal household's many residences and castles. This included watching over the Honours of Scotland, also known as the Scottish regalia which came in three parts - the Crown, the Sceptre, and the Sword of State. Having a band play music for the public who came to see these symbols of Scotland and Britain was the beginning of a tourist entertainment that continues in Edinburgh today.
|The Royal Palace at Edinburgh Castle|
The heritage of military band music is observed every year with performances on the castle's esplanade of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The term Tattoo comes from the Dutch phrase "Doe den tap toe" used as a tavern call of "Last orders". It translates as "close the (beer) tap". The British army encountered this lamentable concept in the 1740s during the War of the Austrian Succession and adopted a practice of having drummers or pipes & drums play a special late evening signal advising tavern owners to close their taps and send the soldiers back to their barracks. Later it became another name for an evening entertainment by military musicians. The first Edinburgh Military Tattoo was in 1950, and it has since become the most popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh.
In order to demonstrate the collective noise of a pipe band, here is a terrific YouTube video taken this past year during Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. This excerpt comes from the middle of the show and includes some precision marching. Extra points if you can count them all. If you look closely in the center of the diamond formation you will spot one bass drummer who wears a white, presumably polar, bear skin hat. He seems to be the chief drummer in charge of changing the beat. Watch at around 2:12 and 2:40.
(This is part 2 of 3, and I recommend parts 1 and 3 if you would like the full Scottish experience.)
The many traditions of the Scottish pipe bands are now part of the musical culture of many nations that were once part of the British Empire - Canada, Australia, Pakistan, and even America where pipe bands are now frequently played at the funerals of police and fire department officers. Unfortunately the hymn tune Amazing Grace gets over-used and loses some of its ceremonial power I think, because there are other fine tunes for the bagpipes.
One was performed on this remarkable video that I discovered. The occasion was also a funeral and one that truly deserved a pipe band - the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in March of 2002. Be patient until the pipers pass and I know that you will be as moved as I was. There can be no better musical tribute.
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the skirl of bagpipes are sounding this week.