Words from Donnie Finlayson, the founder of the Hong Kong Pipe Band.
"I was posted to Hong Kong from Mexico in September 1978. As I became more involved in the 'Social Scene' mainly the St Andrew's Society, Round Table and the Masonic Lodge it was not long until word had spread that I played the Great Highland Bagpipe. Soon I was being invited to play my 'pipes' at various functions throughout Hong Kong and Kowloon. No matter where I played someone always came up to speak to me and invariable would comment, on piping in general and followed up with, 'I used to play the pipes myself,' or something along these lines. This happened so often I concluded there were a great number of 'ex pipers, out there' who for work commitments, or other reasons were no longer playing the noble instrument. I thought it would be a good idea if I could convince a number of them to 'get together' somewhere, just to play the chanter, perhaps, in someone's flat once a week or so. Several thought this was a good idea. The idea of forming a band was not under consideration at that time. Just a get together to continue the various discussions they had with me when playing at the various functions and perhaps to do a bit of chanter practice to keep the fingers going and recall old favorite tunes, etc.
We decided to make an announcement on the local English speaking radio station asking any pipers who wished to rekindle their playing to get in touch. I think the response was about thirty odd interested ex players. I do not rightly remember where we had our first meeting but it soon became apparent we had the makings of a 'Pipe Band'. Some of the names I remember were of course Jan Blaaw, Gordon Kindness, Diana Reeves, Garreth Williams. We decided to advertise again this time for 'drummers' and before we knew where we were we had a sufficient number of players and formed the Hong Kong Pipe Band virtually on the spot.
For my sins I was the first, but very short lived, Pipe Major. Shortly after this I was playing at a St Andrew's Society Burns Supper circa 1982. On returning to my table having 'piped' in the Chieftain and top table guests I was greeted as usual with, 'not bad playing mate, I used to play the pipes myself.' This was my first meeting with the inimitable, Ian Mowatt. During the evening we discussed piping at great length. I told him we had formed a band. He advised me he had played with the 'British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band' (Grade 1). I convinced him to join us and with immediate effect made him Pipe Major.
At that time the Queen's Own Highlanders were stationed at Stanley Fort. I had made my number with their, then, Pipe Major, Nicky Gordon. Nicky came along to several of our practice sessions and assisted where and when he could. (By a strange coincidence Nicky is now a schools piping instructor on the Hebridean Island of Lewis. I inherited a 'Croft' on Lewis so I am in touch with Nicky, getting the odd lesson when I am in residence, on holiday from Glasgow.) When the 'Queens Own Highlanders' were repatriated they were replaced by the 'Scots Guards'. Their Pipe Major was Jimmy Banks who also gave us a wee helping hand. Jimmy is now an instructor at the Piping Centre in Glasgow. I am in touch with him also. Another famous character and top class piper gave us some advice during a seminar he conducted for us during a quick stop over in Hong Kong en route Beijing to play at a Beijing St Andrew's Society function. This was Pipe Major, Tony MacDonald of the British Airways Pipe Band. Tony is now teaching and making pipes in Annan in Dumfriesshire Scotland. I see Tony from time to time.
I see my great buddy Ian Mowatt when he is in Scotland and have twice bumped into Jan Blaaw in the 'Park Bar' Glasgow when he attended World Pipe Band Championships on two occasions. (The tentacles of the original Hong Kong Pipe Band stretch far and wide) One of our first 'major' events was to compete at the Jakarta Highland Gathering on Java, Indonesia. This was a superb occasion which will never be erased from my memory in spite of the copious quantity of 'mild sherbets' consumed during a long debauched weekend. I think we went twice to the Jakarta gathering. The first time we were sponsored by Chubb (locks etc). On one of these occasions the aircraft took on a large contingent of Scots, at Singapore, like us, en route to Jakarta. Before long they 'clocked' Mowatt and me, full of the joys and raring to play pipes. To the great delight of all the Scots we started to march, playing, down each aisle of the 'jumbo' Mowatt in the 'starboard aisle' and me in the 'port aisle' Some twit' complained and we were asked to stop. We were not too keen to give up, especially when being encouraged by the Singapore Scottish contingent. Eventually the pilot announced 'turbulence ahead, return to seats, and fasten safety belts.' We had no alternative but to sit down and strap ourselves in. Needless to say we carried on playing.
I still meet from time to time retired Scots now back here who remember Mowatt and me playing at 33,000 feet. (The tentacles of the original Hong Kong Pipe Band stretch far and wide.) The Band was very active at functions in Hong Kong under Pipe Major Ian Mowatt up until my departure for Singapore in 1985. I met up with the band again in Jakarta about 1986. By this time I was playing with a wee band we formed in Singapore. Not on the same scale as the HK band (pardon the pun) I well remember Mowatt and Kate Kan (drummer) staying overnight at my place on their way back to Hong Kong from Jakarta.
A lot of 'water has passed under the bridge' since these heady days. I am delighted to learn the Hong Kong Pipe band has been 'rekindled' after a dormant period. From all accounts the future looks bright and the band appears to be in good hands. I hope some day to retrace my steps down 'memory lane' and who knows 'tak anither cup o kindness yet' and maybe even risk a tune or two with the Hong Kong band. I was repatriated form Singapore to Glasgow in 1988. I joined the Kinning Park Pipe band and played with them for about seven years before joining the Johnstone Pipe Band where I played for about another seven years before retiring from playing but still remain as 'Chairman' of the band. With the Kinning Park Pipe Band I played at Hampden Park Glasgow, Scotland's international football stadium at all Scottish Cup, football finals and internationals. Probably the only man to play for seven years at Hampden Park and never scored a goal! When I joined the Johnstone Pipe Band they were in Grade 4. When I stopped playing they were in line for promotion to Grade 2. Since then they have become a 'teaching band' in Grade 4 once again under Pipe Major Keith Bowes ex Scots Guards piper who went to school in Hong Kong. Aye the tentacles spread far and wide. Regrettably I cannot find any photographs of my time with HKPB as requested by Ron Abbott. I do however include a few photos of my time with both the KP and Johnstone Pipe Bands. The photos from KP days show the band performing at the 'Grand Old Opera' Glasgow for a 6 program 'Gaelic' country and western television series which I presented, hence the cowboy outfit. The Johnstone photos show us with numerous trophies during our best years circa 1998-2001. During that time we performed at festivals in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, but these are stories for another time and place ………"