The man behind the mace

What would an Anzac Day celebration be like without the uplifting sound of bagpipes filling the air? Bryson Watt has led the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band into many Anzac Day celebrations. On Monday morning he will twirl the mace again.

What would an Anzac Day celebration be like without the uplifting sound of bagpipes filling the air? Bryson Watt has led the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band into many Anzac Day celebrations. On Monday morning he will twirl the mace again.

BEST FRIEND: Bryson Watt and his dog Mopsy.
Anzac Parade 1969.
DRUM MAJOR: Bryson Watt leading the 2015 Anzac Day Parade.

BRYSON Watt remembers a particular moment during his long history as drum major leading the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band.

It was at a Blossom Festival in Hastings during the 1950s. He was out in front twirling the mace, which is the stick or staff the drum major does tricks with — the correct term is staff-flourishing.

“We were plonked behind a milk float towed by a team of oxen, and we all know what oxen do,” says Bryson starting to laugh.

Sure enough the oxen relieved themselves of number twos right in Bryson’s path and inexplicably he dropped his stick which landed smack in the middle of an oxen pat.

“I had to pick that stick up.”

But despite it being “bloody embarrassing” for him, the crowd loved it.

“They love it when you drop the mace anyway but after I did that there was an exceptional cheer from the sidelines.

“I’ll never forget that.”

There’s lots that Bryson remembers about his fun days in the band. Next month is Bryson’s 80th birthday but he shows no signs of stopping. On Monday morning he will put on his uniform, perform his drill as drum major and staff-flourish down Gladstone Road as the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band marches toward the Cenotaph on the Esplanade.

His 195cm (6ft 5) stature is a good height for the front of the band.

Born and raised in Gisborne, Bryson still lives in the home he built for his family in 1965, where he and his late wife Lillian raised their five children. It’s been more than 20 years since Lil passed away, and Bryson lost his second love Velma only last year after more than 12 years together.

Sharp as a tack

Still sharp as a tack, Bryson recounts the fun days being in the pipe band while he worked as a carpenter around Gisborne.

He still loves anything to do with woodwork and has a great set-up at home. Most mornings he is at the Jolly Stockman helping with maintenance.

His family have planned a big get- together for his May 12 birthday, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren flying in from around New Zealand and Australia.

Bryson joined the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band when he was 15 years old. Before that he introduced himself to drumming when he started Gisborne Intermediate. There was an old rope-tension drum nobody used. But soon Bryson began to use it and before long he would lead the marching students back to class after lunchtime assembly.

It was his first role as a solo drummer. Beyond his intermediate years he continued with drumming and also plays the piano, something he still tinkers on today, his favourite pieces being classical.

History behind the band

There is a bit of history in how the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band formed.

Back in the late 40s, there was only one pipe band in Gisborne — the Poverty Bay Highland Pipe Band led by pipe major Davy Miller. But there was dissension in the ranks.

Davy didn’t want to compete but others in the band did — so they split up and the Gisborne City Highland Pipe Band was formed.

That was the band Bryson joined. He remembers travelling to the contests by bus — it was a big deal back then getting everyone bussed by New Zealand Road Services to cities around New Zealand.

Bryson especially remembers the second contest he went to vividly because it was “a bloody disaster”.

To save money the pipe major at the time, Reg Howe, had organised a road transport truck that he drove to take the band to Masterton.

There had to be eight drummers and seven pipers to compete, and on the eve of their departure one of the pipers said he was not going if the truck was the transport.

A quick scramble around found an available bus. But on the morning of departure the old bus only got them as far as Morere before it conked out.

Gisborne to Masterton by broken-down bus

The 20-plus members of the band had to wait four hours before a replacement bus arrived to pick them up — this bus made it as far as Dannevirke before it too broke down. Again, they had to wait hours — this time the second bus was fixed.

In the end it took them 15 long hours to get from Gisborne to Masterton. They had to get up early the next morning to compete. They were all so exhausted it was not their best performance.

Before he was the drum major — he thinks his 6ft 5 stature had something to do with it — Bryson was a side drummer.

About 1960 the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band went into a bit of a decline. But three members — Bryson, Alan Burns and Des Fielder — were really keen on getting it back together again.

The idea got some momentum with the Springbok tour of 1965. The South African rugby team wanted a pipe band to lead them onto the field.

Borrowed kilts

They borrowed kilts, used paintbrushes for sporrans and led the team onto the pitch.

This kickstarted the band back into action and from there they went from strength- to-strength, renamed the City of Gisborne Highland Pipe Band.

With the help of their then lawyer, Tony Chrisp, and administrator Ben Hudson, they acquired a full band uniform from the Whanganui Pipe Band who were selling theirs. Now all kitted out, they were ready to perform again and they continue to do so today.

Sadly interest is waning.

“Unfortunately it’s dying because of a lack of members. Children these days are not interested and getting learners is virtually impossible,” he said.

“They’re more into computers and talking to each other through text messages, even while sitting side by side on the couch. I’ve seen it happen,” he said.

So if you are one of the many spectators who will turn out on Monday morning at 9.15am to see the parade, you’ll now know a bit more about the man behind the mace as the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band provides the uplifting sound of bagpipes.

BRYSON Watt remembers a particular moment during his long history as drum major leading the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band.

It was at a Blossom Festival in Hastings during the 1950s. He was out in front twirling the mace, which is the stick or staff the drum major does tricks with — the correct term is staff-flourishing.

“We were plonked behind a milk float towed by a team of oxen, and we all know what oxen do,” says Bryson starting to laugh.

Sure enough the oxen relieved themselves of number twos right in Bryson’s path and inexplicably he dropped his stick which landed smack in the middle of an oxen pat.

“I had to pick that stick up.”

But despite it being “bloody embarrassing” for him, the crowd loved it.

“They love it when you drop the mace anyway but after I did that there was an exceptional cheer from the sidelines.

“I’ll never forget that.”

There’s lots that Bryson remembers about his fun days in the band. Next month is Bryson’s 80th birthday but he shows no signs of stopping. On Monday morning he will put on his uniform, perform his drill as drum major and staff-flourish down Gladstone Road as the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band marches toward the Cenotaph on the Esplanade.

His 195cm (6ft 5) stature is a good height for the front of the band.

Born and raised in Gisborne, Bryson still lives in the home he built for his family in 1965, where he and his late wife Lillian raised their five children. It’s been more than 20 years since Lil passed away, and Bryson lost his second love Velma only last year after more than 12 years together.

Sharp as a tack

Still sharp as a tack, Bryson recounts the fun days being in the pipe band while he worked as a carpenter around Gisborne.

He still loves anything to do with woodwork and has a great set-up at home. Most mornings he is at the Jolly Stockman helping with maintenance.

His family have planned a big get- together for his May 12 birthday, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren flying in from around New Zealand and Australia.

Bryson joined the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band when he was 15 years old. Before that he introduced himself to drumming when he started Gisborne Intermediate. There was an old rope-tension drum nobody used. But soon Bryson began to use it and before long he would lead the marching students back to class after lunchtime assembly.

It was his first role as a solo drummer. Beyond his intermediate years he continued with drumming and also plays the piano, something he still tinkers on today, his favourite pieces being classical.

History behind the band

There is a bit of history in how the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band formed.

Back in the late 40s, there was only one pipe band in Gisborne — the Poverty Bay Highland Pipe Band led by pipe major Davy Miller. But there was dissension in the ranks.

Davy didn’t want to compete but others in the band did — so they split up and the Gisborne City Highland Pipe Band was formed.

That was the band Bryson joined. He remembers travelling to the contests by bus — it was a big deal back then getting everyone bussed by New Zealand Road Services to cities around New Zealand.

Bryson especially remembers the second contest he went to vividly because it was “a bloody disaster”.

To save money the pipe major at the time, Reg Howe, had organised a road transport truck that he drove to take the band to Masterton.

There had to be eight drummers and seven pipers to compete, and on the eve of their departure one of the pipers said he was not going if the truck was the transport.

A quick scramble around found an available bus. But on the morning of departure the old bus only got them as far as Morere before it conked out.

Gisborne to Masterton by broken-down bus

The 20-plus members of the band had to wait four hours before a replacement bus arrived to pick them up — this bus made it as far as Dannevirke before it too broke down. Again, they had to wait hours — this time the second bus was fixed.

In the end it took them 15 long hours to get from Gisborne to Masterton. They had to get up early the next morning to compete. They were all so exhausted it was not their best performance.

Before he was the drum major — he thinks his 6ft 5 stature had something to do with it — Bryson was a side drummer.

About 1960 the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band went into a bit of a decline. But three members — Bryson, Alan Burns and Des Fielder — were really keen on getting it back together again.

The idea got some momentum with the Springbok tour of 1965. The South African rugby team wanted a pipe band to lead them onto the field.

Borrowed kilts

They borrowed kilts, used paintbrushes for sporrans and led the team onto the pitch.

This kickstarted the band back into action and from there they went from strength- to-strength, renamed the City of Gisborne Highland Pipe Band.

With the help of their then lawyer, Tony Chrisp, and administrator Ben Hudson, they acquired a full band uniform from the Whanganui Pipe Band who were selling theirs. Now all kitted out, they were ready to perform again and they continue to do so today.

Sadly interest is waning.

“Unfortunately it’s dying because of a lack of members. Children these days are not interested and getting learners is virtually impossible,” he said.

“They’re more into computers and talking to each other through text messages, even while sitting side by side on the couch. I’ve seen it happen,” he said.

So if you are one of the many spectators who will turn out on Monday morning at 9.15am to see the parade, you’ll now know a bit more about the man behind the mace as the Gisborne Highland Pipe Band provides the uplifting sound of bagpipes.

Anzac Day parade

The parade departs from Peel Street at 9.15am and will proceed along Gladstone Road to the Esplanade.

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