It’s hard to measure the extraordinary influence that Allan Walker has had on piping in the Borders, and beyond.
But the affection and high regard which is felt for this Jedburgh native was underlined at a special gathering at his home in Ancrum last weekend.
Now 85, Allan, who served with Jedburgh’s pipe band for over half a century, including nearly five decades as pipe major, has had a number of health problems in recent years.
But he was still on good form on Saturday, when former Jedburgh band member and ex-Scots Guards piper Mike Donald paid a surprise visit, to present Allan with a specially-composed pipe tune titled ‘Pipe Major Allan Walker’.
Mike, who travelled from his home in Aberdeenshire, was taught to play the pipes by Allan as a young member of what was then the Jedburgh Boys’ Brigade Pipe Band. That band formed for the first time in 1943, with Allan’s father, Robert, as pipe major.
Allan went on to take over as pipe major from his father in 1950 and 10 years later the band amalgamated to become Jedburgh Royal British Legion Pipe Band.
By the time Allan retired from the role in 1996, he had spent a remarkable 53 years as a member of the band, personally teaching generations of youngsters to play the pipes.
And the times Allan was unable to lead his pipers at Jethart Callant’s Festival could be counted on the fingers of one hand – due to National Service with the Royal Scots.
His son, Robert, also a piper, was on hand on Saturday to play the new tune, much to Allan’s delight.
Mike, who joined the Scots Guards as a boy piper and gained his own pipe major’s certificate in 1970/71, has composed a number of published tunes.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that without my introduction to piping by Allan, I would not be where I am now,” Mike told us this week.
“I am sure that many other pipers feel the same way. And it was with that in mind that I composed the tune I called ‘Pipe Major Allan Walker’ – to mark his contribution to piping in the Borders, spanning an incredible 53 years.
“And along with Allan’s son, Robert, we arranged the surprise presentation of my original manuscript for the tune to his father at his home in Ancrum on Saturday – and to have Robert play it for his dad was just fantastic.”
Allan, now a grandfather and great-grandfather, certainly enjoyed Saturday’s musical surprise.
“It was a very enjoyable day and getting a tune written by Mike and then played by Robert was really something special,” he said.
Allan’s wife Ruth, a self-confessed ‘piping widow’, agreed it had been a wonderful occasion: “Allan was thrilled with the tune. It was so generous of Mike.”
Ruth added that her family is hoping Allan may soon be able to recover his health enough to start using an electric chanter.
“Hopefully, because piping’s been Allan’s life,” she added.