Ian McLellan is a legend in the piping world and the pipe major who, in the 1980s, led the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band to an unprecedented six successive World Pipe Band Championship wins, a feat that remains unbeaten.
Born in Clydebank on January 31, 1937, Ian had no piping background in his family and came to the pipes almost by accident. Following the bombing that devastated much of Clydebank during 1941, his family had moved out to a farm near Dumbarton. One day, when Ian was about nine, a friend of his father’s, who was attached to the 214th Glasgow Company of the Boys Brigade, came to visit, showed Ian how to play the scale on a practice chanter and left the chanter and tutor book behind.
Intrigued, Ian duly practised, progressed to the pipes at age eleven and when his family moved back to Clydebank, despite the 214th being based in Whiteinch, Ian joined the company. This was to provide Ian’s first taste of success, as the 214th had a history of doing well in competitions and won the World Juvenile Pipe Band Championships three times.
After two years national service with the Argylls, where he studied the pipes with Andrew Pitkeithly, Ian joined the police in Glasgow and kept up his solo piping instruction under Ronald Lawrie as well as playing with the pipe band. As a soloist Ian’s big breakthrough came in 1965, when he won the March, Strathspey and Reel section at the Oban meeting. He went on to win the MSR at Oban again in 1968 and at Inverness in 1971 and won six MSR titles in the Uist and Barra Association competitions in Glasgow.
In 1972, Ian took over the leadership of the City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band, which with local government reorganisation in 1975 became the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, drawing pipers from five adjoining forces. Ian quickly capitalised on this increased strength and with the discipline and organisation for which he would become famous, he fashioned the band into World Champions in 1976. He repeated this success in 1979 and then in 1981 began the run of six consecutive championships. In all, the band won twelve world titles while Ian was pipe major and in 1982 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to piping.
After retiring from the police in 1992, Ian concentrated on teaching and adjudicating, which he says has kept him busier than ever as both have taken him all over the world. Among his many students are Jonathan Greenlees, of the Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band, who won the Dunvegan medal in 2008, and Gordon McCready, the Oban silver medallist and overall winner at Dunrobin Castle in 2004. As an adjudicator Ian has officiated at all the major Scottish meetings and in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. and he now takes as much pleasure in listening to great piping and hearing new talent emerging as he did in playing and leading bands to the highest level.