After New York we went on to Los Angeles for the 2nd leg of the promotional tour.
We had to be towed around the streets of LA on a large trailer whilst playing and all this with a real live Lion on the trailer with us. Adam Thomson joined us later and we all had to have a photo session with that Lion - the owner assured it was quite tame - and it was either tame or sedated as no one was bitten.
The Pipes and Drums
British Caledonian Airways
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The Band was tasked to attend the opening of the new runway at Entebbe Airport - Uganda and we were the personal guests of General Idi Amin. On arrival at Entebbe we were driven to the Kampala International Hotel where one whole floor had been reserved for us.
We attended the opening of the new runway at the airport where we carried out a marching display in front of Idi Amin and a host of Russian Generals. The new runway had been built by the Israelis who two years later were to arrive by military aircraft and blow it up (but that‘s another story).
During out stay Amin wanted as many of his people to see us as possible so we were to lead a massive parade through Kampala, it could be likened to the Lord Mayor of London parade, with floats and military units parading; there must have been thousands in the crowd.
As we approached the stand with President Amin and the Russian Generals in, the crowd surged forward whooping loudly and they were pushed back by the Army soldiers guarding the President.
Amin took the salute as we marched past and that evening we would play for him and the Generals again at the former Governor’s Palace where we played on the lawn. At the end of the show President Amin walked amongst the Band and gave everyone a present.
The Band with General Amin during a visit to Aura - Uganda.
Also with the Band are Mrs Amin, Mrs Dennis Long, wife of BCal's Manager Uganda, and their son Mark.
The following day President Amin had arranged for a plane to take the Band to his home village, the pilot had been instructed to show us some wildlife on the way and took the aircraft down to tree top height so we could see the elephants - some of us had our eyes shut it was that low.
We eventually landed at a small airstrip and got out in front of some very bemused looking people, we were in full highland dress.....we played for around 10 minutes.....and then got back on the aircraft and flew back to Kampala. I often wonder what the villagers made of it really; maybe we have gone down in village folk lore!
During out stay at the hotel we were not allowed to use the outdoor swimming pool on certain days because President Amin wanted to use it for swimming sessions. He would turn up with a large retinue of followers who would dive in and swim slowly as the President swam over them until he got to the other side where he would raise his arms to mark his achievement. No one was allowed to beat him by the looks of it.
In all we were in Uganda for 7 days carrying out different parades but one special day was laid on for us by the President we were driven to Para Lodge, a hunting lodge by the Blue Nile. A sumptuous lunch was laid on for us and after we were taken down to the river where 2 boats were waiting for us. These were stocked with ice cold beers and we were taken up river to the Murchison Falls and on the way we saw many of Africa’s wild animals by the river’s edge. The Falls were spectacular and another day that will never be forgotten.
But before we left, a request came in for a Piper to go to a small village some 40miles away from Kampala to play for the villagers. The Chief was a friend of the President, so one of our Pipers went dressed in full regalia. After six hours he was back and reported that he had a great time and all was well.
The following morning, while we were having breakfast, there was a commotion in the hotel foyer and we were summoned. There stood a bedraggled man who had walked 40 miles from the village to see us.....he had a goat with him.....the goat was a present from the Village Chief to our Piper.
It also transpired that the Piper has also been given a village maiden for a wife when he was there and he had accepted....though how much he knew about it is not clear as he could not recall what she looked like...and was not sure he had even met her.
We could not take the goat home, so it was given to the Hotel and the Pipers' extra wife may still be there!
In an earlier trip to Africa in 1971; Piper Colin Farrell met members of the Masai tribe (see right). Colin flew down to Nairob with Hostess Sam Reid and Publicity Executive Jan Williams to attend the Caledonian Ball
In 1973 we were to carry out two US engagements, the first in New York followed by Los Angeles.
The New York engagement was for the inaugural flight to New York with Adam Thomson and Lord Mountbatten plus other VIP’s. The Band went out a day early so that we could meet the flight with all the VIP’s on-board; well that was the plan but as you know plans do have a habit of going wrong and this one did.
As the inaugural flight was nearing New York it encountered bad weather and was not able to land at New York.....and was diverted to Boston. We were not in Boston. But we went on to entertain the guests at the banquet in a plush New York hotel while everyone awaited the VIP guests to arrive from Boston. Best laid plans.
We went on to play at various functions while in New York; one in particular was at the Rockefeller Centre where we entertained the crowd, but most of our time in New York was our own so we went sight-seeing and most of us plumped for the Empire State Building. Though we had not reckoned on the tremendous up draught of wind and those that looked got to see what a Scotsman wears under his kilt!
We aid our goodbyes to those VIP’s heading back to Gatwick and we travelled on to Los Angeles where we had a tremendous welcome. We were there to promote BCal and the “fixer” there certainly did his job with TV and radio interviews aplenty.
To the right,
Adam Thomson, hostesses Sheila Baxter & Dianne Rowland and Piper Jim Liddell are interviewed on American TV
The Pipes & Drums of British Caledonian amongst the skyscrapers of New York City - led by Drum Major Mike Sterling
The culmination of the LA leg of the tour for us was at Disney; the Band led the parade in Disneyland which apparently was a great honour as no other band except the Disney Band had ever led the parade. It was an amazing experience and another I shall never forget......and after the parade we were given tickets to enjoy the park too.
Another good memory from this trip was from our hotel bar after we returned from playing we all adjourned to the bar for a beer or in the case of the Scots boys a whiskey, as you know the custom in America is to shovel ice into the glass before pouring in the whiskey, I remember the bar man’s name was Larry who was quite camp but a great guy. As our Scots lads watched him shovel in the ice they stopped him and said “Nay ice in the whiskey” he just could not comprehend any person drinking whiskey without loads of ice however he was soon educated and from then on whenever we entered the bar and shouted for whiskey he would shout back “I know I know Nay Ice” we all had a good laugh about that.
LA Trip home
After all the engagements had been completed we packed up and headed to Los Angeles International to catch BCal’s inaugural LAX - Gatwick flight home. The 707 was mostly full of Americans as well as the Band members and guests. Someone suggested we should have a Ceilidh, we asked the Captain and he was happy so long as the passengers were happy, they were so we went ahead.
With the Band was a professional Scottish singer who had a young lad with a piano accordion; they gave several renditions of Scottish airs, one of the Band had a tin whistle and played several tunes followed by individual pipers playing.
The passengers were so enthralled by all this they thought it was standard BCal in-flight entertainment and vowed to always fly this airline. We did not have the heart to tell them otherwise but I have to admit the flight was a great success for the Company and before we knew it we were coming into Gatwick.
In Los Angeles
Hostess Brenda Hill,
Mike Sterling (just behind),
Major the Lion,
Hostess Zella Hutchings
and Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty.
We also played on the opening day of the Queen Mary Museum and hotel in Long Beach. Once all the ceremonial and photo work was complete we were given a guided tour of the ship too.