Skye pipers set for state-side visit

By Jackie MacKenzie

Members of the Isle of Skye Pipe Band are swapping their misty home climes for the heat of the Arizona desert.

Peter MacDonald and Alan MacKenzie from the Skye pipe band at the Staffin memorial
Photographs by Willie Urquhart/WHFP

The 28-strong band is bound for America in March to play prestigious dates at the Arizona Twilight Tattoo and the Phoenix Scottish Games.

The link between Skye and the Grand Canyon State was forged by the band’s Drum Major Peter MacDonald. While taking part in last year’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, he became friends with a fellow Drum Major from Arizona.

But there is also a more poignant connection between the two places.

The war memorial in Staffin cemetery bears the name of a young Arizona airman who was killed when his plane crashed in Trotternish during World War Two. Band members will visit the relatives of Second Lt Paul Overfield while in the States, returning an earlier visit by the airman’s family to Skye.

Peter said: “When participating in last year’s Edinburgh Tattoo, I was sitting on the coach one evening going to the castle and a fellow Drum Major, Kevin Conquest who produces the Arizona Tattoo, said to me ‘It would be great if your band could come out to play in Arizona’. I replied saying that’s a big ask. Kevin was busy on his phone and later he said ‘If you can get the band to Arizona then everything else is paid for’.”

Band members are now busily fundraising the £30,000 needed for travel and overnight accommodation before jetting out from Heathrow to Phoenix.

During the week-long visit, the band will perform in front of 9,000 each evening at the Arizona International Twilight Tattoo and at the Phoenix Scottish Games, also known as the Desert Games. It will be the first time a Scottish pipe band has played at either event.

The band will also play at a big baseball match, for which members are learning a new tune ‘Take me out to the Ball Game’, and in the stunning setting of the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s most famous landmark.

Peter said: “Our youngest piper is just 12 and many of our band members have never been abroad before and are getting passports for the first time so it will be an awesome experience. It will also be the biggest audience the band has performed in front of.

“The fundraising is going extremely well. We’re getting huge local support and some very generous donations.”

The tattoo and games in March will coincide with the 78th anniversary of the crashing of the Flying Fortress bomber plane in Trotternish, in which nine American airmen were killed.
The crew were flying from the US via Iceland to RAF Valley in Wales when the aircraft clipped cliffs and came down on 3rd March 1945.

Among those who died was the 21-year-old pilot, Second Lt Paul Overfield Jnr, from Arizona.
The airmen’s names were added to the war memorial in Staffin cemetery and three years ago a commemoration was held there which was attended by Paul Overfield’s cousin, Doug Overfield.
Peter said: “When Doug heard we were coming out, he sent a very generous donation to help with our fundraising campaign. We plan to meet up with him and his family while in Arizona, which will be lovely and help further the strong bond between the state and Skye.”
The band will be taking with them Skye tartan ties, scarves and purses, which have been donated by Lochcarron Weavers, to give as gifts to their hosts and event organisers.

“Everybody is very excited about the trip,” said Peter. “We’re used to playing at many prestigious events, in France and Germany, but this outshines them all.”