References to music in the early days are sketchy, though the future Duke of Wellington, writing from Chittendore in South India in May 1804 does mention the pipers of the 74th, saying that they played delightfully. Since the Regiment had by then been in India for 17 years, any taste of home was presumably welcome also to the troops.
Before the keeping of official records, there are mentions of a bandmaster in each regiment. The 51st spent the period between 1838 and 1852 in Montreal, and it is suggested that throughout this time Joseph Maffré - a well-known choral and orchestral teacher from the town - served as Bandmaster.
In the 1850s the 74th were at the Cape of Good Hope, and Sergeant James McKay in his Reminiscences of the Last Kaffir War tells us that 'the Bandmaster, a native of Germany, was held in great esteem by both Officers and men'. The past tense is explained by the capture of Bandmaster Hartong during the conflict; he was subsequently tortured to death.
No further details are known of Mr Hartong, and it is equally unclear whether he was immediately replaced, since the next known incumbent was Herr Kohl, another German, who did not take up the post of Bandmaster of the 74th until 1858. He was to remain with the Band for twelve years, suggesting that he was held in some regard, and his influence was felt elsewhere; the first two Kneller Hall-appointed bandmasters of the 71st - Donald McInnes and John Simpson - had served in the 74th as sergeants, and it is reasonable to suppose that they had learnt their trade from Herr Kohl.
The relationship in Scottish regiments between the military band and the pipe band is notoriously sensitive. When the 71st was in India in the early 1860s, Sir Hugh Rose inadvertently stepped into this minefield by allowing the pipers to play the regiment off parade, a task normally performed by the military band. The resultant dispute spilled over into the Regiment's return to Scotland; when the men had been played into Edinburgh Castle by the Band to the strains of 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again', the pipes attempted to have the last word, striking up their own air in response. It was not until 1870 that orders were issued specifying which combination should play on which occasion.
It took Queen Victoria herself to resolve another dispute, this time concerning the question of whether the pipes should march in front of or behind the band. In 1871 the Queen decreed that 'the Regiment should on all occasions march past to the Pipes ... When marching past the Pipes will fall in before the Band.'
In this context it is worth noting that the 71st pipe and bugle band did not have drums until 1908, which must have made marching to the pipes extremely difficult.
The two regiments were amalgamated in the great restructuring of the infantry in 1881. Photographs taken the previous decade show the 71st band to have been 39 strong, with the 74th mustering just 19. The Bandmaster of the 71st, Donald McInnes, is seen wearing civilian clothes, despite his military rank.
The three quarters of a century that The Highland Light Infantry existed produced one major musical figure from each battalion. The 1st was dominated in the inter-war years by Henry Jarman, who remained with the Battalion for twelve years before going on to become the first Bandmaster of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, where he was later promoted to Director of Music, finally retiring in the rank of Major.
The 2nd Battalion saw the first major appointment of the famous John Judd, who also spent twelve years with the Regiment. He was one of the first to specialize in arrangements for combined military band and pipes and drums, starting a tradition that was to reach its peak with the chart-topping 'Amazing Grace' in 1971; there are still some who have never quite forgiven him. Judd himself went on to become Senior Director of Music in the Army.
The Second World War hit both bands heavily, with many pre-war bandsmen amongst the early casualties. In the immediate aftermath, the 2nd Battalion was disbanded and Mr Wilson, the then Bandmaster, and his men transferred to the 1st.
In 1959 the Regiment was amalgamated with The Royal Scots Fusiliers; Mr Ray Mitchell of the Highland Light Infantry became Bandmaster of the new Regiment.
The History of British Military Bands,
Volume Two: Guards & Infantry