THE sight of a minister conducting a wedding - dressed in full pipe band regalia - before “jumping into a car and going to a competition” - is not a sight you would expect to see very often.
But congregations in Co Tyrone who know popular clergyman David Brown are fully aware of one of the biggest pastimes - apart from ministering and witnessing for God - in his life.
Reverend Brown, who is minister of Castlecaulfield and Eglish Presbyterian churches, is lead drummer with Co Armagh based band Bleary and District, and was a former member of the RUC World Champion Drum Corps. He has also played with some of the Province’s most successful bands, including Tullylagan and Aughintober.
He even spent two years as a member of the Australian Highlanders Pipe Band, based in Nunawading, Victoria.
“I was a drummer long before I was a minister,” smiles the 52-year-old Cookstown man, who of course, reiterates that his “ministry comes first.”
“I started drumming at eight years of age in 1969,” he continues.
“I started with Tullylagan and was with them for a long time. I was taught in the old Tullylagan Manor, we used to practise in the old blacksmith’s workshop there.”
Although he was really the first person in his family to develop an interest in the pipe band scene, David says it was always there: “It kind of, I suppose, came from living in the town, with parades and things like that.”
(Popularly known as having one of the longest and widest streets in Ireland, Cookstown is favoured by bandsmen for walking along when it comes to the marching season.)
He goes on: “My mother used to say I put her head away with drumming with my knife and fork on the table - I was always drumming I think, from a very young age.
‘‘I remember my auntie getting a chopping board and I got a pair of sticks and that’s how I used to practise. Or on a tin box.”
David soon became lead drummer in Tullylagan and went on to win prizes for his abilities.
He was also guest player for the RUC band and joined it a year later in 1989.
“Their drum corps under Andy Scullion had broken up,” he says, explaining how this all came to take place.
“Gary Corkin took over and he started to build the drums corps up, so asked a few people like myself if we would be interested in coming down and joining the band.
“I was always a follower of a man called Bobby Rea - he was very famous in pipe band circles. Bobby was teaching the RUC pipe band, and so here was my opportunity to sort of play along with my hero.
“Unfortunately Bobby took ill and wasn’t able to play in the band.”
As a member of the RUC band, David played at events like passing out parades and competitions, as well as touring.
“It was one of the top pipe bands in the world for a long number of years, until it was disbanded obviously,” he adds.
“I left in 2000 and went back to Tullylagan because my two sons were now ready, and were playing in it. Also, I wanted to give something back to the band that had taught me.”
Indeed, by this time drumming had definitely taken a hold in the Brown family, and David’s two sons - Stephen, now 27, and Michael, 22 - were enthusiastic drummers.
And whichever band their father joined, they joined too.
In 2005, David was officially installed as minister in Castlecaulfield and Eglish, his first ministry post. Such a role, obviously, became a pinnacle focus in his life, and playing the drums was now secondary.
“I’ve always put the church first, the band is just a hobby,” he says. “I do band stuff on a Monday when I’m off.”
That doesn’t mean David has neglected his drumming duties - hence the odd Clark Kent/Superman moment when the roles have overlapped and he’s conducted a wedding or two before rushing off to perform with Bleary and District.
He continues: “I’ve been in pipe bands for so long that people know me and have kind of followed my trek, know that I’m a minister and respect me for that.
“I’m quite a changed character from the early days of pipe bands to what I am now. I enjoy being in the pipe band fraternity because everybody is so friendly and so close, it’s a great opportunity to minister in your hobby. There are quite a lot of people who would come and speak to me about different things that are happening in their lives.
“It’s a good thing from that point of view as well, being able to help people in the pipe band fraternity.”
I ask if he has ever encountered a situation where his two roles clash or at odds with each other?
“There have been times, especially when I became a Christian, travelling on the bus with loads of drunk people,” he says.
“At times like that it can be difficult, but again there are still opportunities for me to witness.”
He admits that “possibly the biggest issue of all” could arise if the World Championships continue to take place on a Sunday as well as a Saturday. This was the format this year, on a trial basis, and David admits that he had been “speaking out against it” becoming permanent, “not only from a Christian point of view but from an organisational and practical point of view.”
He says he feels that it splits the event up, and means that competitors now have to stay in Scotland for an extra night. If the decision is made to extend the event to a full weekend permanently, David feels his two roles “will clash probably for the first time.”
But for now, David is looking forward to his future with Bleary and District, and hopefully seeing the band get back up into Grade One, where they formerly sat.
“I see the band getting stronger and stronger, hopefully getting more players and into the top grade - but that’s not going to be easy, that takes a lot of hard work.”
For this expert multi-tasker, however, that level of dedication is unlikely to be too much to ask.