When Bud Cates and Frank Spears heard a bagpipe band at a Shriners Convention in Myrtle Beach, SC 1982, they were inspired to start their own band, planning to perform at their region’s semi-annual Shrine Ceremonies and in area parades. In 1980, three members of the Amran Shriners—John Rogers, John Anderson and Bud Cates—had received beginning bagpipe lessons through the NC State Music Department. This core group continued to practice and soon bought their own bagpipes. Because one piper already had a McLeod tartan kilt, they chose that as their band tartan, passing the hat on one occasion at the Shrine Club to help raise money to complete the band uniforms. They recruited a father and son to play drums with the band: Bill Oram on snare and his son Jim Oram on bass. The first band practices were at the office of band member John Anderson. Later they met at the Wake County Shrine Club on Leadmine Road. By the spring of 1984, they debuted as the Amran Highlanders, under the leadership of P/M Frank Spears, at the Shriners Ceremonial Parade in Raleigh, a ceremony where new Shrine members were installed.
The Amran Highlanders proudly piped for two Ceremonies a year and at various parades. The band did not take itself too seriously and had a good time. They admitted that they had more street appeal than sound appeal. With some of the members coming from military backgrounds, their deportment was sharp. At a Shrine band competition in Myrtle Beach, they won on showmanship. They joined with other Shrine bands at a fun Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans in 1988 and combined with the NY Police Pipe Band for George Bush’s inaugural parade in 1989. Frank Spears was a natural promoter, with a knack for getting performances and earning money for the band.
The Shriners have rules and one was that only legitimate Shriners could march with a Shrine Band. That meant that the band could not include a high school student that Frank taught to play. Other area pipers who were not Shriners could not help fill out the ranks during parades. So in 1985, the band evolved into the McLeod Pipe Band, consisting of both Shriners and non-Shriners. The small group of Shriners continued playing at Ceremonies as the Amran Highlanders through 1989.