History: The Scottish Pipers’ Association Junior Competition of 45 Years Ago

The following comes from the November 8, 1972 edition of the Oban Times and is by its then piping correspondent, John MacFadyen. The Oban Times is a popular newspaper and reflects a wide range of west Highland and Argyllshire news. To its credit it has, over the years, always had a piping column, a column usually written by a leading piper or authority on piping such as John. This article was headlined ‘Among the Amateurs’ and has as its basis the annual junior competition run by the Scottish Pipers’ Association. The picture above is of Robert Barnes and James Hardie, two pipers mentioned in the article…

At this time of year there are few places less attractive than Washington Street, Glasgow. In fact, when one comes to think of it, there are few places less attractive to Washington Street at any time of year. The grey asphalt canyon is rescued from complete obscurity only by the fact that it houses two distilleries and the headquarters of the Scottish Pipe Band Association [now the RSPBA] and it was there in the street and in the headquarters that a week last Saturday I hear some of the best amateur playing I’ve heard in recent years.

With twenty entrants in the piobaireachd and over thirty in the light music the tuning facilities were strained beyond the limit, and the cul-de-sac bathed in warm autumnal sunshine, became, for a time, one of the tuning areas reminiscent of the area around the Drimvargie Drill Hall or the motor showroom in Oban, both of which have been pressed into service in recent years for tuning purposes.

Cameron Edgar is now a respected senior adjudicator for the RSPBA

First prize in the Piobaireachd competition was won by Hutchesons’ Grammar School boy Cameron Edgar and his playing of the ‘Red Speckled Bull’ drew comments of wonder and admiration from all who heard and understood. That he was a clear winner is sure, but he was closely followed by Ian Larg, Dundee, who gave a most impressive rendering of ‘MacDougall’s Gathering’. This tune had a lot of maturity in it especially in the Urlar and once he strengthens his crunluath and realises that the fastest way to play the movement is not necessarily the best, he should become, like the winner, a strong medal [Gold Medal] candidate.

Another player of formidable promise is young Jim Hardie from Bishopbriggs. Following in his father’s footsteps, he is making a name for himself at a comparatively early age and his ‘MacFarlane’s Gathering’ was well played on a sweet instrument. The tune itself, however, is not of the calibre of the other two and in piping, as in most other walks of life, a good big tune will always beat a good small one.

Fourth was Donald McBride, a diminutive player from the East and his playing of the Taorluath Singling was most impressive and showed that despite his extreme youth he had a surprisingly clear idea of what he was trying to do.

Ronald Morrison, the piobaireachd adjudicator, was as astonished as anyone else, not only at the high standard of the prizewinners but at the standard in depth and the musical standard of the instruments. The other interesting and encouraging observation was the comparatively large number of professionals with pupils taking part, and when one saw such as Bob Hardie, Donald MacPherson, Iain MacFadyen, Angus MacLellan, Seumas MacNeill and James McIntosh all listening to and tuning pipes, one was reminded of Oban, Inverness and London.

The light music showed an equally high standard, especially the Jig competition and adjudicator John Percival had his work cut out to select his short leet of eight for the March and Strathspey and Reel competitions. The eventual winners were:

Marches: 1 James Hardie, ‘Hugh Kennedy’ 2 Ian Larg, ‘Bonnie Ann’ 3 Robert Barnes, ‘Ross-shire Volunteers’ 4 Donald McBride, ‘Brigadier Cheape of Tiroran’, and in the Strathspey & Reel: 1 Robert Barnes 2 James Hardie 3 Ian Larg 4 Alan Walters.

Although not in the lists young Alan MacLeod impressed me with his playing of the ‘Braes of Brecklet’, and although technically a little suspect, he had a refreshing musical quality about his playing rarely found in young players nowadays. Too often they become obsessed by the desire for technical excellence with the result that in many cases it is a succession of notes that are being played instead of a tune.

Donald McBride, a few years on from his success at the SPA

As I have said the Jig playing was first class and resulted in another win for Donald McBride followed by David and Robert Barnes and another promising young player from Bathgate, James Drummond.

Chairman of the Day was Chief Inspector Angus MacDonald, ex-pipe major of the City of Glasgow Police Pipe Band, and the competition was organised by the Scottish Pipers Association….