By Robert Wallace
One of the true pioneers of North American piping and pipe bands, Ed Neigh, has passed away aged 71. Though his death was sudden, his health in the past few years had not been the best.
This, however, did not deter him from his piping, and he continued to teach both privately and at summer schools as long as he was able. Ed was also in constant demand as an adjudicator of both solo piping and bands, and went out of his way to fulfil engagements. He never let anyone down. An English teacher and librarian by profession, Ed wrote many articles on the bagpipe and gave a paper championing North American piping at the 2001 Piobaireachd Society Conference. He’s pictured above in full flood at the conference.
Ed was brought up near Stratford, Ontario, and learned pipes locally following his brother Geoff on to the chanter. Aged 15, he went to Gordon Tuck of the St Thomas Legion band (later MacNish Distillery), a highly respected teacher and player. Still in his early 20s, Ed travelled to Scotland and took lessons from John MacFadyen. He followed this up with lessons from Donald MacLeod and John MacLellan. He established a formidable reputation as a player of both ceol mor and ceol beag, and along with Bill Livingstone was at the van of North American piping in the 70s and 80s.
Whilst the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal always eluded him, he placed many times in it and won the Dunvegan Medal on Skye, the March at Oban and many other significant awards. It should be borne in mind that his teaching duties and the Ontario school term, meant he seldom got to Inverness to play for the medal there, thus halving his chances. He did however win the first Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal (Canada) held each year at Maxville, Ontario, and every other North American solo piping award of note.
Through his then wife Margaret, Ed established a strong link with Scotland. Margaret was from Rutherglen, just outside Glasgow, and their first child was born here. They were a most kind and generous couple. When I was involved with the bagpipe firm of Grainger and Campbell in the early 80s I travelled to Canada on a business trip staying with Ed and Margaret for a week.
He kindly offered me his car so that I could visit our various dealers in the Province and I well remember dodging round the horse-drawn gigs of the Mennonites who lived near his home in Wellesley. The evenings were spent talking and playing pipes and Ed’s infectious enthusiasm always sent me to bed fired anew.
In the band world Ed was once more at the forefront. His City of Guelph, Ken Eller’s Clan MacFarlane, Hal Senyk’s Triumph Street and Jamie Troy’s City of Victoria led the challenge from North America at that time – this in the days of the accepted superiority of Shotts, Muirheads, Glasgow and Edinburgh Police, Red Hackle, and long before the emergence of the 78th Frasers and SFU. Today we take for granted the estimable quality of overseas bands, but we need to appreciate the shift in mindset that was required among the pipe band establishment back then before due recognition was given to North American bands. Ed, Ken, Jamie and Hal led the way. In some respects the win by the 78th Frasers at the Worlds in 1987 was their success too.
There is much more detail about Ed on Scott Williams’ website and I would recommend it to all those who wish to learn more of his life. We have lost a major figure in North American piping and someone highly respected on this side of the Atlantic too. Bagpipe music captured his heart and soul. Ed never tired of playing, teaching, judging, discussing and writing about it. He spent his life inspiring others to do the same.