PP Editor’s Blog: Whisky Galore, Compton MacKenzie, Calum Johnston, Neil Angus MacDonald

Thanks to everyone who responded to our Whisky Galore article at the end of last week. Not possible to respond personally to everyone’s emails so a collective ‘thank you’ to you all. I asked for the name of the piper pictured and then posed a quiz question: ‘Who wrote the book and who was his piper?’ A few were caught out by that, assuming that the piper in the film was also the author’s personal piper.

The piper pictured was a young Neil Angus MacDonald, Inverness. The author was Sir Compton MacKenzie, and his personal piper was Calum Johnston, Barra (pictured above). Here are some responses:

Hector Russell: ‘Archie [Maclean, piping adjudicator, Inverness] was a student at Glasgow School of Art for five years, followed by a year at Jordanhill College, and began his teaching career in Glasgow in 1973. He joined The Clan MacRae in 1972 which was led, at that time, by ex-214 old boy John Finlay, winning the Grade Two World Championship at Ayr in 1973. The MacRae disbanded and amalgamated with the Rolls Royce band, and Archie moved to Inverness to take up a teaching post in 1975. There he continued to study piobaireachd with Neil Angus Macdonald of Barra, (the piper in ‘Whisky Galore’) who was a pupil of piobaireachd master John MacDonald of Inverness.’

A scene from 'Whisky Galore'....islanders look on as the SS Politician and her golden cargo founders
A scene from ‘Whisky Galore’….islanders look on as the SS Politician and her golden cargo founders

Archie Maclean himself: ‘Good to see the stills from ‘Whisky Galore’ on Piping Press. The piper was my piobaireachd tutor here in Inverness, Neil Angus MacDonald from Barra. When director Sandy McKendrick arrived to film, Neil Angus was then teaching at Eoligarry School and landed a minor ‘star’ part as the piper.

‘Another  minor ‘star’ was the book’s author Compton MacKenzie – as the captain of the ill-fated SS ‘Cabinet Minister [Politician?]’. Yet another minor (in more than one sense of the word) ‘star’ in the film was Neil Angus’s son. There’s a scene where a ‘salvaged’ whisky bottle is hidden beneath a baby in his cot  – the baby was Neil Angus’s son. (He had two sons, Ruairidh and James, can’t remember which one it was).  Neil Angus’s father Roderick was a great friend of John MacDonald, Inverness, and Neil Angus learned all his piobaireachd from ‘Old John’ (as he used to call him) down at Perceval Road.

Neil Angus in ‘Whisky Galore’
‘Neil Angus was a kind, generous man – I have two PS books he gave me, plus a copy of the book of his own compositions and tunes by his father. He was thoughtful enough to inscribe them ‘To Archie with best wishes. Neil Angus’ plus the date. I still use his PS books when judging. He was a primary school head-teacher here in Inverness, a well-known judge on the Highland Games circuit and at the Northern Meeting, and was President of Inverness Piping Society for many years. First tune I got from him was ‘Lament for the Duke of Hamilton’ – a case of sink or swim. Managed to keep afloat. Was at his house one evening for a lesson when another Hebridean MacDonald arrived for a visit – Willie (Benbecula). I was asked to play ‘The Battle of the Birds’ for them; nerve-wracking, but got through it. Fond memories.’
Calum Johnston piping on the shoreline on Barra
Calum Johnston piping on the shoreline on Barra

Niall Macdonald: ‘Now no longer under the influence of whisky galore myself as I was last night 🙂 and having read the question properly, the answer is Compton Mackenzie and his piper was I think Calum Johnston, who tragically died when playing at Mackenzie ‘s funeral. As my grandad was a close friend of Calum Johnston, he bought a set of his pipes from his widow for my dad.’

Alan Maltman: ‘The author was Compton MacKenzie, of course. I reckon the piper in the film version is MacKenzie’s friend Calum Johnston who collapsed and died after playing at MacKenzie’s funeral. I expect you’ll receive hundreds of correct answers to this one.’
Peter Aumonier, Canada : ‘The book ‘Whisky Galore’ was written by Compton Mackenzie. The piper was none other than the well-known Neil Angus MacDonald.  Originally from Barra, Neil Angus ended up in Inverness as a school master.  Incidentally, the baby in the pram, is his son James, also a piper, now living in British Columbia, Canada.’

Paul White: ‘The author was Sir Compton Mackenzie and I think his piper was Calum Johnston. Keep up the good work on Piping Press – it’s a great website and always interesting.’

Paul’s reply was received at 10.51am on September 18 and he, therefore, is the winner of the competition. Please forward your postal address Paul for a signed copy of the ‘Glasgow Collection’.
The story of Compton, Calum and the funeral is as described above. I remember as a young copy boy witnessing the news coming in that Calum had collapsed at the graveside after piping Sir Compton to his final resting place. Calum, a piper and singer of some note, died later in hospital. The date was December 4, 1972.

calum CDCalum, very much part of the carrying stream of Gaelic song and music tradition, lives on however in a series of recordings made by Dr Peter Cook for the School of Scottish Studies and these can still be purchased from Greentrax Recordings.

Results from weekend competitions at the SPA and Springbank posted on the Results pages.

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