Our focus today is on the 2/4 pipe march Lord Alexander Kennedy. Now more popular with bands than soloists, it is nevertheless a classic of the genre.
‘Lord Alex’ lends itself to innovation and re-write, and many versions of the tune have appeared and been performed over the years. What I’m presenting today, however, is a copy of the original tune as written by the composer, James Honeyman, and passed on to his pupil James Russell, Larbert.
It came to me along with a letter from the late piper and judge, Walter Drysdale. The letter reads: ‘Hello Robert, During my day at the Royal Scottish Pipers Society one of the things we got talking about was Lord Alexander Kennedy, one of my favourite marches when I was young going round the games circuit.
‘To the best of my knowledge, the only other player I heard competing with it at that time was the one and only John D. Burgess [Listen to John D. playing the tune here]. The style he played was different from the way I got it from James Russell, one of my tutors from Larbert in Stirlingshire.
‘He was a reedmaker and was taught by James Honeyman from Falkirk who composed Lord Alexander Kennedy. I played it the original way Honeyman wrote it – quite a bit different from the way we hear it now, a second time in every part.
‘I enclose a copy for your perusal. Incidentally, this is a copy from a hand written book from Robert Shepherd’s office [P/M RT Shepherd, World Championship-winning pipe major of Dysart & Dundonald Pipe Band]. Robert was also a pupil of James Russell and later became a pupil of mine, and I also helped him along with his reedmaking.
‘Unfortunately when I went up north to work on the hydro schemes he slipped through the net and was another good solo player lost to bands. I’m sure there must be a good few players still in the central belt who will remember this style of the tune.
‘After we talked about MacSwan of Roaig and the run-down Robert Reid style, I am back playing it that way again. All the best, Walter.’
Study of the manuscript reveals the seldom heard ending of ‘G gracenote to low A – birl – G gracenote to low A’:
More often these days we hear the G gracenote to low A crotchet and then the birl. However, if we look closely at the final ending to the tune – clearly still in the writer’s hand – we see what appears to be an open taorluath and a low A crotchet to finish:
Whether this was deliberate, a means of signing off the tune in distinctive fashion, or a change of mind, I don’t suppose we will ever know.
As with some other music from this period, the tune is devoid of dots and cuts in the four-note semiquaver groupings. This is probably for ease of transcription, or possibly deference to the rounder, quickstep style that seems to have been prevalent in 2/4 competition march playing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, interpretation yet to move away from the idea of the simpler two-parted tunes played up tempo and straight as a die.
Notice the strike on low A at the start of the third part – today it’s a birl. This device is also used at the start of the second times:We have E grips (in the old pre-Willie Ross style) at the start of the fourth part, whereas today we commonly hear ‘E – cut C – back to E’.
• More to follow.