Dozens of tributes have been paid to John MacDougall since his death was announced yesterday. John(80), one of the world’s most outstanding pipers, died peacefully in his sleep at home in Kincraig on Speyside.
He had suffered ill-health for a number of years but still managed to get out to judge at the games at the major competitions at Oban and Inverness, often with the use of a wheelchair and with the assistance of family members who would drive him to the venue.
Typical of the tributes is this one from his lifelong friend Iain MacFadyen: ‘I was very sorry to hear the news. John was a lovely, lovely man, a real character. His family ran a guest house and I often stayed with him when I was on a course at Bridge of Don barracks during our National Service together. He was a wonderful piper and a determined competitor, extremely professional in every way. Despite his success he was always the same unassuming gentleman, keen to pass on his knowledge and experience to younger pipers. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him and by the piping world in general.’
Another tribute is this from his pupil Niall Matheson, the double Gold Medallist: ‘Very sorry to hear about the passing of John. I started going to John for lessons in Newtonmore Primary school at age eight and throughout my school years until 16. A very kind and humble man,’
And from Bobby Pinkman: ‘He was indeed a lovely man and a great player. When I was a young up and coming piper, I was spectating at a contest in Edinburgh and was asked to give a tune at the end. John, kindly volunteered his pipes for me to play. I hope I did them justice.’
And on the PP Facebook page:
John won all the top prizes during a long career. Known for his immaculate fingering and solid pipe allied to sound musicality, he was considered a leading exponent of the ‘Balmoral’ school of piping but was always ready to listen and appreciate a different approach.
John was born in Aberdeen in 1936, and started piping in the Boys Brigade aged 10. He joined the Bucksburn band where he was taught by Pipe Major Davie Duncan. John went to him for private lessons and it was Davie who introduced John to Bob Brown, Balmoral, and so began his real piobaireachd education.
Writing in Jim McIntosh’s book ‘Ceol Mor’ John said: ‘Bob’s enthusiasm and complete dedication were, I found, catching. He was able to instil the discipline needed to learn and play pibroch without ever appearing to nag…..he had stories about James Campbell, Bob Hardie, Bobby Reid, Bob Nicol and of course John MacDonald….and he always had a good word about the Piobaireachd Society.’
John, trained as a printer, did his National Service with the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders along with other great names such as Iain MacFadyen, playing for a time under Pipe Major Evan McRae.
John was encouraged to compete on the solo circuit and found instant success. He soaked up the prizes and laughed when he heard other pipers describe him as the ‘Highland hoover’. But even greater success was to follow when he won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in Inverness in 1960 playing the Lament for Captain MacDougall, and at Oban in 1969 playing the Battle of the Pass of Crieff.
Among other prizes were the Argyllshire Gathering Former Winners March, Strathspey and Reel (5 times), Braemar Gold Medal (3 times), Open Piobaireachd at the Argyllshire Gathering twice. In 1978 he won both the Open Piobaireachd and Former Winners’ MSR at Oban and the Clasp at Inverness only to miss out on the ‘big four’ when, in the Northern Meeting Former Winners, he had a slight note error in the last part of Mrs MacPherson of Inveran second time through. He was placed second. Here’s how the Glasgow Herald newspaper reported the event:
John had a pipe band career too and played in the Edinburgh Police Pipe Band and the Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band under Pipe-Major Donald Shaw Ramsay.
In 1962 John married Vanora and they had two girls Fiona and Mairi. During the summer they would tour the games enjoying John’s prolific success. In 1973 John became schools piping instructor in Badenoch and Strathspey and the family re-located to Kincraig in the shadow of the Cairngorm Mountains. Many of John’s pupils went on win top prizes and became stars in their own right.
After retiring from competition John was in much demand as a judge and only last September presided over the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting.
Please leave further messages of condolence if you feel so inclined. They are a source of comfort for the family. John’s funeral will be held at Inverness Crematorium on Thursday 25th of February at 13:00. The family would like to thank everyone for their kind words and support.