The Club held an ‘at home’ evening in the Piping Centre last night and I was there as a guest of Robert and John Frater, writes the Editor. Club evenings are always characterised by good friendship, good food and good music and your trencherman enjoyed three courses, good service with a fine real ale from Argyll on tap – and the house red wasn’t bad either.
It is a Club tradition that they have a piobaireachd during proceedings and this was ably delivered by Finlay Johnston, runner-up in our ‘Piper of the Year’ category for 2016 and, much more importantly, the winner of the Clasp at Inverness and a double Gold Medallist. Without any tuning (thankfully) Finlay launched into Battle of Auldearn No1 on a sweet pipe that only drifted a little towards the end and this may have been the reason he omitted the crunluath-a-mach. This in no way detracted from the excellence of his playing and the overall impression he made on his listeners. I noticed that he wasn’t playing his usual silver and ivory pipes, but, as he told me later, on a new non-ivory MacRae set more suited to travel.
The other piping fare was provided by the Club pipers (pictured up top a few years ago at the MacCrimmon Cairn at Borreraig on Skye). They were led by James Beaton deputising for GHC pipe major John Wilson who is teaching in Germany. Their first set comprised Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle and that great wee tune, the Piper’s Cave. There then followed the ground and first variation of the Massacre of Glencoe, appropriate, as Vice-President Roddy MacPherson said later in his Vote of Thanks, given that the actual massacre took place this very month (on the 13th) in 1692.
The pipers completed their performance with Dorrator Bridge and the Sound of Sleat then Farewell to the Creeks and the Club tune, the Glendaruel Highlanders. The reason this is the ‘club tune’, as I was told by one member, is that their first ever pipe major was John MacDougall Gillies who, as we all know, hailed from that airt. The Club has a distinguished line of pipe majors; succeeding Gillies was P/M Robert Reid then P/M Donald MacLeod then John Wilson.
Accordion, fiddle and song followed from two young graduates of the Plockton music school, Cameron and Gavin I think they were called. Very talented with big futures. At the other end of the age spectrum came Mod Gold Medallist Calum Ross. Calum charmed us with his lilting Gaelic cadence, the Fair Maid of Barra particularly resonant. He told me at the interval that an injured shoulder has prevented him playing his pipes recently but that he is now on the mend. Calum is a former member of the Clan MacRae Pipe Band joining after National Service to play under P/M Alex MacLeod. He just missed the MacRae’s Worlds win in 1953.
Calum hopes to be at the first professional contest of the year, the Uist & Barra, to be held at the College of Piping on March 4. (Finlay Johnston is one of the competitors so you can gauge the calibre of piper from that.)
Sitting behind me during the evening was P/M Ian McLellan formerly of Strathclyde Police. Ian will be at the Army school this week working on the finishing touches to the Argylls book this week with a wee bit of assistance from Jimmy Banks, Walter Cowan and Jim Henderson. Ian says they have a few new tunes to add with an exceptional 9/8 written by former 8th Argyll Angus Lawrie for D/M George Seymour the stick out.
At our table was leading piper Innes Smith and his father Angus. Innes has now finished his studies and once he has settled into a new job may just, just, have more time for piping. I am sure it won’t be long before Innes has some new piping honours to add to his very considerable orthopaedic achievements.
Also with us was respected judge, teacher and Chairman of the Piobaireachd Society’s Music Committee, Andrew Wright. For some reason we got to talking about Peter MacLeods Snr. and Jnr. Andrew had lessons from Peter Snr. and was remarking on the excellence of his tune, John Morrison of Assynt House. Was it better than Mrs MacPherson of Inveran? I mentioned this last classic of the GS MacLennan’s and how he finished composing it whilst staying at Invershin with Angus Macpherson and his wife Alice. GS was so ill that he could not blow. Someone else did whilst he fingered the tune on the chanter before announcing that he was to call it after Alice. Thus did this gracious Highland lady achieve immortality.