PP Ed’s Blog: Modern Piobaireachd/ AKQ/ Uist & Barra/ Fergie Tune

Writing of Dr John MacAskill’s self-penned piobaireachd on Friday served as a reminder of the current impetus there is behind ‘modern’ ceol mor.

At the end of the month we will have the Donald MacLeod Memorial contest in Stornoway (see banner ad.) where his music will be enjoyed once more by the large crowd. Donald’s tunes feature in this year’s Silver Medal lists too, and other modern tunes such as those by Capt. John MacLellan pepper the airwaves.

With this in mind, can I remind all composers of the Shasta Piping Society’s ‘new piobaireachd’ competition? Copies of original piobaireachd are to be submitted; the piobaireachd must be original to the composer(s), of any style and cannot have been published before. Prize awards for the top three compositions will be £500/£250/£100. Submissions must be received by April 1, 2017, and winners will be announced on PP in May 2017. Get the full prospectus here.

In the ‘better late than never department’, we now have details of Robert Frater’s fine win in the Archie Kenneth Quaich. Apologies for the delay Bob and to make it up to you we re-run your moment of glory above. Bob is a student of Finlay Johnston at the National Piping Centre.

I was not going to say any more on the recent withdrawals from the Uist & Barra invitational competition a week past Saturday, but recent comments, public and private, need answered. The pipers concerned, Roderick MacLeod and William McCallum, hold important positions at the National Piping Centre; they are expert pipers with fine records at the highest level. They pulled out when they discovered the composition of the bench, namely my presence on it. They must consider me incompetent or corrupt or a combination of both. They are entitled to their view. They may even hope to influence other promoters: ‘invite him and we don’t play’.
Ho hum; you do what you can in this life and learn pretty quickly that you can’t please everyone, particularly if you are a writer who likes to tell it as it is.

This  ‘ah’m no’ playin’ tack has been tried before, and whilst it may offer some sort of self-indulgent gratification to the aggrieved individual(s) concerned, I’m not sure it does piping much good. For years Donald MacPherson refused to compete in front of Seumas MacNeill. It all started with a row over a trip to New Zealand. Donald worked at the College of Piping at the time and Seumas, the boss, said he couldn’t go. Donald went. For a few years the late Alasdair Gillies refused to play for Malcolm McRae believing him – wrongly – to have it in for him. I always urged Alasdair not to be so silly. He eventually relented and got his second Gold Medal – with Malcolm on the bench.

Every piper has judges they don’t fancy. They see a bench then count themselves lucky if they make the list. Most just get on with it; time evens things out, and anyway there are three men making the decision. In the end this slight frisson made little  difference to the success of the day and I’d like to thank the Uist & Barra committee and my fellow adjudicators John Wilson and Jimmy Banks for their support.

Fergie and box

We’re driving north for a weekend away when the hands-free kicks in.
‘Hello, Robert, is that you? It’s Fergie here.’
‘Hello Fergie how are doing?’
‘Not bad; here I’ll tell you why I’m phoning, I’ve written a new tune and it sounds terrific on the pipes as well as the box.’
‘That’s great Fergie, how does it go?’
‘Would you like to hear it?’
‘Of course!’
‘Wait a minute.’ And so with the traffic and windscreen wipers oblivious to our musical premiere, on comes Fergie with his latest tune, button box et al.
‘Great isn’t it? Everyone says its a cracker.’
‘Certainly sounds pretty good Fergie; I’m sure it’ll work on the pipes. Have you got a name for it?’
‘Well there are a few options but ‘Stornoway to the White House is one…..’

‘Fergie’ is Fergie MacDonald, the irrepressible button box player, composer and dance band leader. He’s calling from his house in Acharacle. He’s about to record the tune and will either keep it for his next book or issue it free as a download, hopefully to readers of Piping Press. The title? If you haven’t sussed it already, it refers to US President Donald Trump whose mother came from Lewis. Knowing Fergie he’ll soon be in the Oval Office serenading the President with his latest catchy number. Fergie’s book of tunes suitable for the pipes continues to sell well: