‘Big’ Donald MacLean and Arm Swapping and Harry’s Father’s Pipes

I read George Taylor’s letter re swapping arms, writes Duncan Watson. Re Donald Maclean. I understood that big Donald did start playing under the right arm and to conform with others in the pipe band scene in the Army he was ‘instructed’ to  switch to his left arm. Counter marching through pipers in a band seemed to a problem with cords getting in a tangle.

Donald Maclean in a picture which first appeared in the Glasgow Herald newspaper and was subsequently used to promote RG Lawrie bagpipemakers
The late Willie MacDonald (Benbecula) could adapt as I saw him doing it when in the Territorial Army bands. John Don MacKenzie, prize-winning professional piper and now adjudicator, can do both as I understand, and has had competitive success with both arms – not at the same time!
Regarding the Benbecula MacDonald, who we all knew as a character. He was in the Infantry Training Corps pipe band and ‘big’ Donald Maclean was the pipe major. The Drum Major was James Watson  (no  relation of mine, but I knew him). The story goes from Drum Major Watson that Willie Benbecula as a raw young piper had been in the HLI and was seconded to the ITC  band based in Edinburgh. On his arrival there was to be a band engagement at Murrayfield.
Double Gold Medallist and Clasp winner Willie MacDonald (Benbecula) playing at the Inverness Piping Society in the 1960s

It is not demeaning about Willie Benbecula to say that he was not the most military orientated re marching and the likes, but his playing ability was without question. Big Donald heard Benbecula and instructed that he get kitted out for the engagement. The event took place and the ITC band at the time was drilled by Drum Major Watson to form circles etc. in unorthodox fashion.

The HLI Benbecula man had not been part of rehearsal drills, but big Donald was confident of the pipers’ ability. According to Drum Major Watson, it was a military disaster. In addition, Willie played of the right shoulder and when the band was countermarching, the tangle of cords and ribbons became a problem. Drum Major Watson told me several times that he often tried to forget the event!

Harry Recalls Memories of His Late Father

John  Kelly reports: Belfast piper Harry Stevenson was one of the guest pipers at the Blackthorn Pipers Society’s meeting at the Discover Ulster Scots Centre, Belfast, on Wednesday 15th March.  Harry has been an adjudicator at local pipe band contests since 1983 and has been an adjudicator at major championships since 1985.

Harry’s father, also called Harry, died in 1995 and during the Blackthorn Pipers Society’s meeting Harry took a trip down memory lane as he played some of his late father’s favourite tunes – the Argyllshire Gathering by John MacColl, Dora MacLeod by Peter MacLeod Junior and Major David Manson by Pipe Major Peter R. MacLeod Snr.

From 1963 to 1969, Harry’s father was pipe sergeant of Robert Armstrong Memorial Pipe Band who won the All-Ireland Pipe Band contest nine times.  Harry snr bought the pipes for £20 in the late 1960s from the 8th Belfast Memorial Pipe Band. The members of this band were all WW2 gunners in the Royal Artillery and when the band ceased competing in the late 1950s, they eventually sold off the pipes at £20 per set.

Harry pictured after playing his late father’s pipes at the Blackthorn Pipers

Robert Armstrong Memorial Pipe Band are pictured (top) in 1966, the year the band won the All-Ireland Pipe Band Contest at Cork.  This was the band’s first of nine All-Ireland wins; they also won in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977.  Included are Pipe Major Tommy Geddis (left in front row), Harry Stevenson jnr (second from left in front row) and Harry Stevenson snr (right, in front row).

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