PP Ed’s Blog: Band Formations/ Muirheads Names/ Colin Thomson/ Braemar/Jack Lee

Those of us who have been advocating ‘concert formation’ for pipe band competition for many years were cheered by yesterday’s announcement that the Edinburgh Pipe Band Championship, to be held in Princes Street Gardens on June 18, will adopt just such a format.

All credit to John Hughes the RSPBA Lothian & Borders Branch Chairman, and Vice-Chairman of the Association, for taking this initiative. When I played there in the 70s the band formed up in the circle in front of the stage. Not so a week on Sunday with the pipers and drummers facing their listeners and the judges ranged before them but with the facility of moving about should they so wish.

How bands will form up at Edinburgh

It really is hard to believe that in the 21st century pipe bands remain the only musical grouping in the world – I repeat, in the world – which turns its back on its audience. We want parity of esteem with other musicians, we know we deserve respect for what we do, yet here we are still conforming to a militarily inspired performance model dating back to the founding of the RSPBA in the 1930s.

Old traditions die hard and when I first went on about this some years ago one judge at the time (now thankfully retired) said he disagreed with any change because he wouldn’t be able to hear the drones properly! Since when was the great Highland bagpipe ever listened to ‘drones first’? Can you imagine a solo piper standing on the stage at the Argyllshire Gathering with his kilted backside pointing at his judges and other listeners. Yet that would appear to be a fair extrapolation of this gentleman’s logic if applied outwith pipe bands.

P/M Robert Mathieson bravely helped our cause a few years back when his band, Shotts & Dykehead, performed the ‘big turn out’ at the Worlds. The roar from the crowd in the main arena as the pipers and drummers reversed the inward circle to outward has never been heard before or since. The bands volume change, the freeing up of the sound, will live long in the memory.

For those of us campaigning for this change over many years it has been a long struggle. Edinburgh saw the birth of the Scottish Enlightenment. Let us hope that Mr Hughes and the L&B branch  have ushered in a pipe band equivalent.

Former Muirheads piper Norrie McDonald (left) writes from Canada: ‘Here are the names of the pipers and drummers in the Muirheads band in the photo taken at Princes Street Gardens in 1967. Hope all is well: Front – P/M Bob Hardie, Jim Dow, Davie Hutton, P/Sgt Andrew Dowie; Second – John Finlay, Ronnie Motion, Bob Richardson, Eric Shields; Third – Jimmy Anderson, myself, Derek Boyd, Jim Elmslie; Drum corps – L/D Robert Turner, Peter Anderson, Jim Williamson, Davie Bruce, Dick Hamilton, Jock Waddell, Jim Crawford.’

Thanks Norrie; great days and a great band:

Two new letters today, both concerning Colin Thomson (pictured top). One asserts a connection with James Matheson, Bathgate, and the other that Willie Ross made a mistake in naming the eponymous tune in his Book 3 after CT. Read them both here.

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Sold in four days! The power of Piping Press ensured a quick sale of the Peter Henderson silver and ivory bagpipes advertised by Neil Walker a few days ago. And are we surprised to learn that Braemar Gathering’s senior piping events are now oversubscribed? Why they advertise on PP too! And good benches don’t do any harm either. Here’s the intimation from the Gathering:
‘Senior Open Piping – Entry NOW CLOSEDDue to the high demand for places, application for entry for this year’s Senior Open Piping is now closed. We have a great field entered this year with top class competitors from home and abroad taking part. Junior Open Piping – Entry STILL OPEN. Register via our online process – https://www.braemargathering.org/piping-entryLocal Senior and Junior – Entry on the day.’

Jack Lee from BC: ‘I thought I would let you know what I have been up to as some pipers may find it helpful and interesting.  I just uploaded another 60 tunes to our Lee & Sons Tune Library, which brings the total on our site to 3,500.  Included in the 60 tunes were the last few piobaireachds from the Piobaireachd Society Book 16.  I have now recorded all piobaireachds from the Society’s Books 1-16.

‘I finished recording and uploading the first 15 books two years ago.  No sooner had I recorded the ‘first 15’ and the Society published Book 16.  I really enjoyed studying, playing and recording Book 16.  There are some terrific tunes in there, such as Cave of Gold, Hail to my Country, The Sword’s Lament, etc.  There is also a very nice alternative setting for Glengarry’s Lament.  But there is one piobaireachd, The Piper’s Salute to his Master, which takes piobaireachd complexity to a whole new level.  Previously, I had regarded the Nameless Lament from the MacArthur Manuscripts as the most difficult piece ever played.  The Piper’s Salute to his Master is much more difficult.  The technical and memory requirements are really something.  But the tune is just under 28 minutes in length so the piper’s endurance is tested like no other piobaireachd ever published.

‘In total I have put 3,500 tunes on our site, all recorded by me on the full bagpipe.  That includes 280 piobaireachds.’

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1 thought on “PP Ed’s Blog: Band Formations/ Muirheads Names/ Colin Thomson/ Braemar/Jack Lee

  1. Correction and information.
    I referred to James Ross Matheson who resided in Lairg, Sutherland and the person I understood to be his brother, John resided in Bathgate. Colin Thomson apparently resided in Golspie, Sutherland and I assume it might have been at that time that James Matheson had tuition from Thomson. Of course James Matheson served in the armed forces and may have had connection with Colin Thomson at that time, but ages and years of contact is not known to me. In the music book of GS MacLennan, there is a tune entitled Resolis which is a jig and it was composed by Colin Thomson. Resolis is on the Black Isle near Cromarty. It was certainly understood locally that Thomson was from Resolis. Why I say locally is because my parents resided in Cromarty for a period before eventually moving to Dingwall. My father knew of Colin Thomson but did not know him.

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