This book shows glimpses of delicious interactions, thought processes and history, writes our special correspondent MacStig. It should become a standard read for anyone interested in the piping art, pipe bands and humanity. It is all there, fame, failure, family, humour, heartache, and hard work.
The long anticipated reminiscences of renowned piper, lawyer, husband and now author, Bill Livingstone soar immediately from the opening paragraphs of his book ‘Preposterous: Tales to Follow’. There are jaw-dropping instances and the sheer honesty of it all is breathtaking. His described lack of self-confidence, hypochondria and challenges with depression lay bare the man many consider a giant in the world of the great Highland bagpipe. His fortune to have been around a lengthy time, is to have supped, played and walked with names that to many are often only uttered in whispered tones.
From his earliest days in a ‘company’ mining town in Canada where his description made me cough just thinking about the dust and pollution, to his Scottish heritage in learning the chanter, to arguably the solo pinnacle of ‘Gold Medal’, Dan Reid Memorial, ‘Clasp’ and that pipe band defining 78th Fraser concert in 1987 and World Championship later that same week (main picture, top), the book gallops at pace with a look back to significant events, people and themes in Mr Livingstone’s life.
I got through it in two sittings because it is so readable, very compelling and down to earth. The humour is palpable, some slap stick, and I refer to the left hook from Mrs Livingstone in the Georgian Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, to the missing hat issue and resultant PPBSO sanction on the 78th Frasers. Then some more subtle instances, like the description of the apartment he and his wife lived in whilst he studied, and the building’s colourful tenants. Who wouldn’t laugh at a hapless solo American piper telling the author, sitting on the bench, that he would play King George Versus Army (it was of course, King George V’s Army). There are also dark passages and the author is to be commended for laying it all out. This is no sugar-coated, ‘churn out the anecdotes’ tome. It’s real.
Students of the craft should pay particular attention to the passages about building the 78th sound and repertoire. Younger players might have to ask an elder about being taught by cassette tape sent in the mail – mail that is delivered by a person. In those formative years Bill was a seeker for sure, seeking knowledge and seeking improvement.
The open mindedness, his surrounding himself with good people and willingness to look to other genres and have a go at new ideas, led to that defining concert and World Pipe Band Championship in 1987 – and should it have been in 1986 and 1988 too? The near three decades at the Frasers, and how that ended, how they created the tartan (by accident) and the glory years, all add to the drama.
The courage to call it as he saw it, might have caused issues at the time. The relating of stories of the ‘benches’ he faced, and the instances around judging and authorities all add to the colour. The first segment of the book launches on one such instance and captivates the reader immediately. The questions posed about innovation, the professionalisation of winning and passages towards the end of the book about form and substance are very thought provoking.
Also, there are some great photographs in the book of the young Livingstone, his family, earliest bands and shots of him amongst the celebrated pipers of decades gone by. You’ll recognise some of the fresher faced Glenfiddich competitors.
At the official launch of the book in Scotland during Piping Live, his appearing with Shotts in the pre Worlds concert, and a fitting honouring of Bill Livingstone at the Glengarry Games, Maxville, onlookers would have raised their hats to this man and perhaps a glass of ‘low flier’ too (Famous Grouse if you need to ask) for all that he has done.
As the author writes, ‘The son of a coal miner from Ayrshire with the temerity to pen a memoir, for God’s sake, it seems to be contrary to nature, against all reason and common sense, absurd’. Of course, the author might even think it preposterous. I’m my view, it’s a must read. Period. As an aside, I had the pleasure of his company for a short while one evening, just after he had played for an invited audience on the east coast of the US. Listening intently, the youngsters in the gathering were encouraged to tell him their stories, and what they were doing. That’s a true leader.
• Buy the book here priced £3.86 (Kindle), £25.99 hardback and £16.99 paperback.