PP Ed's Blog: South Florida/ Darach & Finlay Hong Kong Trip/ Charles MacLeod Williamson

To the US for some sun at the South Florida Pipe & Drum Academy at Boca Raton. I should have something to report – all good I hope.
Around 50 students, 28 for piping with class sizes kept to five or six. This will be our fourth annual school and I think we are beginning to make an impression. Certainly standards improve year on year. Many thanks to our sponsors David Naill & Co and Pipe Dreams, RT Shepherd, and G1 Reeds.

Senior instructor Barry Donaldson and his class at the 2016  Academy


Also on their travels have been expert pipers Darach Urquhart and Finlay Johnston (Finlay’s dad Tommy is our drum instructor at Boca). Darach reports: ‘A group consisting of Finlay Johnston, Chris Johnston (drumming) and myself were invited to the Kowloon District of Hong Kong in mid-January this year to do a bit of teaching and performance. 

Finlay, Chris, Darach and students

‘Our hosts were the local Boys Brigade, whose hospitality was warm and generous at every point – particularly Man and Ringo who showed us the sights and chaperoned us around all the best eateries and bars! The classes consisted of a mixture of adults and youngsters who were all very keen. At the end of the week we performed a concert to a sell-out crowd and invited members of the class up to perform a finale which seemed to go down very well with the local audience. A thirst for piping it seems exists fairly prominently in this part of the Far East.’
Workshop staff and students

That’s good to hear Darach. At the time of the UK handover in 1997 many thought piping in the former colony would decline. Doubly good to hear that the BB are still going strong there too. Finlay is pictured up top performing at the recital.



Delighted to hear from correspondent Duncan Watson who is now on the mend after his recent spell in hospital. Very grateful to Duncan for this information following the recent letter on Charles MacLeod Williamson. Duncan writes: ‘Regarding Charlie MacLeod Williamson, I did not know the man but heard of him through people I knew who knew him from their Army service. As far as I remember, Charlie MacLeod Williamson was  in what was called the ITC [Infantry Training Corps] Pipe Band which was based, I think, in Edinburgh.
‘The Pipe Major was big Donald MacLean, Lewis, who was of course a Seaforth Highlander. Among those in that band were, as I understand, Willie MacDonald, Benbecula, who was seconded from the HLI, John Riach who was, I think, in the HLI for a time and was later re-badged to the Seaforth Highlanders, Andrew Pitkeathly, who was seconded from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Bob Brown, the son of RU Brown and maybe Alec MacDonald,  who was the station master for a while at Fort William.

The caption in ‘The Scottish Soldier’ reads , ‘Pipe Major Donald Maclean and Drum Major James Watson, King’s Guard Pipe Band at Balmoral Castle, 1947’

‘The Drum Major of the band was James Watson who hailed from Forres (no relation). James Watson spoke of the ITC band in glowing terms from what I could understand. With the amount of good players it had it was very accomplished. Again from memory, I think I can recall that everybody was in awe of Charlie MacLeod Williamson’s finger dexterity when playing his jigs – they were very difficult.
‘A few are available in publications, tunes such as Angus Sutherland and Granny MacLeod, but I was told that they were in simplified form! There was another tune that I heard which would turn your fingers into a knot and it was called the Ecclefechan Dance.  I heard it only once and have since tried to get a copy without success.
‘It appears that although very capable to play anything, he did not have much time for piobaireachd. I do not know  what he did for a living but at one time, the story goes, he  was met by an ex-Army colleague. It appears that Charlie was employed as a toilet  attendant and had his pipes with him. The place was freezing cold, but it did not seem to hamper him as he rattled out jigs – and jigs with the most intricate of fingering. I think he did teach a few about Edinburgh who will still be kicking around and accurate information could be had from them.  This is all from my memory as a young lad listening to stories from older pipers.’
Many thanks for that Duncan and readers may like to know that Granny MacLeod is in the Glasgow Collection along with other CMW tunes, Aonas Sutherland, a reel, named for a piper also in the ITC band, and the jig Myra Hatton.


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