The Piping Centre’s Triumph is Complete and the College of Piping is No More

By Robert Wallace

Dispel any notion, if you will, that yesterday’s momentous news concerning the National Piping Centre and the College of Piping is any sort of merger, some coming together of like-minded individuals who will hereafter share responsibilities, join arms in common cause, and operate as a union of equals.

Be in no doubt; this is a crushing victory for the Centre. It is all over at Otago Street. The statement yesterday was unequivocal and telling: ‘It will not be a joint board, this is a takeover of the College of Piping by the National Piping Centre.’ Yes the Chairman of the CoP will be given a token place on the NPC board but note, no other director was even considered. There will be no west-end cabal within Oona’s closet cabinet.

Contrast the lightness of foot, the popping of champagne corks (they can afford it) at Ivory Towers, Fortress Glenfiddich, call it what you will; contrast that with the grim, grey looks, the furrowed brows, the slumped shoulders of resignation only a couple of miles to the west in that doomed, dog leg of a thoroughfare that wraps itself round a twist in the River Kelvin.

The Piping Centre, ‘a new home for the College of Piping’, is launched in the early 90s. In the picture are College of Piping pupil Michael Martin MP, College tutor Angus John MacLellan, Malcolm McRae, then a director of the Piping Trust the project initiators and fundraisers, Scott MacAulay the then Principal at the College of Piping Prince Edward Island, Glasgow Lord Provost Bob Innes, Seumas MacNeill, Principal of the College of Piping, Sandy Grant Gordon, Chairman of the Piping Trust, and Gavin Stoddart, Director of the Army School of Piping. Seumas MacNeill was later to withdraw College support for the project.

As the ink dried towards the end of last week, NPC directors congratulated themselves on a job well done. It might have taken 20 plus years but the will had triumphed, their stance against Seumas MacNeill’s volte face back in 1996 had been vindicated. They chose to go on alone then, and now here they were top of the heap. From May 1 (the end of the CoP’s financial year – mayday!, mayday!!) they will have taken over the College of Piping. It will be part of their empire. They can do with it as they please, a bit of debt offset by a £1m building.

For those of us who worked so hard over many years in keeping the College of Piping afloat, literally rebuilding it, keeping the Piping Times to the highest tenets of journalism, establishing external schools hither and thither, rewriting and writing tutor books, it was a day of mixed emotion. All that effort for what?

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Yet given the current circumstances this takeover is probably for the best. After 74 years the College’s hapless directors found themselves with no option. £150,000 was still owned on the building loan and cash was not coming in to cover it. They would have to plead with the bank for better terms. A string of useless appointments meant they were a rudderless ship with no guiding principle, or principal.

The once majestic Piping Times was a waning imitation of its former self with only a few hundred loyal subscribers. The best-selling Tutor 1 had been reworked with underwhelming response from respected teachers previously devoted to its green cover. Public relations were at an all time low with those shocking outbursts and embarrassing apologies of last summer, the comments about myself in particular dragging the College’s once douce, proprietorial image to the sewer.

The die for the CoP’s denouement was cast back in spring 2014 when a gang of four directors led by Chairman Dugald MacNeill deigned that change was needed. Well that is what they got and the circumstances then will bear telling at a later date. The new General Manager, Fraser MacInnes, did a grand job of shaping a plan B before he was shown the door, scant explanation given. From then on things tumbled rapidly downhill with the catalogue of failure described above.

HRH Prince Charles has graciously agreed to become Patron of the Piping Centre and here Director Alan Forbes is introduced to him by NPC ‘Founder’ Oona Ivory, with Malcolm McRae and Sandy Grant Gordon waiting their turn.

There must now be grave question marks over the future of the CoP’s loyal, hardworking office and shop staff, staff who were unfairly insulted by their former Director of Piping in his resignation letter of October 31st, 2017. They do not deserve to lose their jobs and despite all the below stairs whispering during my time there, they are good people who will work hard for the Centre in any role that is offered to them.

The PT in its heyday

There must also be worries over the Piping Times. The name may live on as part of the banner of the NPC’s current publication Piping Today, but it is hard to see it continuing in its present form. The Centre has no need for two magazines, nor can it afford to prop up another. (There is little advertising in Piping Today to pay for its production, nor does it sell well).

If it prevails it will be a mixed day for our journalism. Though beautifully laid out, the Centre’s PT is devoid of any comment, critique or thought provocation. I’m not sure that the College’s PT provides any either these days but it at least has a proud tradition of doing so, something a new editor could latch on to.

The ‘Green Book’ tutor is another with its jacket hanging by a shoogly peg. The Centre has its own tutor books. Continuation with the College’s would confirm that they thought their own inferior – and as I say the recent re-vamp of the green book has not been a success. Hold on to your copy folks. It might be worth something in years to come.

So Scotland now has a single Government-backed centre for solo piping, and the College of Piping,  with its laudable ethos of offering cheap or free lessons depending on means, is no more. How things will pan out with the new hegemony remains to be seen. Massive patronage is now the Centre’s to distribute as they see fit. Those concerned will be scurrying harder than usual to ensure they get the gigs and those on the outside will know it is time to dig out the golf clubs. Meanwhile Seumas MacNeill quietly birls in his grave……..

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