To the Piobaireachd Society Conference today for what is always an enjoyable weekend of good friendship and good music.
For the past several years it has been held at Birnam in Highland Perthshire, a peaceful spot on the banks of the mighty Tay river and always with a welcome hint of spring in the clean, clear air. It invigorates the mind in preparation for the active discussion (in committee) of the set tunes and reviews of the Society’s publications.
This work is always taken very seriously. Everyone wants to get it right. The set tunes are a case in point. To what extent should the audience at Oban and Inverness be considered? Do they want to hear obscure pieces? (Obscure most likely for the very good reason that no one likes hearing them.) How much of a test is a particular tune when compared with another? What about modern tunes; are they worth the candle? Then there is all the revisionist stuff which creeps in from time to time and which, like the neutron bomb, empties the building but leaves the walls standing.
Sometimes you long for the firm hand of history and here is Lt. Col. David Murray from his time as Hon. Sec. of the PS Music Committee. The notice is from the Oban Times. The year 1965:
Six tunes from a list of 12 with some good pieces in there but the committee has surely slipped up with the inclusion of The Groat in the same list as the likes of the Unjust Incarceration. The first would be Silver Medal status these days.
Significant that David gives prominence to the ‘Any setting other than those printed or described in the Society’s publications may be played’. He was always very keen for alternatives to be given an airing and could be scathingly critical of the editing of Campbell of Kilberry.
I wonder what the issue was with the Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal competition mentioned at the end of the notice. Six tunes for the GM at Inverness but no recommendation for Oban. Perhaps the Kilberry difficulties were behind it.
Incidentally the winner of the NM Gold Medal was Willie MacDonald, Benbecula, and the winner of the Clasp Donald MacPherson.
Drummer Allan Chatto from Australia: ‘I certainly enjoyed your PP write-up on the late Duncan Johnstone. Duncan was my Pipe Major when, in 1956, I was a member of the drum corps of the Glasgow Corporation Transport Pipe Band. At the time there were a lot of top pipers in the band, big Donald MacLean, who also at the time worked at Lawrie’s and where he set me up for my wedding kilt attire.
‘Then there was Duncan Johnstone who took over as P/M after Donald moved on and of course there were the three MacFadyens and other top pipers. I played with the band at that season’s contests and then moved on to the Rutherglen Pipe Band under Jimmy Baxter. The Pipe Sgt there was then the pipe tutor of the 214 BB Pipe Band [P/M Alex MacIver]. I played with Rutherglen for two years, and then married and we went with my wife’s family to Sydney, Australia.
‘I may be returning to Glasgow for a visit in July this year and maybe will pay a visit to some places in the Western Isles. I was wondering should you have an email or contact address for the band, Sgoil Lionacleit, that won the Freestyle event at the recent Scottish Schools Championships. I looked and listened to them on your PP site and also on YouTube and was very impressed by their performance. I have heard that they have been quite successful in their grade in RSPBA contests as well. I have now found out the name of their drum tutor. He is the L/D of the Lomond & Clyde PB so I will try to make contact with him. I do enjoy the read of your PP. Slainte.’
The main picture up top is a bit before Allan and Duncan’s time. It is of the ‘Trannies’ band in 1931.