PP Ed’s Blog: Highland Games/ RSPBA Survey/ Sandy’s 90th/ New Ceol Mor

The first weekend of the Highland games season was blessed with incredible weather and another bright sign was the number of P/A grade players out having a tune and supporting these events. Let’s hope this continues.

Looking ahead, we have Markinch next weekend, June 3, and thereafter for the rest of June we have Strathmore (June 10), Ardrossan (June 11), Aberdeen (June 17), Cupar (June 17), Drumtochty (June 23) and Ceres (June 30). Please support these events if you can.

Angus MacColl at Blair Atholl  courtesy Peter McCalister

Looking even further ahead, August 4 is the new date for the Lochaber Gathering to be held in the Nevis Centre in Fort William as usual. The good news is that this change avoids a clash with the nearby Glenfinnan games – but unfortunately coincides with Newtonmore, Aboyne and Dundonald in Ayrshire. Sometimes these things just can’t be helped and there is quite a geographical spread here so that should help. Check out the full PP Guide to the Games here.

The RSPBA are asking all Grade 4a and 4b bands to complete a questionnaire on the current playing criteria for their grades. Pipe majors/ band secretaries can download the form here. The findings will be discussed by the Music Board at the end of the current season.

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Chris Earl, President of Pipe Bands Australia reports: Friends from across Australia descended on Queensland at the weekend to help the legendary Sandy Campbell celebrate his 90th birthday. Sandy was one of the most successful pipe majors in Australian history, guiding the Queensland Irish Association and Brisbane Red Hackle pipe bands to a total of nine Grade One titles and forging the way for Australian bands competing in Scotland.

Among those joining the celebrations were former members of those bands including current RSPBA adjudicator Sam Young, Athol Chalmers who has taken his Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band to Scotland on several occasions, and Rodger Reid, who recruited Nat Russell to Victoria Police in 1987, and is himself a former pipe major of Victoria Police.

During the celebrations, the three arranged for Sandy to be presented with his certificate as one of the 12 inaugural inductees into the Pipe Bands Australia Hall of Fame. Also in attendance was Gordon Ferguson, a former piper in both the legendary Muirhead Pipe Band under P/M Bob Hardie in the mid 60s and the Queensland Irish Association Pipe Band during the 1980s.

Sandy with his Hall of Fame certificates

Sandy emigrated to Brisbane in 1950 after serving in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. After a short stay in Brisbane he married his long-time partner Mary and returned to Scotland for a further three years. In 1954 Sandy and Mary returned to Australia and moved to Mt Isa in north Queensland to work in the mines until 1957 when they returned to Brisbane. He met up with Pipe Major Donald McKinnon (ex-KOSB) and formed the Mt Isa Pipe Band which quickly achieved prominence in the competition arena.

Sandy was a leader of influence in the pipe band scene throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s in Australia. His success can only be attributed to his dedicated teaching of many hundreds of pupils and the importance of maintaining standards, always seeking to raise the bar. Through his teachings, not only did he excel in pushing the limits in pipe band standards, he is recognised for his contribution in paving the way for many successful solo players in realising their personal achievement in both Australia and Scotland.

Sandy set the scene with the introduction of Australian bands travelling to Scotland and Northern Ireland to compete back in 1978. 1985 saw the pinnacle of his achievements, encompassing a seven-week tour which resulted in Queensland Irish (main picture) winning the Grade 2 Championship at the Cowal Highland Gathering . Sandy also played a significant role in opening up the regular flow of players, instructors and adjudicators bringing their international expertise to Australia.

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The new piobaireachd composing initiative announced by the Alt Pibroch website is certainly very ambitious in its scope and we wish the promoters all success with it. It should not be forgotten however that the world authority on ceol mor, the Piobaireachd Society, has been encouraging the composition of new tunes for many years now. The Society has published its own book of ‘modern’ piobaireachd (some of the tunes are now becoming popular) and for the past couple of years has had a facility whereby composers can have their music published on the Society website – with the necessary caveat that this should not be seen as conferring approbation on said work. The latest tune to appear there is by Canadian piper Matt MacIsaac.

In addition, the Society’s Music Board has included a number of more recent works by the likes of Captain John MacLellan and P/M Donald MacLeod in its set tune lists offered to Oban and Inverness for their main competitions. It is easy to paint the PS as a bunch of old dodderers mired in the past, but the reality is quite different.

Nor should we forget the endeavours of California’s Shasta Piping Society. Their piobaireachd composing competition is highly regarded with substantial reward for the successful entrants. This Society deserves a lot of credit for its work and the two winning tunes we have had so far, by Jori Chisholm and Vincent Janoski, are certainly worth a listen. Over time, who knows how popular they may become.

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