The ‘Echoes of Oban’ and a Look Back at 1952

One event conspicuously absent from the November piping programme this year has been the ‘Echoes of Oban’ concert, writes the Editor.

Started originally by Seumas MacNeill and Tommy Pearston at the College of Piping in the 50s, I revived it circa 2008 using their format – though in the early years they invited winners from Inverness too. Luckily we always had sufficient players to be able to keep it true to its name – and very successful it was too.

When I left Otago Street in 2014 Fraser MacInnes did a good job of keeping it going with the old format followed pretty closely.

Performers at the Echoes in 2012

Now that the College is no more I wonder why the Piping Centre have chosen, apparently, to dispense with an evening which always paid its way and drew a large crowd.

Perhaps they have too much on at the moment moving the College Museum to McPhater Street (the display there is to be returned to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh), but I hope the Centre will have a good look at the ‘Echoes’ and think about reviving it in 2019.

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Stewards and officials from the AG were always invited, a pleasant acknowledgement of their voluntary hard work in staging what is one of the world’s great gatherings. 

More than anything ‘the Echoes’ afforded the piping enthusiast who was unable to make it to Oban the opportunity to listen to the champion pipers and their winning tunes first hand – and you cannot beat live music.

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Assuming everyone could have made it this year, that would have meant a very enjoyable few hours listening to Andrew Ferguson (MacGregor), Darach Urquhart (Silver Medal), Glenn Brown (third in Gold Medal – winner Stuart Easton and runner-up Derek Midgley are overseas), Stuart Liddell (Snr. Piob.), Angus MacColl (Former Winers’ MSR), Connor Sinclair (‘A’ March), Ben Duncan (‘A’ S&R), Cameron MacDougall (‘B’ March – the winner Liam Kernaghan is in NZ), and Callum Watson (’B’ S&R).

The winner of the RG Hardie Trophy for Intermediate MSR was Josh Chandler, Australia, but I am sure young Andrew Fergusson, the runner-up, could have been prevailed upon to do the honours.

Performers at the Echoes in 2008

The evening usually kicks off with Donald MacPherson’s Echoes of Oban played by the winner of the jigs who this year was Callum Moffat.

What not to like?

Now let us turn to the 1952 Echoes and an archive recording I first broadcast on College of Piping Radio a few years ago now. It was taken from an old reel to reel tape in the Museum of Piping mentioned above.

It features an introduction from Seumas MacNeill and leads to a short speech from Fear-an-Tighe Dr Kenneth MacKay talking to the packed crowd in the College.

Dr MacKay, one of the notable figures in piping post-war, waxes on the whys and wherefores of solo piping and professional pipers in particular.

Dr Kenneth MacKay

Thereafter we have music from P/M Donald MacLeod. Listen out for the slow air Rory Mor, Donald’s own 6/8 Mrs MacDonald of Uig, and an early version of the Glasgow Police Pipers jig.

His playing of 6/8s is particularly noteworthy. You seldom hear this level of phrasing and pointing these days.

Thence to the maestro playing his Clasp winning tune of that year, Salute to Donald. The sound quality comes and goes but I think listeners will get a flavour of the great man’s greatness. Piobaireachd people will notice an alternative to the breabach timing we hear these days.

It shows you how much piping has moved on – at least as far as repertoire is concerned –  when you consider that Salute to Donald would never be set for the Clasp these days unless in some two small tune combo as happened in 2010:

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2 thoughts on “The ‘Echoes of Oban’ and a Look Back at 1952

  1. Some traditions are worthy of upholding and the two I associate most with the old College are ‘the Echoes of Oban’ and ‘A Penny and a Piobaireachd’. The ‘Echoes’ was the highlight of the College calendar; always a sellout and enjoyed by performers and audience alike, it was an opportunity to hear the winning tunes in the more convivial setting of the College Theatre.
    I hope this year’s omission has just been an oversight.

  2. Thank you for the opportunity of hearing the master Wee Donald play again. There will never be another like him.

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