Editor’s Notebook: Dora MacLeod/ Black Watch Book/ Iain Speirs Recital/ Alexander Selkirk/ Wallace Bagpipes

Is the Dora MacLeod strathspey now prescribed by the RSPBA’s Music Board for Grade 4 and Novice bands the same tune I remember struggling with in my youth? Is it the same finger twister Peter MacLeod Jnr. wrote for his sister? Surely not. Grade 1 bands and professional pipers shy away from this tune for goodness sake, so how the authorities are going to elicit excellence from the minor grades with it I am not sure.

Perhaps the tune has been emasculated, all the work removed. If so what a shame. I even feel let down when I hear the third part, bar one, played with the C cut to E before the dare to F in bar two. It is easier I know, but not the way the man wrote the tune.

Moreover, how on earth are young pipers going to get their fingers round the doubling cuts from B and C in the first part, first bar, and play them in unison? Judges will be listening out too (surely?) for clean double Fs from C in bar two. This is not to mention the double E from F in the second part. I could go on.

I also notice Maggie Cameron and Struan Robertson on the list. Well, I can tell you, Grade 1 bands would struggle to get these tunes up to scratch. Time for a rethink by the Board. Some four part strathspeys they do have, Caledonian Canal, Captain Colin Campbell, Dornie Ferry, Dorrator Bridge are spot on, but Maggie, Struan and Dora? I don’t think so.

Incidentally the copy of the tune up top is from a first edition (1936) of John Wilson’s Book 1 (above) given to me by my Pipe Major, Alex MacIver of the 214th Co. Boys Brigade Pipe Band, in 1967.

  • Reminder: RSPBA band fees are due by November 30 and late payment will incur a penalty of 20%. Pay here.


Pipers of The Black Watch
Pipe Major Alistair Duthie, late of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment): ‘If anyone knows of any person or relative who was a piper or drummer in The Black Watch Regiment (including 42nd Royal Highlanders, Tyneside Scottish, Highland Cyclist Battalion), can you or the individual if possible please contact myself vie email : theduthies@hotmail.com
or phone: 07908 030 188

‘I am writing a book on pipers of the regiment from 1725 – 2006 and am trying to record the names of all of these men.’


The classic beginners tutor book now available in German

Alexander Selkirk
Something tells me I may have used this excerpt before but what the heck. It is from an article by the great climber, naturalist and outdoorsman Tom Weir and tells of a visit by an Edinburgh family to the cave used by Alexander Selkirk, from Lower Largo, Fife, when marooned on an island in the South Seas – Selkirk being the inspiration for Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’:

‘The Largo party were taken to Selkirk’s cave, and found two families living in it and some women outside cooking, as children played nearby. They saw the wild goats whose flesh and hairy skins had been lifesavers for Selkirk. The islanders live mainly by fishing, and there is an abundance of wild vegetables and fruits. Without cars, newspapers and television they lead a simple life and entertained their visitors with flutes and guitars.

The statue to Alexander Selkirk in Lower Largo, Fife

They had never seen or heard the bagpipes. Allan, who had been pipe-major at Fettes College, put that right by playing them selections and two special pieces: one a lament in memory of the period of melancholy during Selkirk’s first year of loneliness, then a reel as the navigator found joy in his desert island life.

Would be interesting if the named Fettes man ‘Allan’ could get in touch. Perhaps there is a picture of him piping in the cave.


Iain Speirs Recital
Alastair Campbell, Secretary, Inverness Piping Society: ‘A quick reminder of our first piping recital of the winter this coming Friday (Nov 29), when we look forward to welcoming Iain Speirs to Tulloch Castle, Dingwall.

Iain Speirs, one of the world’s top pipers, is in action this Friday in Inverness

‘The recital commences at 8pm, with entry available on the door. Also, the Society meets on 4th December when local Inverness piper Eilidh MacPhee will be our featured piper.’


Wallace Bagpipes
Congratulations to Wallace Bagpipes on their full order book. Just shows you what happens when you advertise on Piping Press. Director Craig Munro: ‘Our order book for 2019 is now officially closed.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our agents and customers for your loyal support. Keep your eyes peeled for our Black Friday deals announced later this week for new orders delivered in January 2020.



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1 thought on “Editor’s Notebook: Dora MacLeod/ Black Watch Book/ Iain Speirs Recital/ Alexander Selkirk/ Wallace Bagpipes

  1. Hi Rab, Anent the inclusion of ‘Dora MacLeod’ as a tune for grade 4, I agree with your assessment. With upward of six decades of piping under my belt, I set about learning this tune around five years ago and found it to be a significant challenge to get it into my fingers. Heaven alone knows why it has been sanctioned for grade 4 players – my eyebrows shot up dramatically when I saw your post, wow! what’s the RSPBA thinking of? Slainte, David.

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