A New Tune for P/M Alasdair Gillies

A new piobaireachd has been composed in memory of the late P/M Alasdair Gillies. It is by Niall Mathieson, for 10 years a colleague of Alasdair’s in the Queen Own Highlanders.

Listen to the ground of Salute to Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies played by Niall here:

Here is a score of the full tune courtesy of Niall:


If you would like to download it you can do so here:

Niall, a double Gold Medallist, spoke to Piping Press about the tune and of his memories of Alasdair: ‘We were in the Army for ten years together and saw some great times, some great trips abroad. We were together all the time. I was Pipe Corporal when he was Pipe Major and we were two of the lucky ones who managed to get away to compete.

‘Even after we left the Army he would come and stay with me and we would go round the games together. He was here during the Northern Meeting and we shared all the highs and lows. I think everyone was affected by his loss.

‘I thought it would be quite nice to have a tune for him, a sort of fitting tribute. I have tried before to put something together but failed. However a couple of weeks ago I was just sitting with the practice chanter as you do and started to play a few phrases and linked them together and then I thought, ‘here, I might have something’!

‘So I recorded it on my phone and an hour and a half later that was it. Alasdair loved Donald MacLeod’s piobaireachd Cabar Feidh Gu Brath and there may be elements of that tune in my tune for him. I don’t know.

‘I happy to put the tune out there and would be pleased to get any feedback from your readers good or bad!’

The Northern Meeting 2007 and the Queen’s Own Highlanders triumphant in the shape of DJ MacIntyre, Donald MacKay, Niall Matheson and Alasdair Gillies

Niall is currently schools instructor for piping in Ross & Cromarty, taking over from the late John D Burgess in 1996. He has been in that role for 23 years and has been an outstanding servant to piping tuition in the north.

Niall had the honour of playing at Alasdair’s funeral in Ullapool in September 2011. The tune? Cabar Feidh Gu Brath. The funeral was recorded for posterity by PP Editor Robert Wallace and can be viewed here.

Alasdair Gillies was one of the great pipers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His unprecedented success in the Former Winners MSR event at the Northern Meeting where he won eleven Silver Stars presented by the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society is a record unlikely to be broken for many years to come.

Read more about this piper’s life and times here as part of our Famous Pipers series. If you would like to comment on Niall’s tune please do so below.

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9 thoughts on “A New Tune for P/M Alasdair Gillies

  1. Interesting tune by Niall Matheson. I see in the dithis doubling that he has departed from the usual convention of playing a double high A followed by a thumb gracenote on high A as for example in the lament for the old sword.

  2. Lovely musical tune Niall. A fitting tribute to a legendary piper. Proud too ta have served with Alasdair.

  3. Thank goodness for statisticians. I recalled that Alasdair had 12 Silver Star ultimate successes, but it was in fact 11. Among other notables in that competition over the previous years were Donald MacPherson and Donald MacLeod who from memory each had 8 of those Silver Stars. The aggregate of all three covers about 27 years of wins, this since the Second World War. Of course there were other notables who have punctuated the historic list of those who had success in that competition and they all contributed to pushing standards. However those three have dominated the Silver Star history for a long time and as suggested it is unlikely to be matched. They featured in other prestigeous competitions, so their successes cannot be entirely defined by Silver Stars in the display cabinets.
    As to the tune, Mr Matheson has produced a musical piece, the strength of it being relatively simple and the tune is captured in the idiom of ceol mor, which is difficult to define. In past times Joseph MacDonald vaguely described it as a ‘species’ of music.
    It has been suggested that pleasing ceol mor composition is no longer in our psyche. Being of a certain age but still young, I confess that I am not fond of some of the ceol mor compositions which are termed ‘modern’. Hpwever piobaireachd does not have to be old to be good and there are some ‘old’ tunes which are not really attractive. I refrain from listing them as occasionally the Music Committee of the Piobaireachd Society has had the rashness to set them in competition!
    Alasdair spent a long time in the USA as a teacher and produced pupils of high standard. Undoubtedly as I am writing this they will be studying this tune; it is really worth going into their repertoires. I confess, I have joined them and have now got through the piece a few times hoping my playing gives justice to it and to the emotion behind it and the inspiration to name it in tribute to Alasdair Gillies.

    1. Hi Duncan, I think the two Donald’s won six each and when Alasdair won his seventh, he told us Donald Macpherson was one of the first people to congratulate him.

  4. Well done Niall, a nice tribute to Alasdair and nice article Robert. Just a quick question but was it not Eleven silver star’s Alasdair won at the Northern Meetings? I am sure someone will have the answer and correct me if I am wrong.

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