Times are difficult in the bagpipe world right now, not more so than in the journalism line. Thankfully our contributors and readers are rising to the challenge and we have lots of interesting articles in store which will help keep things ticking over during the next few weeks, but if you read copied PP input more than usual elsewhere over this period don’t be surprised.
The picture above comes to us courtesy of Allan Chatto in Australia. It is of Powell River Pipe Band, from British Columbia. I am a bit hazy about the history of this band, which was, judging by the trophies, a highly competent outfit.
Can anyone supply the names of the personnel pictured and something about the band’s history?
Delighted to announce that Bill Livingstone has agreed to join the judging team for the Shasta Piobaireachd Composing competition. Bill will be an invaluable addition to the panel which now comprises myself, Greg Wilson, and Chris Terry.
Get those creative juices going all you composers. Good money on offer, and there can be no better way of filling in lockdown time than coming up with a new tune. Entries close August 1, 2020. Prizes are £500, £250 and £100.
And don’t forget the Argyllshire Gathering’s search for a new 2/4 march to be played at next year’s competition and on the march to the games thereafter. Closing date is May 31, 2020. The panel for that is Jimmy Banks, John Wilson and yours truly. A princely, winner-takes-all, £1,000 on offer for the best tune! Entry info on both contests here.
Apologies for the belated reporting of the passing of noted Australian piper, Rob Roy MacGregor. The Queensland Highland Piping Society report: ‘It is with regret and sadness that we inform of the passing away of former Pipe Major Rob Roy McGregor, former Pipe Major of the St Andrews Pipe Band.
‘Rob was without doubt a major force in the Queensland piping scene, was responsible for cultivating many talented pipers and will be remembered as our most charismatic pipe major. Our condolences to Isabel and the family. Rob was a great influence on piping in Queensland and a member of our Society from it’s earliest days right up to this year.’
As expected Tobermory Games have been cancelled as has Grandfather Mountain in the US. No need to explain why. If the Scottish Government’s large gathering ban is extended to September 30 as I have heard, then that puts the kybosh on the likes of Braemar too.
Reader Paul Hinson writes from the US: ‘I’ve been reading Bridget MacKenzie’s ‘Piping Traditions of the Outer Isles’ and so far have read about Barra, Eriskay, and am about through the section on South Uist.
‘A few times she’s referred to an ‘island style of playing piobaireachd’. What distinguishes an ‘island style’ from other styles? ‘I also understand that John MacDonald, then Willie Ross, and later Bob Nicol had big influences on piobaireachd playing in South Uist in the 20th century.’
The teaching trips by these luminaries that you mention Paul were sponsored by the Piobaireachd Society and had a profound effect on the knowledge base among the largely ear-taught pipers in the Outer Isles. I don’t quite know what Bridget is meaning, but there is often a romantic notion that somehow there was once a different, now long lost, ceòl mòr tradition on the islands. Reserachers have pored over every document, lifted every peat hag, but unfortunately found very little to go on.
Piobaireachd playing was in a shocking state throughout the Highlands and the islands in the 19th century. Any tradition there was was hanging by a thread. Come the 20th, these three great teachers all reported a sad lack of any real ability or knowledge of ceòl mòr on the islands, though there was plenty of natural musical ability (and there still is).
Native islanders, the late Ronald and Fred Morrison (snr.), would speak of their reverence for Nicol and his mentor John MacDonald, Inverness, and of their way with the tunes (I’ve heard them do so), with never any concern for a mystical muse lost in the Gaelic mist.
I found this online. It is a quote from ‘The Piping Tradition of South Uist’ by DJ Howard in a thesis for Edinburgh University: ‘South Uist remained largely untouched by the evangelical asceticism which swept away piping traditions elsewhere in the Hebrides following the Disruption. Clanranald’s patronage of pipers survived longer into the nineteenth century than that of most other Highland families, South Uist being home to the bearers of the office.
‘And the world of twentieth-century mainstream competition was enriched when the Piobaireachd Society brought literate instruction to the island’s ear-learned pipes in 1909. For these and other reasons, to study the island’s piping is to study its religious life, its community life, its history of emigration, its oral tradition of signing and storytelling and its place in the wider framework of Clanranald and Highland custom….’
Important to distinguish between a piobaireachd style and a ceòl beag style, Paul. There is a distinct roundness to much of the latter among pipers from Uist & Barra, witness Duncan Johnstone, Willie Morrison and others.