After Pipe Major Bob Shepherd MBE passed away last year I felt the need to commemorate him in some way and to pay my tribute to the man and his extraordinary accomplishments.
First of all, I would like to go back in time somewhat. My first encounter with Bob Shepherd was in 1977 shortly before my 15th birthday. I went to the World Pipe Band Championships in Aberdeen with my father….my first visit to this competition.
By Captain Stuart Samson MBE, former Director of Army Bagpipe Music
Before this time I had never experienced a live performance of a Grade 1 pipe band. Prior to that day, my musical appreciation of Grade 1 had been through LP recordings. To witness Dysart and Dundonald with Pipe Major Bob Shepherd at the helm was something to behold. It was a masterful performance – the musical programme was very dynamic and ground breaking.
For me, it was inspiring and opened up my mind to different musical possibilities. Eleven months later, influenced by the exciting trend of pipe band music at that time, I was off into the Army as a boy soldier to pursue a career in piping. Bob Shepherd was very much at the forefront of this.
My initial introduction to Bob came through listening to Mike Cusack. In the late 80s and early 90s I was having lessons with Pipe Major Jimmy MacGregor, as was Mike when he came over to Scotland from the USA.
At some point during this period Mike started playing a set of full silver Shepherd pipes. I really enjoyed the sound he was producing and of course he was very successful at this time, winning many top prizes. I resolved to buy a set myself which ultimately I did. In 1995 I bought a Shepherd African blackwood pipe chanter and it was at this point that I first met Bob. I collected the chanter from him at the Worlds that year and went on to play this chanter a few weeks later in the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting.
I gained second place in this competition playing the Battle of Auldearn No 2 and was extremely pleased with the sound and performance of this chanter, which was to serve me well in competition for the rest of my competing career. Incidentally the Gold Medal that year was won by Robert Wallace, who played The Blue Ribbon.
It was in this year that my long association and friendship with Bob really began. I would visit Bob as frequently as possible, when military duties permitted, and I would often take Walter Drysdale along. Walter was my teacher at that time and a close friend of Bob’s.
Download Stuart’s tune here:
My view of Bob took on a new dimension however when I became the Director of Army Bagpipe Music and was therefore involved on a regular basis with the Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board. Bob was a committee member at that time.
It was very evident that he was passionate about music education and the passing on of knowledge. He spent a considerable amount of time to this end and I was most impressed by his drive and enthusiasm.
After I left the army in 2008, I became involved with the Basel Tattoo in Switzerland and found myself doing a lot of solo performance with the orchestra. Most of my professional playing since that time has been in concert Bb and as a consequence Bob and myself spent a lot of time refining an orchestral chanter to suit my needs, for which I was very grateful.
Bob and Dorothy visited the Basel Tattoo in 2015 and I was happy to see them both there. I know they enjoyed their stay in Basel immensely, not least because it gave him the opportunity to visit the many cigar shops in the city!
As to the piobaireachd itself, the tune was already formed to a point before last year, in fact I had been working on this for a number of years but I was never satisfied with the overall structure of the work. To me it lacked an emotional connection.
Bob’s passing away seemed to release these emotions within me and this allowed me to set out the theme that I had failed to achieve before and to complete the work to my satisfaction. Although he is no longer with us, I felt that he was still having an influence on me during the process and in fact was pushing me on to get it done!
I have composed this piobaireachd in a style which I hope allows the performer to capture the feeling of a lament through the ground and 1st variation. The latter part of the tune is intended to be played more in the style of a salute, especially through variation 2, the taorluath and crunluath doublings and the crunluath a mach. What I have tried to achieve is an overall mood of remembrance and commemoration.
Listen to Stuart performing his new tune:
Farewell to the Reedmaker is dedicated to the memory of Pipe Major Robert T. Shepherd MBE. Making pipe reeds was the foundation of Bob’s business and that is why I have given the piobaireachd this title. Of course Bob was much more than a maker of very fine pipe reeds, he was a man of many talents which he used to the full in the solo and pipe band community.
A bagpipe maker, adjudicator, teacher and World Champion Pipe Major to list a few of his achievements. He was also very generous with his time and knowledge and so many of us have gained from that. Perhaps most of all he was a man with vision and strong principles throughout his entire life. On a personal level, Bob and I formed a good friendship over the last 25 years of his life and I admired him greatly.
He was very much a force for good in both the piping world and in wider society. We will all miss him and this piobaireachd is my tribute to him.