By Ken Rogers, Calgary
I have been following the recent correspondence regarding P/M James Robertson of Banff’s tune, Farewell to the Creeks, and I managed to find correspondence I had with his pupil Joe Wilson.
I met Joe when he was my instructor at the College of Piping in 2005. Subsequently I kept up correspondence with him for a time and was distraught to learn of his passing in 2010.
The picture above is from the Army School of Piping Pipe Majors Course 1959-60. Front and centre is the then P/M John MacLellan, not yet Director Army Bagpipe Music. The pipers (back row) are P/M Angus MacDonald, Scots Guards (who would write a tune in Joe’s honour), James Henderson of the Argylls, I understand a one time tutor of Stuart Liddell, Joe, and Major John Allan who himself would become Director of Army Bagpipe Music. Front row are P/M Halley, Royal Scots Greys and Sgt. Stewart of the 1st Irish Guards.
In his last message to me Joe included a script of the famous Farewell to the Creeks in P/M Robertson’s own hand, written in 1952 (below). As has been reported the tune was composed in 1915 whilst P/M Robertson was a PoW during WW1.
My last communication with Joe was in 2008. My message to him reads: ‘I was most interested in your article on P/M Calum Campbell, Gordon Highlanders. You mentioned that he had sisters in Canada. Well, one sister, Nora, is in Calgary, Alberta. In fact, I have performed a request for her at a Burns’ Dinner.
‘She asked me to play the Fair Maid of Barra and other tunes that she sang in Gaelic. I have called and left a message at her residence and perhaps she will ask me for a copy of your article. I have been impressed that you were mentored by P/M James Robertson as well as P/M Campbell. What a strong piping foundation you received and what a legacy you can gift to your students.’
Joe replied: ‘Hello Ken. Delighted to hear from you and delighted to hear about Calum’s sister. It would be great if she would contact me. Calum and I became great friends and so did his brother Danny while we were both stationed in Aberdeen. Strange to say it, but Calum and Danny, because of Army service, were seldom in contact with each other.
‘I first heard The Fair Maid of Barra being played by Calum. He, as you may expect, played it beautifully and because of that it became my favourite Gaelic air.
‘The James Robertson who taught me from the age of 8 to 18 was of course the composer of Farewell to the Creeks, not the J B Robertson of the Scots Guards. My tutor took over from GS McLennan as pipe major of the Gordon Highlanders and they were life-long friends so that is where my tuition comes from.
‘I have to say that Calum taught me a lot, particularly about short notes – they hold the secret to good playing. It doesn’t seem like three years since you were at the College. Time flies. I hope that life is treating you very well. I wish you all the very best with your preparations for your Level 5. It is not an easy certificate to get but I have every faith in your ability.’
Before his death Joe completed a superb collection of ceòl beag which contains many of the settings of tunes passed down to him by P/M Robertson which he in turn had had from GS McLennan, and also tunes by Calum Campbell.
The book makes use of double dots and 64th notes which Joe believed, rightly, better express what we actually play on the pipes. The book is still available from the Piping Centre here.
- Download a copy of Farewell to the Creeks in James Robertson’s own hand here:
Read more about Farewell to the Creeks and P/M Robertson here.