The Great Bill Boyle and What a Privilege it was to Learn from Him

Australian piper and adjudicator Dennis Browning follows up on our earlier story from Nicholas Taitz about New Zealand’s master piper, the late Bill Boyle, ‘the best since GS’……

The above photo was taken in my lounge room in May 1980. Pictured are Brian Wilson, Bill Boyle and myself. Bill was invited to judge at the East Coast Championships here in Newcastle, New Soouth Wales, and he stayed with me for the duration of his stay.

His effect on my piping over that short time was immeasurable. This photo was taken before a recital by the three of us in Newcastle that evening. Brian and I were to stay with Bill when we were to attend the Labour Day weekend competition in Christchurch the following October but sadly Bill passed away a few months after returning to New Zealand.

By Dennis Browning

As mentioned in the recent post in Piping Press, Bill was an amazing player and I was very lucky to have had that time with him.

I first met him in 1975 at the Queensland Pipe Band Championships held in Brisbane. I was with the Cardiff RSL Pipe Band (from Newcastle) and Bill was over from NZ with the Canterbury Caledonia Pipe Band.

Both Brian Wilson and I had been tutored by the late Mick Haggarty and one of the last tunes he introduced to us was John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage. We were lucky enough to hear Bill play at the post contest ceilidh and one of the first tunes he played was that very march.

It was worth the journey to Brisbane to hear his playing that evening, the likes of which we had never heard before. We both had copies of Bill’s ‘Bagpipe Virtuoso’ record so we knew what we were in for. By the way, some pressings of that record had one side in complete reverse and as chance would have it this was the way of both Brian and my copies! No matter, his brilliance shone through:

We were lucky to meet up with Bill a couple of years later at the same Brisbane contest.

In 1979 my wife Colleen and I went on holiday to New Zealand. When we reached Christchurch I rang the university printing department to see if I could contact Bill. As luck would have it he answered and offered to pick us up the following evening and take us to the Christchurch Pipers’ Society meeting.

That was a great night of piping. Afterwards Bill and Don Gannaway took us to Bill’s house and it’s there we stayed till 5am the next morning!

I contacted Bill some months later to ask if he would accept an invitation to judge in Newcastle at the East Coast Pipe Band Championships. He was only too happy to accept.

I took time off work to make sure Bill was well looked after as he was staying in my house. The first full day was piping, piping and more piping. Bill played for about an hour or so and then it was my turn. What a lesson that was. He had a very easy way of explaining what he wanted to hear and what I should do to achieve it.

I had recently purchased one of the new Naill chanters and he was most interested in it. After a while he told me to make such and such adjustments and the result put a smile on Bills’s face and he made the comment, ‘Now I know what it is about the Naill chanter – I like it’.

Brian Wilson at that stage had moved to Queensland but had come down to the Newcastle contest with the St. Andrews Pipe Band. When he found out that Bill was staying with me he got straight onto the phone to explain to his wife that he will be coming back home three days later!

Brian also stayed with me for the two days following the contest. We still talk about that time. Bill was a great conversationalist and was only too keen to pass on his knowledge. 

The recital mentioned above was held on the Monday evening with Brian, Bill and myself taking part. All who attended were indeed  lucky to have been able to hear piping at the highest level from Bill.

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