After 70 Years the Bell Tolls for Piping Times Magazine

I have it on good authority that we have seen the last of the Piping Times. If my information is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, this is more grim news in piping’s grimmest of grim years.

It gives me no pleasure at all to write this article. I was editor of the magazine for 15 years from 1999 – 2014. I gave my journalistic best to it in that time. In 2017 I warned that declining sales could only be arrested by quality writing and the inclusion of more well-argued comment and opinion.

By Robert Wallace

Mainstream media recognised a long time ago that in the internet age, printed magazines could best survive by following these precepts.

The reality is that as far as our music and instrument are concerned, news, interviews and history-based features are today more than well-served by online publications.

My advice was met with derision and personal opprobrium, and we are where we are. The last issue of the PT came out in April. It was announced that it was being suspended due to the exigencies of the pandemic.

I have no reason to question this, but the fact remains that for the past several years it had been losing readers and money and there is now no sign of its returning.

Indeed, the publisher, the National Piping Centre, announced last month that they are currently reviewing their staffing levels with a view to issuing redundancy notices. In the circumstances it would be folly to re-launch a product that each month haemorrhaged cash.

The first edition of the Piping Times 1948

The Centre have also had to mothball their Otago Street premises (the old College of Piping place) and who knows when that will re-open. Such is the devastating economic effect of this pandemic.

As far as I can see, the NPC webshop no longer sells subscriptions for the PT nor for their Piping Today publication. Only back issues are offered for sale.

Many of the older generation, lifetime subscribers, will feel a genuine sense of loss for the Piping Times. Captain John MacLellan hailed it as the ‘greatest single repository of bagpipe knowledge and information in the world’.

It began in 1948 with Terry McDonagh as its first editor but rose to glory under the sometimes acid pen of the late Seumas MacNeill. By any yardstick Seumas’s 40 years in the Editor’s chair was a success, his monthly editorial often a coruscating assault on some unfortunate individual, or a sparkling display of wit, sometimes a mix of both. Take him or leave him, Seumas was, like all good writers, seldom boring.

For 40 years Seumas MacNeill was an outstanding editor of the Piping Times

In the early 70s he fought successfully to get piping as an examination subject, and therefore taught, in Scotland’s schools, and also for the rights of women to compete at the major contests at Oban and Inverness. (Incredible now to think that this ban was once acceptable.)

I took over in 1999 and brought in some much needed changes. At its peak we were selling 2,000 copies per month. (I apologise if this sounds like hubris.) I continued the campaigning zeal the PT was now famous for.

We fought to save the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band and we petitioned the BBC to get them to televise the Worlds. Both successful I am pleased to say. In 2005 the PT was Highly Commended for excellence in magazine publishing at the Scottish Magazine Awards.

Handing over the 2005 PT petition that helped get the Worlds televised. Receiving the petition is Mr Ian Small the then Head of Public Policy at BBC Scotland

Anyway, its all history now. No use crying into the cuach.

12 thoughts on “After 70 Years the Bell Tolls for Piping Times Magazine

  1. This is terrible news about a great and legendary source of piping news. Is there anything that pipers can do to help collectively? Sometimes we need to help one another out and lend a hand for the institutions we uphold and which have upheld us.

  2. Hi there

    Do you know where I can get hold of back copies of Piping Times?
    There appears to be a wealth of info on my grandfather, Henry Starck, in these old editions.
    Not sure if they are all online in PDF format, but would prefer paper copies if anyone has them?

    Thanks, Paul Starck

    1. Have a large collection of old copies of Piping Times going back to the first edition which I am intending selling. Do you know what volume/ issues your require?

  3. I am indeed extremely sorry to learn about the end of an era. The Piping Times was not just a magazine, at least not for the many pipers who, like me, lived outside Scotland. We truly could not wait for it to arrive in the mail, and would comment on every single article and ad for weeks. I was honored to make its cover once, a high honor paid to me by the late Seumas McNeill, a most refined gentleman for whom I had the utmost respect and admiration, and whom I still remember, for he left an indelible mark on the piping scene.

  4. I’ve been an avid reader and subscriber to the Piping Times since the 1970s. I bought all the back issues and enjoy re-reading them all. The demise of the College and now the Piping Times is very sad indeed – the end of an era.

  5. Could not wait to rush into Macphersons on Edinburgh’s Maitland Street…to pick up my monthly edition….gonna miss it…!!! some lovely wee tunes learned from the mag…over the years..and Donald Drone….!!!!..joined the fight to get him back……all part of my youth….”happy memories”….so sad……!!!

  6. I loved receiving my copy of the Times in the mail and I think I even may have signed the petition to keep the Glasgow Police Band! It was always the pinnacle of the piping world and still allowed the everyday piper to submit their musings and very animated lively discussions to the magazine. I will miss it greatly.

  7. It didn’t happen very often for some reason, but when I did get my sweaty little hands on the Piping Times, it was a real treat.
    Rick Dade.

  8. For a non english speaker but still piper, PT was for several years the only path to be connected with the piping world. It helps me to find my excellent Alexander Glen set of pipes from which many replicas have been made.
    A great journal . Many thanks to Seumas and after him to Bob Wallace.

  9. My father, who lived in Western Australia, always looked forward with great eagerness to getting his copy of the Piping Times. It helped connect him with the piping world in Scotland which was really important because of our distance from the centre of the piping world. My parents, Alma and John MacMurchie, and my sister Shona were on the cover of one of the editions of the Piping Times, and my brother PM Blue MacMurchie has written a number of articles for the Piping Times. It is a sad end to a very good journal. Of course it could be published online, with subscriptions as per academic journals. Has this been considered?

    1. Yes sad times indeed what a state the Worlds in eh hope you and the family are all well Alma regards to the Coastals

      Kind Regards


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