Editor’s Notebook: Vaccine and Band Season/ Mystery Marches/ Ross’s Album/ David’s Book/ Finger Lock

Good news this week on the Covid-19 vaccine. The British Government had wisely ordered millions of doses in advance and Scotland will, rightly, gets its proportionate share. Other scientists working on other vaccines will report soon on their efficacy, hopefully positive.

Whether it will all be in time to save the 2021 pipe band season remains to be seen. It will take months to roll the jabs out to the general public and restrictions will have to stay until it does so.

The British Championships take place six months tomorrow. Wouldn’t we all like to see scores of bands out there on the grass, visit the beer tent, listen to the moans about the judges, experience the tension of the march past and the results and, most of all, listen to the music of the pipe band at its finest.

Just writing about it you realise that once more you don’t know what you have until its gone. I think Ian Embelton, the RSPBA’s Chief Executive, should be brought out of retirement to make the announcement of the prizes just to underline what we have been missing.

Last week Jim MacLean, holed up in the Western isles, asked if readers could help him identify a couple of lines of music:

First in was Harry Stevenson (author of yesterday’s story on WW1 pipers and their music). Herry wrote: ‘The first tune is The Highland Brigade at Waterloo. The setting is by P/M Donald MacLeod and is in his Book 1.

‘The second tune is Alexandria Place. This is in Chris Mulinder’s Dunvegan Collection published in South Africa. The source here is the Pride of Murray Pipe Band. This is a very fine book – some really great tunes in it. We played this tune in the Robert Armstrong Memorial but we had it as Alexandra Palace.’

Next came Nick Hudson, pipe tutor at St Thomas’s School in Houston, Texas. Nick wrote: ‘The first 6/8 scrap of melody is the Highland Brigade at Waterloo. I first heard this tune on Iain MacInnes’ great ‘Tryst’ album.

‘There’s a setting in Donald MacLeod’s first book, but some interesting older settings too, like this one attached from Glen’s collection, with variations, effectively ‘bagpipering’ the original fiddle variations. No idea on the second tune though:

Finlay MacLeod in Edinburgh: ‘The first 6/8 seems to be a version of the Gaelic song Blar Harlaw (The Battle of Harlaw) which is frequently used as a choral piece. Hope this helps.’

So there you have it Jim and thanks to those who enlighted us.

Inveraray Pipe Band’s Ross Miller has made a new album. He writes: ‘As you may know, I released an album titled ‘The Roke’ earlier this year and I’m delighted to say that it has been nominated for ’Trad Album Of The Year’ at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

‘You can read more about the nominations here and there’s information about the awards themselves here as well as information for voting which is open until 15th November.

In this picture Ross is far right with Scott Wallace (centre) and Kris Coyle after their successes at the All Ireland solos in Dublin in 2019

‘There is other piping interest in a few other categories as well. I was wondering if you could share this happy news on your blog with your readers?’

The best of luck with that Ross. Looking down the list I see there is no longer an award for ‘Pipe Band of the Year’ previously sponsored by the Piping Centre. From memory I think Ross’s band has won that on occasion.

More new stuff. Composer David Hunter: ‘I thought I would get in touch to make you aware of the release of my own collection of new music. This includes tunes for both the Highland pipes and other traditional instruments. The collection contains a Foreword by Fred Morrison and illustrations below some of the tunes by local artist Ben Blaikie. Here’s the blurb:

‘Now It’s My Turn’ is a collection of original compositions by Dundee born Davie Hunter. Many folk from all over the world have been in touch to get ‘the dots’ for tunes they have heard. 

‘This includes well known pipers, trad musicians and pipe band adjudicators. The book contains 55 original compositions, 49 for pipes and six for other instruments. You can find some audio of a few of the tunes at www.davidahunter.co.uk where you can also purchase direct.’ 

Pleasing to see so many readers enjoying Calum MacLean’s excellent story on the legend of the Finger Lock yesterday.

Keen piobaireachd buffs will be interested in this video of the late Dr Roddy Ross performing his version of the source of the tune at the Piobaireachd Society Conference. Check it out here.

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