By Robert Wallace
There have been few upsides to the current pandemic but one has been the time it has afforded us to sort through ‘stuff’. Old photographs, cuttings choke the PP library. A solid sift last weekend yielded a note and snaps I received from the late Aladair Gillies in 1997 when he was installed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.
I had done an extensive interview with him for Piper Press (the hard copy forerunner of Piping Press) and the pictures were to accompany it. The note reads: ‘Rab, Here’s some photo’s. No very good but the best we could come up with. I suppose you got other ones as I didn’t hear from you. Hope all is well in the homeland.
I hear not too many happy people ref. Inverness. I’m glad they’re letting me into the Gold. (…….cannay be judging four out of the last 5.) Will email you soon.‘
In the envelope were some shots of his display of medals. As he said these were not great but have a touching relevance with each year that passes since his death. Pride of place were the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society Silver Stars for Former Winners MSR at Inverness. I know he won eleven but by my count there are ten on display in these photographs:
Yes, Alasdair the pix are pretty poor but it’s what they represent that counts. To win one of these Silver Stars is a huge achievement; to win as many as he did and in such convincing style is remarkable. I doubt if it will ever be beaten, though they said the same about Willie Ross, Donald MacLeod, Donald MacPherson and JB Robertson all multiple winners of the major titles at the Northern Meeting.
I will always remember the remark P/M Angus MacDonald made to Lt. Col. David Murray when they were judging Alasdair at Inverness. Must have been late ’90s. He’d just left the stage.
DJS: ‘That was something special. It reminded me of you in your day Angus.’
Angus: ‘Me? I could never play like that.’
Coming from the great Pipe Major that is a comment worthy of repeat.
Every time I’m up that way I make a point of looking in on Alasdair’s grave in Ullapool. Last August I did so and am pleased to say it is all in good order as is that of his father Norrie, also a very fine light music player, two plots down:
We are fortunate that Alasdair left us so many recordings of his playing. Here he is in a recital he did for me at the College of Piping:
Alasdair’s record at the Northern Meeting to 1999: Nineteen 1st prizes, seven 2nds, four 3rds, one 4th and one 5th. Highlights: Former Winners’ MSR wins: 1985, 86, 89, 91, 92, 94, 96, 97, 98. You can read all about Alasdair on Piping Press in our Famous Pipers column starting here. There are six excerpts in all. The sad occasion of his funeral is recorded here.