The following piece by the editor was first published in Piping Times magazine in 2003, but its recognition of the debt of gratitude owed by piping to Mr Grant Gordon, who died last week aged 89, is as relevant today as it was then…..
By Robert Wallace
In the long annals of our history there are many men who through their efforts as players, composers, teachers or writers have fanned the flame of piping progress. We dutifully pay homage to their efforts and their names live on though they are long gone.
Yet their patrons, without whom their endeavours may have come to naught, are seldom given due regard. It is to these people, the patrons of piping, and one man in particular, that I dedicate this editorial.
When P/M Willie Ross won the Clasp at the 1906 Northern Meeting he was paid £8 in prize-money, roughly equivalent to four weeks wages for a skilled man at that time. The average weekly wage today is more than £400. Bald conclusion? Any major first prize falling below £1,600 represents a lessening in the status of the champion piper.
Until the mid 1970s this sum was ten scotch miles from what the modern day piper could earn. Then, in 1973, Mike Grieve, journalist and broadcaster and son of poet Hugh MacDiarmid, proposed a piping championship like no other.
The top pipers would be invited. They would play the big music and the big little music. They’d be treated royally and rewarded similarly. They would play in surroundings concomitant with the greatness of their art.
Thirty years ago the first piping championship sponsored by William Grant and Sons was held at Blair Castle. Its effect was profound. It set new standards other promoters realised they had to match. From that day on the march towards restoring the status of the professional piper began in earnest. There has been real progress. The overall winner at the National Mod last month went home with almost £1,000 in his sporran.
The patronage of piping by William Grant & Sons did not stop with what is now known as the Glenfiddich Championship. Such was the determination of this independent family of whisky distillers to do as much as they could for the national music that they became sponsors of the Senior Piobaireachd at Oban, oft times the Silver Chanter, the Donald MacDonald Quaich, the John MacFadyen Lecture, the Braemar piobaireachd and many B & C grade contests.
They have helped finance books and albums and recitals and talks. Their former chairman, the man behind all of this extraordinary largesse, was critical to the success of the fundraising for Glasgow’s Piping Centre.
And now to cap all of this he has come to the rescue of the London Championship and the famous Bratach Gorm, guaranteeing the future of what was a struggling event and raising the prizemoney beyond the promoter’s and the competitors’ wildest dreams.
It is hard to quantify just how much piping owes him, but if you want to get some kind of handle on it then just imagine the plug was pulled on all of the above tomorrow.
He will not thank me for saying this, but as we reflect on London and Blair this autumn let pipers everywhere salute the foresight, the generosity and the name of Mr Sandy Grant Gordon.