A couple of weeks ago the Editor joined a panel at the Army School of Piping, Inchdrewer House, Edinburgh, for the 2021 Pipe Majors’ Course Passing Out. He shared duties with P/M Jimmy Banks, Scots Guards. During a break in proceedings he took the opportunity of speaking to P/M Banks about his own time at the Army School more than 50 years ago….
I attended the Pipe Majors’ Course in October 1969 at Edinburgh Castle. It ran till the following May. The Director of the School, Captain John MacLellan, ran it on his own at the time, then he had Pipe Major Ian Halliday from the Scots Guards to assist.
It was quite demanding at the start for me as I had not played a lot of piobaireachd and had to work hard to catch up on it.
By P/M James Banks MBE
John MacLellan was a very good teacher and by the time the course ended I had quite a lot of difficult piobaireachd under my belt.
Among them were The Daughter’s Lament, The Unjust Incarceration, I Gave a Kiss to the King’s Hand, Lament for the Viscount of Dundee and the Desperate Battle of the Birds.
When teaching me the Daughter’s Lament Captain John pointed out that he had played it the year he won the Senior Piobaireachd and MSR at both Oban and Inverness.
He also taught me the Gold Medal tunes for Inverness in 1970 and I got a prize there playing the Lament for Little Supper.
One benefit of the course was that we were all in the same room at the Castle, but all given different piobaireachd. This meant that by the end of the course you had listened to something like 50 tunes being practiced by all the pupils.
Towards the end of the course I got a prize playing the Daughter’s Lament at the Edinburgh Police competition (that pleased Captain John). This was a prestigious contest which attracted many of the top players to Edinburgh to compete. Maybe I should have competed in piobaireachd more after that.
We had a playing test at the end of the course with the same format as the present courses. Our board of judges were Iain C Cameron, Dr Robert Frater, and Major GB Murray. My selected tunes were the Daughter’s Lament, Mrs John MacColl, the Islay Ball and Pretty Marion.
I passed with an ‘A’ for playing and a ‘B’ for theory which would probably have been a ‘Distinction’ today. At that time, passes were either A, B, C or fail.
The course set me up for a successful solo career and I won the Marches at the Argyllshire Gathering, Oban, in 1974, and then the Strathspey & Reel and Former Winners’ MSR on the same day at Oban in 1979.
Army service made competing difficult and I was posted to Ireland then Hong Kong till 1984. This kind of broke up the competing. But I am proud to say that during my time in Northern Ireland I was able to teach Richard Parkes for two years and I like to think I had a small role to play in Richard’s amazing success.
Also when I was P/M of the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards we won the Worlds in Grade 2 which is also something I am pleased to look back on.
In a way I was surprised that the Army never called on me to carry out teaching duties at the School especially given the success I achieved and the good players I taught. Maybe someone had it in for the Scots Guards at the time!
I left the Army in 1987 and among other jobs I had was piper to Robert Fleming the London banker which was a very enjoyable experience.
These days I am happy to help out with the local pipe band in Methil, Fife, and do a bit of judging.
Some of my fellow course members were, Brian Macrae, Gordon Highlanders, and later the Sovereign’s Piper, and Willie Lyons, Irish Guards. Willie was prominent in teaching in Ulster on leaving the Army. Then we had Allan Dippie, Black Watch, and John ‘Tug’ Wilson from the KOSB. John married Margaret Ireland and moved to the Canadian Prairies where he did great work teaching.
Finally there were Kenneth Griffin, Queen’s Own Highlanders, Alistair Forbes, RHF, Iain Woods, Scots Guards, and ‘Taffy’ Garret, Royal Scots (forget his real first name).
As you can see from these course members, attending it was a great way to meet and get to know the full breadth of Army piping
I have attached a picture of the course. It was on the Army Calendar 1970 (above).
- If anyone has any memory or knowledge of the gentlemen mentioned above please share it in our Comments section below.