Editor’s Notebook: Audience Restrictions Lifted/ Talk Piobaireachd/ Duncan Watson/ Tryst Supergroup

Anyone thinking about putting on a ‘live’ piping event should consider the following positive guidelines from Scotland’s administrators: Level 2 of covid restrictions begins on Monday May 17, Level 1 from ‘early June’ and Level 0 in ‘later June’.

What this means in audience numbers is as follows:

If the will is there, there is no official impediment to running a piping or pipe band competition this summer.

Reader Ian Forbes has written: ‘On Monday this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an upbeat assessment of covid control in the UK. 

‘There were zero reported deaths in all four nations of the UK, and a major relaxation of restrictions were announced in England. Scotland is sure to follow these guidelines, with the usual modifications. A return to normality is expected from June onwards. 

‘One cannot escape from the view that piping/pipe band event organisers have been a little hasty and/or overzealous in their blanket cancellation of events this summer.  

‘Piping is our national music, and a second year of cancellations will do untold damage to our Scottish culture and heritage. I congratulate the Lochaber Gathering for the decision to go ahead with their event.’

See also the comment yesterday from Bob Ash. I believe the RSPBA are trying to put something together Bob but no news as yet.

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Members of the Piobaireachd Society are in for another treat tonight with the final in our ‘Talk Piobaireachd’ sessions. The presenter is the affable and knowledgeable Duncan Watson.

I understand Duncan will feature tunes old and new. This will be the last in the current series and is a good way to end for the summer.

Members should have received their invite. If not please contact me at the usual email.

Duncan in full flow at the PS Annual Conference

That’s also Duncan in the picture at the start of this Notebook. (He’s the chubby-cheeked chappie on the far left.) Duncan explains: ‘This takes me back to 1965. I was well fed! Although also in the TA, I was working at that time in an engineering workshop with a company called Duncan Logan whose big engineering jobs were the building of hydro electric dams and the steelworks at Gartcosh in Lanarkshire. 

‘However, their biggest  project was the Tay Road Bridge which is still standing! I got out of that work as some of my colleagues were losing weight by losing fingers and limbs.   

‘There was little in the way of Health and Safety then. I recall being at Caol, Fort William, at the now defunct pulp mill. There was some steel erecting to do, and to get onto the high beams, it was a matter of climbing through the jib of a crane to gain access to the beams. There was no scaffolding. I had to get out of that too. It was tough on the hands as the wearing of gloves was frowned on.

‘The picture is from an inter-regimental competition. There were a lot of Territorial Army Regiments units at that time. There was a host of different competitions such as shooting with .303 and small bore rifles.

‘Piping was included and all of the TA could take part so that included me. Sometimes these contests were held at Fort George and it was there that I first really met P/M Donald MacLeod.

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‘That was about 1961 and there was a dubious reason that I was there which I cannot put on paper. The newspaper cutting dates from 1965 and that year it was at Barry Buddon camp, near Dundee. 

‘I vaguely recall that Captain John MacLellan of the Army School was judging the piping along with an officer from the regular army. Gosh, I cannot remember his first name. It might have been Graham. However he was Murray by name and was affectionately known as ‘Gracenotes!’

‘He had been a pupil of Donald MacLeod as ‘Gracenotes’ also served in the Seaforth Highlanders. The Territorial Army retained their original regimental names after the amalgamation of the Seaforths and the Camerons (1960) when these regiments became the Queen’s Own Highlanders. 

‘It was really a painful business for the old soldiers of both regiments. To some degree these were family regiments.

‘As an aside, there was a dinner, marking the amalgamation. The Army had seemingly dinners for everything. I later learned they had held a dinner after a soldier was shot by firing squad!

‘I think this amalgamation dinner was at the Cameron Barracks and the senior officers of both regiments were there and also the Pipe Majors, and, come to think of it, Evan Macrae was in attendance.

‘It was a jolly affair tinged with regret and sadness. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod apparently played Cabar Feidh Gu Brath, which he had just composed, lamenting the passing of the regular Seaforths into history. 

‘Lt Col. DJS Murray apparently was tempted to comment that the tune played should have been Lament for the Union and I think Evan it was that persuaded him to desist.

‘It was on that occasion, in 1965, that I first met Neil MacEachern from Islay and when I heard him playing thought he was very dangerously good. I think by that time he had won his Gold Medal at Oban.’

Check out our lists of Gold Medallists here.

‘Tryst’ in action

Piper Lorne MacDougall: The 10 piece piping supergroup Tryst are released their debut track on 7th May. Comprising ten top contemporary pipers and composers, they first performed at Celtic Connections in 2017, showcasing new music inspired by the piobaireachd tradition and exploring the possibilities of a piping ensemble.

The band features Ross Ainslie, Steven Blake, Rory Campbell, James Duncan MacKenzie, Mairearad Green, Ali Hutton, Calum MacCrimmon, Finlay MacDonald, Lorne MacDougall and John Mulhearn.

Following a performance at the opening of the online Celtic Connections Festival in 2021, the track ‘In Praise of the Pioneers’, was received to critical acclaim and the band have decided to release it as a single.

Composer Finlay MacDonald [Director of Piping at the National Piping Centre] described his composition as, ‘Looking at the long history of pipe music in Scotland we see many innovators – individuals who through their innate creativity have helped to push the tradition forward, at times against prevailing conventions.

‘The musical and technological developments bravely pioneered by these individuals live on and continue to influence and inspire new generations of pipers and composers. In recognition of this, ‘In Praise of the Pioneers’ celebrates the richness of the bagpipe sound and the power of a simple melody.’

The track is available on the Tryst Bandcamp page.

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