Letters: Bruce Gandy on Oban and Inverness/ Duncan Watson on March Playing

Correspondence to Piping Press is always welcome. Recent letters are carried below. Subjects are this week’s article on the prospect of an Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting being held this year and Donald Shaw Ramsay’s comments on pipe marches.

Firstly Bruce Gandy, Nova Scotia, one of the world’s leading pipers, on the uncertainty surrounding Oban and Inverness. Bruce writes:

‘Good article; hopefully this will push the promoters a wee bit to make a decision. Covid Anxiety Syndrome is, for sure, a real thing and I can understand that.

‘Just not knowing for certain [whether the contests are going ahead] makes planning a nightmare. There is also this point, that I’ve heard discussed.

‘Even if the Worlds were on, would it be terribly unfair to family members to say ‘well, I know we’ve been locked down for 16 months or so, but now we can travel and I’m going to go to Scotland to play with the band for a week or two weeks and you can stay home.’

‘I can understand that. Those of us with grown kids have it easier. On paper we can get away more easily but still it’s tough. 

‘Getting back to the contests themselves, having them without the bulk of overseas players would be unfortunate I think.

‘Innoculations are underway here and may be brought forward but it will be August before some of us get our second one and younger people have to wait until September.

‘Add in quarantine, and travelling because even less of a priority. However I can see the promoters’ view in not wanting to cancel, but they need to act fast I think.’

Bruce Gandy is a double Gold Medallist and winner of all the top awards in piping. He is a renowned piping educator and composer. Check out Bruce’s website here.

Bruce is pictured above with his son Alex, also a top solo piper. Father and son are pictured at the Worlds in 2007 after Alex had just won the Grade 1 title with Field Marshal Montgomery.

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The historic articles by Donald Shaw Ramsay have been very well read, as we would expect. His comments on pipe marches have struck a cord with many, not least Aberdeen piping expert and teacher Duncan Watson, a regular PP correspondent.

Duncan writes: ‘The DS Ramsay articles are interesting in several ways and, not to take anything away from the content, there is nothing which should be surprising.

‘As regards the tempo of marches, you might recall that I copied a letter to you the signatory of which was ‘A Campbell, Lahore 1913’ and it was assumed that it was indeed Archibald Campbell of Kilberry.   

‘In the letter, he referred to march tempo and named the leading players of the time with also names of tunes commonly heard at the competitions. From recall he spoke of pipers playing to the drum in the military and marching at a pace of about 120 beats per minute.   

‘He also referred to the tempo of certain competition marches, referring to them being player at slower tempo and from memory this was about 90 beats per minute. 

‘The names of the pipers included Corporal William Ross, Scots Guards. I discussed this with the late John Burgess and listened to a few recordings by him and they came out about 75 to 78 beats per minute. 

‘I tried this myself and 75 to 78 beats per minute is pretty smart. There are recordings of the Bobs of Balmoral and they were motoring. When visiting Nicol it was piobaireachd, but occasionally the marches were the subject and he was quite funny.   

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‘He would demand the heel of your shoe coming against the floor first, rather than the shuffling slow gait involving landing the flat of the foot first as we commonly see now. 

‘I cannot say I ever measured by use of a metronome what Nicol’s pace of march playing was, but it was certainly nipping on, but expressive. The Glengarry Gathering in the style of Willaim MacLennan, the uncle of GS, was impressively played.

‘Donald Morrison told me on one occasion that he was playing at a march competition and Bob Brown the judge burst out laughing! Bob pointed at Donald’s feet and Donald realised that he was playing on the wrong foot! No prize of course.

Like to learn Glengarry Gathering? Here’s a free ‘play along’ lesson from our Editor Robert Wallace. Check out the PP Shop for more like this.

‘Modern players are, I think, playing too slow and careful to bring out the music in these tunes. There is probably a balance to be hit. When I consulted Burgess re the letter referred to, he was quite scathing about march playing in regards to tempo, but was pretty resigned to it as it was then the trend.

‘There is no doubt that march playing is something of a lost art. I never heard much of Archie MacNab the renowned march player, but what I do recall as really enjoyable was the playing of J B Robertson, Scots Guards. 

‘Also there was a chap Pipe Major William MacLeod, Seaforth Highlanders. I heard him a few times and his marches were really impressive. He did not compete much or at all. Captain John MacLellan referred to him as one of the very best march players.’

  • Does anyone have a good recording of JB Robertson playing marches? If so perhaps you would like to share it with PP readers. Please forward to editor@pipingpress.com.

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