Editor’s Notebook: Piping’s Poor Show/ Willie Ross/ Piping Live/ Controversy of Pipers

Chatsworth Games in the south have now been officially called off, organisers citing Boris Johnson’s four-week delay to ‘Freedom Day’ as the reason. There will be no band or solo contests in England this year.

Here, the authorities in Inverness have confirmed that ‘Under Canvas’, an outdoor summer music festival co-curated with Fèis Rois, will run from 1 July – 30 September, providing ‘a three-month programme of music on the lawns at Eden Court, next to the beautiful banks of the River Ness’.

I say again; why no piping? Could Chatsworth not run their solo contest on the vast demesne of the dukedom? Could Inverness Piping Society and the Northern Meeting not get together to commandeer a corner of the ‘Eden Court lawns’ for a wee bit of the national music?

Piping’s response to the current difficulties, with one or two exceptions, has been very disappointing. Everyone will have seen the vast crowds of football supporters last week, and the rather better controlled and officially sanctioned fan park on Glasgow Green. Like me, did it make you think: why not piping?

The sad fact is that the precuationary principal rules; an iota of risk and nothing happens. As a result complacency has set in and we are getting used to nothing happening.

Walking through rundown Glasgow city centre last week it was like being in a third world country. How it needs a lick of paint and a parade of pipe bands to chase away the tumbleweed.

George Square at the moment is as far away from the happy picture above as it is possble to be.

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I know everyone likes the old pictures so here’s one from the ‘Radio Times’, probably late 1930s, early ’40s. (For the uninitiated, the Radio Times is the listings magazine for UK television and radio.):

The caption reads: ‘Pipe Major William Ross piping at Edinburgh Castle where he is Instructor in the School of Army Pipers [sic]. He will broadcast from the Castle on Wednesday, April 7.’

The Piobaireachd Society and Piping Live! are doing their bit for ‘in person piping’ make no mistake. The Society have a series of early afternoon recitals to be staged in the main auditorium of the National Piping Centre during the festival.

First up is Dr Jack Taylor, Gold Medallist and former President of the Society. He will perform on Monday August 9, to be followed by me on Aug 10, Captain Stuart Samson MBE, formerly Director of Army Bagpipe Music, on August 11 and leading professional William Geddes on August 12. All recitals begin at 2pm. Tickets via the Pipng Live! website in due course.

Audience size will be determined by regulations, but there will be livestreaming in any case. Dr Taylor is judging the Silver Chanter on August 7 and Stuart is on the bench for the Masters contest. Both are in the Centre on August 7 and 11 respectively. Tickets here.

Reader Gordon Wilson mentioned the ‘Controversy of Pipers’ abum in a message yesterday. This was recorded at the Temple Records studio south of Edinburgh back in the early ’80s.

It featured folk scene pipers like myself (Whistlebinkies), Duncan MacGillivray (Battlefield Band), Jimmy Anderson (Clutha) and Iain MacDonald of the Neilston Pipe Band, one of the early ‘integrationist’ pioneers.

The album cover featuring a painting of town piper Habbie Simspson, Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire

Looking back it was a pretty rushed affair and soundly panned by Seumas MacNeill in the Piping Times. Nevertheless it was a landmark album in many ways. Piping in those days was not an accepted folk scene instrument and old Seumas was determined to keep it that way.

Here is the track Gordon mentions, complete with errors and rough edges. I do quite like the warmth of the old Hardie chanter.:

Tha album can be bought here.

3 thoughts on “Editor’s Notebook: Piping’s Poor Show/ Willie Ross/ Piping Live/ Controversy of Pipers

  1. Hi Rab,

    Pipes not an accepted folk instrument in the early eighties? Will all respect, I was doing the rounds of the folk clubs back then sharing many a platform with the likes of the Humblebums; Archie Fisher; Ray Fisher; Alex Campbell; Dick Gaughan; Hamish Imlach; Jean Redpath and many other folk artistes from that time. A great time for the folk scene!

    Slainte, David.

    1. YmI fear you misunderstand David; were you playing as an integrated member of a folk group in the eatly 80s?

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