The Scottish music archive ‘Rare Tunes’ has unearthed an LP recording by Champion Piper John MacFadyen. Its on the ‘Gaelfon’ label and dates from 1958 and was recorded in Glasgow.
The recording includes a complete piobaireachd, MacIntosh’s Lament, and the ceòl beag is as follows: Braes of Lochiel / Invercharron Gathering / Cameron MacFadyen / Duart Castle; 71st Highlander’s Farewell to Edinburgh / Pipe Major Willie Gray’s Farewell to the Glasgow Police; Oran Mor Mhicleoid / Caledonian Canal / The Blackbird; and A Dram Afore ye Go. Access these recordings here.
John MacFadyen was born in Glasgow in 1926 to island parents. His father Duncan was from Mull and his mother from Tiree. Duncan encouraged all his offspring onto the pipes. John’s brothers Duncan, Iain and sister Freena, were all outstanding pipers.
John was taught by his father and later Roddy MacDonald, South Uist and Glasgow Police, and also by RU Brown Balmoral.
As a boy he played with the Glasgow Shepherds band, a band that would also include Donald MacPherson and John Weatherston in its ranks.
But John was primarily a soloist and his record in competition is formidable: He won the Gold Medal at Oban in 1960 (two years after his younger brother Iain, and thus the subject of much brotherly joshing), the Inverness Gold Medal in 1966, the Clasp the same year – and in 1968 and ’69, the Open Piobaireachd at Oban in ’67, 68, and 1970, and the Bratach Gorm in London a remarkable five years in succession from 1966-1970.
He published two excellent collections of light music, Book 1 in 1966 and Book 2 in 1973.
John pioneered teaching at summer schools in North America and encouraged many of his pupils to come to Scotland to compete. Some, such as Bill Livingstone, did, with great success.
John was always involved in the College of Piping in his lifetime both in teaching and administration.
Donald MacLeod and John were partners in Grainger & Campbell bagpipemakers in Argyle Street, Glasgow. Donald continued to run the business when John died.
John retired from competing quite early in his career. He was friendly with Neil Fraser and Alasdair Milne (BBC). They formed the John MacFadyen Memorial Trust after his death. It ran recitals and talks for a number of years before being wound up circa 2008.
John died in 1979 and is buried on Skye.
The author Robert Porter writes: Over the past two years or so, I have written a number of subjective articles about my bagpiping experiences, including in The Irish Times and Common Stock, the magazine of the Lowland and Borders Pipers’ Society. I have put them together and written some connecting material and amalgamated them into a little book that is available on Amazon entitled ‘Adventures in Bagpiping‘.
This little book is intended to be a reflection on half a lifetime of playing the bagpipes. It is a personal and subjective description of my journey through life with my pipes at my side. As such, it is intended not only to entertain, but perhaps also to inspire other pipers to savour the rich joy and cultural significance of the instrument; and, perhaps most importantly, to grab piping opportunities with both hands as they present themselves.
After school I went to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read law where I committed what in piping terms was a ‘gross felony’. One of the fellows at Pembroke, and my Roman Law tutor, was James Campbell, the son of Archibald Campbell of the ‘Kilberry Book’ fame.
James was a prominent piobaireachd judge and knew the Kilberry Book off by heart. He was there for me any time I wanted, but I was too interested in carousing and hell-raising, so in my three years there I only had two lessons off him. As they say, ‘youth is wasted on the young’.
The pipes are a tool for accessing the subconscious and opening the doorway to our primeval selves. Just listening to the intricacies of a piobaireachd for fifteen minutes puts you in a trance.
It’s as if a shaman were incanting beatitudinal magic spells over your head and sprinkling you with medicinal intoxicating substances. And within that trance all our cares and worries wash over us and matter no more for the duration.
Editor Robert Wallace writes: ‘This is a short pleasant read. Robert Porter first picked up a set of bagpipes on his thirteenth birthday. His life has been a love affair with the instrument ever since.
‘The book charts Robert’s adventures in piping from his school band, to shenanigans at university, world travel, uillean pipes, GHB, smallpipes, and recounts his jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge with his pipes playing Scotland the Brave. Whilst the book may be recommended this most definitely is not.’
Order the book here.