Editor’s Notebook: Lochaber/ Bessie MacKinnon/ Henderson Pipes/ SPA Professional

Occasionally we must extract a negative from what was clearly a happy, successful event. I refer to the Lochaber Junior Piping competition held last Saturday in Fort William. Yet again we saw very few pipers or drummers from the local schools coming forward to take part.

Why is this? There is a full time piping tutor in Lochaber (for the past 20 years anyway) and I believe he/she has a couple of assistants helping out as well. There is also a drumming instructor.

Are these tutors afraid of their charges facing examination from external parties, the judges? Would the resultant crit sheets reflect adversely on the level of teaching? This surely a reasonable conclusion to draw given their lack of support for the Lochaber Piping Society’s event.

Don’t they realise that testing pupils in fair and friendly competition is good for their development? Head teachers throughout the region should be asking a few questions not blithely dismissing this untoward situation as ‘oh well its only bagpipes and drums, it doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things’. If that is your view ladies and gentlemen, you couldn’t be more wrong. What do the parents have to say?

  • On a happier note, local photographer Iain Ferguson of Alba Photos, has kindly sent us a photograph (top) of the Champion Piper from the competition, Fraser Hamilton of Johnstone PIpe Band. Fraser won four first prizes in the 14 and Under category.

Iain MacKinnon, St Andrews, Fife: ‘My elder daughter came across an article posted in your mag on May 16, 2017, relating to Pipe Major Donald MacKinnon.

‘Donald was my uncle, younger brother of my father, Duncan. The jig written for Bessie [MacKinnon] refers to the eldest sister of the family.

‘I recall being with Donald and his family in our Glasgow home the day before they emigrated to Australia in the mid-1950s. Tears all round!

Donald MacKinnon

‘Myself and my family have never met them since. As I understand it, Donald’s son – also named Donald – later became a champion piper of Australia.

‘I would be delighted to talk to you or one of your staff and possibly to connect with the gentleman in Australia who composed the article.’

I put Mr MacKinnon in touch with Dennis Browning in Australia. Dennis: ‘If I am not mistaken this is the same Donald MacKinnon mentioned in an article on Piping Press some years ago submitted by Iain Bruce. [Read it here.] I am sure Donald has passed on to the great piobaireachd school in the sky. I met him a couple of times many years ago and he was quite a colourful character as well as a lovely piper.’

Read more on Donald here and here’s his tune from Donald MacLeod’s Book 2:

Mr Iain MacKinnon can be contacted here.


Re our History article on Peter Henderson bagpipes, Yahya Hussein of New York sent this: ‘Having just read your article on Henderson’s 1930s catalogue, please find enclosed a picture of my set which was owned by Greg Wilson (NZ) and Finlay Cameron (Roy Bridge).

‘The mounts unlike sets made today are SOLID silver and quite heavy. The silver is plain and the only adornments are the PH silver hallmark for 1918. The wood is ebony and in very good condition.’ 

A nice looking set Yahya and I particularly liked the cover.

Reader Roderick Begg of Nova Scotia has also been in touch regarding the same article: ‘I own a set of 1939 nickel silver and ivory Hendersons.  I got them from Fred Brodie in May 1981. Fred was Pipe Major of the Port Moody Legion Band in British Columbia, Canada, and I was told he was retiring from playing.

‘Fred originally came from  Dunfermline, Fife, and came out to Canada to lead the Port Moody band in competition. Just after Fred retired, the Port Moody Legion band folded and became Simon Fraser University Pipe Band. Thank you for your interesting article.’

Roderick and pipes

Thanks for that Roderick. I notice you play with the right hand on top. Is there a story there? I wonder how many other readers play like this. A long left arm must be a pre-requisite.


Logan Tannock, President of the Scottish Pipers’ Association: ‘The SPA professional competition will be held on the 30th April across both NPC venues. 

‘Online entries will go live in the near future at https://scottishpipersassociation.co.uk/ on the competitions pages. Contests are for P&A Piob and MSR, plus Former Winners (we think at Otago St), C Piob and C MSR and B Piob and B MSR at McPhater St.’

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