Review: ‘The Pipe Tunes of Pipe Major Alex M MacIver’

This recently published collection of tunes composed by the late P/M Alex M MacIver, has been compiled by one of his former pupils, namely Hector Russell.

For those who may not be aware, Alex was Pipe Major of the renowned Glasgow 214th Company Boy’s Brigade Pipe Band. This band led by Alex during the 1950s, 60s and 70s dominated the juvenile pipe band scene winning countless championships as well as 11 World Championships.

By Barry Donaldson

He was also the tutor of my old Pipe Major in Strathclyde Police, P/M Ian McLellan, and of Piping Press Editor Robert Wallace, to name only two who graduated with distinction from the 214 school.

As a tribute to Alex, on behalf of the 214th Boys Brigade Ex-Members Association, Hector has catalogued 30 pipe tunes composed by the Pipe Major or associated with him.

Although P/M MacIver was born in Glasgow, his parents hailed from Lewis, and with Lewis blood running through his veins it seems inevitable that music would become a major part of his life.

I have always considered that the traditional music from that island as being quite unique, both within the Hebrides and in general. I’m sure anyone who has experienced the music of the late Pipe Majors Donald MacLeod and Iain Morrison, both Lewis men, will understand this distinction.    

The 80 page book contains a variety of tunes most of which, as I say, are original compositions of Alex. Hector includes photographs and some original handwritten manuscripts, as well as interesting articles and excerpts about P/M MacIver’s life.

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One third of the tunes are published elsewhere, however this new collection now brings together all his compositions within the one book.

Have a listen to one of his excellent 6/8 marches, Alex F Ibell, Alex MacIver’s tutor, played by Robert Wallace:

And here is a tune written by my old bandmate, the late Angus Lawrie, for Alex MacIver. It is played on the mouth organ by expert Donald Black. Angus was proud of this tune, and before he passed away he asked that it be played at his funeral. It is included in the book:

This is the first occasion I have studied in detail P/M MacIver’s music and I could feel the Lewis influence in all his compositions.  To start with, there are four, four-parted classic 2/4 Marches, all of which would receive acclaim on both band and solo competition platforms.

I wish I had looked at these pieces in my younger days as I most certainly would have included them in my competition repertoire, however I’m now learning Dr Alexander S Bisset of Islay, a cracker of a march with swinging melodic phrases.

An additional 12 quick marches in different time signatures, six slow airs, two strathspeys, three reels, a polka, plus hornpipes and jigs are all included. The Laxay Poachers is a 4-parted reel no doubt inspired by nefarious activities on that part of the island and the pulsating phrase line captures the circular motion of the dance.

The Hebridean Polka is probably one of P/M MacIver’s more well-known pieces and is a super melody. Both tunes conveying that distinctive essence of Lewis.

In summing up, this book tells a story of a famous Pipe Major and his music. If like me, you never really looked at P/M MacIver’s compositions in any detail, then this is a must add to your collection. It has opened my eyes to his music. He was clearly a master of his art and his music is testament to that.

All credit to those involved with the book, including music lay out expert Janet Montague and the Kinloch Historical Society, Lewis, who raised the money to publish these superb musical works, and of course to Hector Russell the compiler.

  • The book is available price £15 here.

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