My Father, P/M Robert Reid – Part 2

We continue with our articles based on the letters sent by Robert Reid Jnr. to Jimmy McIntosh from 30 years ago. This excerpt, dated 28th July 1993, confirms Reid senior’s reputation for brusque assertiveness, a characteristic clearly passed on to his son…..

Dear Mr McIntosh, Re the cassettes, I would much prefer to have control over the recording of the existing tapes myself. My father and I spent a great deal of time and energy [on them] and I don’t believe that any modern day sound engineer can just get to where I would want without me overseeing the recording.

You may think it is an impertinence on my part but I’m the one who has heard most of my father’s playing and has the most interest in it.

I have heard recordings of the late Calum MacPherson which have been recorded by studios and I can’t say that they were representative of Calum’s playing nor the tone of the pipes he played. [These are the ‘Binneas is Boreraig’ recordings made by Malcolm R Macpherson.] Many of his fair weather friends would tell you otherwise, but then, at the time of their recording, the ‘friends’ usually kept their distance from Calum.

When my father did his recordings, he did them to show the piping world the spectrum of the Cameron School of Piping. The Camerons taught in passages and phrases and what applied to one tune could apply to another similarly structured tune.

To give you an example. When tuning up for the Inverness Gold Medal in 1921 my father was approached by an old man who said to him that he was a pupil of Jack Gillies [John MacDougall Gillies]. The old man didn’t ask if he was but told him that he was….

When my father replied that he was indeed a pupil of Gillies, the old man then said that he had taught Gillies. It was, of course, Sandy Cameron.

Sandy Cameron (l) and his pupil John MacDougall Gillies who, in turn, taught P/M Robert Reid

It says something when you can recognise your pupil’s pupil from his playing. Today, you can only recognise that the players have been badly taught or are trying to kid their way on to the prize-list. Today’s pipers lack a lot in technique too.

When my father died in 1965 I had all the various societies wanting to record his career in the various magazines… then came the people wanting to do his biography which again amounted to a lot of time wasted by me in supplying notes that were never published.

It provides some amusement when you meet someone who has come across some notes re my father then talks about him as if they knew him. When my father had his business in George Street [Glasgow] a few close friends used to call on him on a Saturday afternoon.

Since his death the number of people who have told me that they used to call has grown. If 5% of them had called then my father would have had to have hired a football stadium for the crowd.

Advertisement for Reid’s shop in George Street, Glasgow

With my father the greatest thing that I admired about him was his honesty to his music. Where some pipers would and will prevaricate about tunes, or who taught them or whatever, my father never would. You got the truth. No more no less.

Another thing was his professionalism and his competiveness. When you played against Reid you were playing for second place. An example of this was at the London Competition when he met Calum MacPherson and JB Robertson, Scots Guards, outside the venue.

Calum asked my father how he was playing and my father replied that they had both better get on the platform in front of him to play as they would be too ashamed to play after him.

You may think that was pretty brutal but my father was under no illusion that either of them were going to play better than him. When you played head to head with my father you were on the losing side.

There are quite a few pipers who have played before and after my father on a public platform and never did it again.


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In my family it was always a great saying that you should be honest. And the first one you should be honest with is yourself. If you are not then you won’t be honest with other people.

Pipers, as you will have seen yourself, have a habit of asking about tunes when the truth is they want a free lesson. As my father described them, pub counter pupils. They weren’t honest enough to ask for a lesson, they wanted a freebie.

What used to anger him most would be the idiot who would ask him about some tune that took my father months to get right, but the idiot would grasp it within minutes. I always wondered and marvelled at my father’s self control.

The Reid letters

Did you intend to write a book or a thesis about my father? I know that he never quite got over Angus MacPherson’s book ‘A Highlander Looks Back’, and it took some time for him to get through the book. Possibly it was lucky he didn’t review it for the Oban or Piping Times.

My father was, in his way, quite a prolific letter writer and had long correspondence with people all over the world. His letters were always hand written and who knows what the recipients did with them. I’ve often wondered if the letters were kept or disposed of by their families.

My father was never very keen to keep letters as he thought that they could be quite easily used to the detriment of the writer. In recent times this has been true. There are historians and musicologists in the piping world who use those wee bits to further their own positions.

I hope the above will be of some interest to you and if you have been hurt or offended by my remarks it was not my intention. I shall get down to making a CV of my father’s history at a later date.

  • To be continued. Read the first excerpt in this series here.

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