My Father, P/M Robert Reid – Part 3

We continue with our correspondence from Robert Reid jnr. to Jimmy McIntosh. This abridged letter is dated July 1994. There are comments about RG Hardie, the firm of RG Lawrie, the Piobaireachd Society, John MacDougall Gillies, William Connell, John MacDonald, Inverness, and RU Brown and RB Nicol who, he reveals, went to his father for lessons….

Bob Hardie to my knowledge never was employed by Lawries. Hardie was an apprentice in my father’s workshop prior to the outbreak of the war and after the war started up on his own account. It may be that Hardie did work for Lawries which could be quite possible as it would suit both parties at the time, Lawries more so than Hardie.

The former were never accused of generousity at any time. Any donations to prize lists would be written off as a business expense through the books. I remember P/M Hector MacLean being offerred the job as manager for Lawries when he retired at 65. His wages were to include his Rector’s retirement pension. MacLean was, by nature, a vain man but he declined the position. I suppose there were perks to the job but a decent weekly wage wasn’t one of them.

I never knew Gillies [John MacDougall Gillies] but I heard about him from my father. Not a very tall man but very gentlemanly and soft spoken. I would think that my father would find a good role model in Gillies. A gentle sense of humour and witty too. For instance, Archie MacPhedran was Gillies’s under manager in Hendersons, and when my father used to get his lesson on the Saturday afternoon Archie would be in the front shop.

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He, Archie, would usually test pipe reeds and batter up and down the scale, and as my father described, tearing great handfuls of cruanluaths and a machs from the chanter. Gillies used to shake his head and gently pull his beard an say to my father. ‘You know Bob, I’ve to suffer that all week.’

You ask if Gillies was assertive? I would think not. Had he been he probably would have at some time rushed through to the front shop and beaten Archie’s skull in with a bass drone top. I don’t know if you were familiar with Archie or not but he was quite a character in the piping scene. I dare say a series of books could have been written on Archie.

It is quite nice that you were mentioned in the Honours List [Jimmy’s receipt of his MBE]. Congratulations. I don’t have much thoughts about it one way or the other. About the time Willie Ross and John McDonald were awarded their medals, one of my father’s fans asked him why he wasn’t given an honour.

My father said, ‘Well I’m holding out for a knighthood.’ Needless to say the story went around that there was a knighthood in the offing. It was something that never interested my father. He asked one of the members in the Highland Club when he inherited his knighthood if he noticed any difference in his lifestyle. ‘It adds about 10% on· to the hotel bills’, was the reply.

I do think about getting my father’s tapes put on the market…. When my father did the tapes the Piob Socy crowd got to hear about them and sent Sir Douglas Ramsay to find out about them. Demanding to know what piobs were recorded and when could he hear them, my father said he couldn’t hear them. He didn’t take too kindly to being told that the tapes were private property and nothing whatever to do with him or the Piob Socy.

How good a player was Reid? I don’t think anyone will ever know because he was never extended as a player. There is no way of knowing for it is just a matter of opinion when it comes down to it. When competing with Reid you rarely got any of the better players playing before or after him. The great John McDonald, at Fort William, asked my father to let a couple of pipers to play between them. You don’t do that if you have nothing to fear.

You may think that what I’ve written is just filial loyalty but I always wanted to hear someone who could play pipes better than Reid but I’ve still to hear them. I always liked to hear the good players like Ross, George MacDonald, Willie Gray, Calum MacPherson. Of the above Willie Gray and Calum [MR] Macpherson were the better of the group. I’ve also heard Brown and Nicol play but both were inferior to Calum.

P/M Willie Gray, Glasgow Police

I don’t suppose you would know that they both had lessons from my father during the 30s. They were always known as pupils of old John McDonald’s but to date it better it was the year previous to the one who lost his eye in the shooting accident. The man who arranged it all was Ramsay who was the King’s Commissioner at that time. Quite funny in a way. I expect John McDonald was well aware of them being with my father but t’ve never seen it mentioned in any piping publication or article.

I hear Willie Connell is publishing some books and tapes in the near future. Should be interesting to see and hear. I read in the Piping Times that he and W Barrie’s son were teaching the Cameron Style of the tunes for the Northern Meetings. I would think that would be rather foolish if their students were competing at Inverness. The judges couldn’t recognise the style even although they claim to.

  • To be continued.

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