We continue with our correspondence from Robert Reid jnr. to Jimmy McIntosh. This abridged letter is dated 28th September, 1993. In the firing line are Alastair Campsie, Andrew MacNeill, Colonsay, and William Connell….
I can’t recall any article being written specifically about my father other than obituaries in the Piping Times, the Glasgow Herald, Daily Record and the Oban Times around August/September 1965.
Occasionally some journalist would come into my father’s shop and want to do a story about bagpipe-making and some of the people who were interested in piping. Most of the stories were of the sensation-seeking type like the one in the ’30s when my father was playing at a dinner in the Central Hotel, Glasgow, and the King was in attendance and asked to meet my father.
The punchline was the meeting of the ‘Two Kings, the King of Britain and the King of Pipers’. Another story was about the Duke of Windsor asking for a Woodbine from my uncle Jim who was playing with my father at the dinner, and him exchanging a tailor made monogrammed cigarette in return.
Most of the stuff written was in this vein. No one seemed to be interested that my father had come from a mining family and that his father, my grandfather, was a piping fanatic. His ambition in life was to have the family play bagpipes.
Five of the sons did play the bagpipe, James, Robert, William, Thomas, and Sandy. The other two brothers, George and John, didn’t but John played the violin. Of the two girls in the family, Jean and Mary, only Jean played an instrument, the concertina. Strangely, the women folk are alive today, Jean in New Jersey and Mary in Glasgow.
Campsie [the late journalist and piper Alistair Campsie] would have quite a bit of material about my father on file. Then again it would be difficult to recognise fact from fiction from his copy. When you read what Campsie writes he always quotes his tutor as my father. In almost all Campsie’s articles or books he accuses my father of being his teacher.
My father was never guilty of that. Had my father wanted to teach he could have had the pick of the best of the pipers to choose from so why should he choose to teach a novice? My father was once asked what kind a piper Campsie was. He thought for a moment then said that if Campsie had to audition for a place in a Boys Brigade band he would fail the audition.
However, it hasn’t stopped Campsie from claiming my father as his tutor, mentor, teacher or whatever. I’ve known him for years and would never believe what he says. There is always that doubt that lingers.
Regarding Andrew MacNeill and Willie Connell, Andrew was a pupil of my father’s before the war. He was born in Glasgow but was brought up in Helensburgh pre-war by his aunt. He was a member of the Jubilee Pipe Band and got involved with Willie and Sandy Reid who were employed as chauffeurs in Helensburgh at that time.
Through them he became a pupil of my father’s from about 1936 to 1939. After the war Andrew settled on Colonsay and had the shop there until he took over Oronsay Farm. Piping had to take on a secondary role then but he still corresponded and visited my father when off the island. He is one of the very few sound and capable judges of piping today. During the war he did a Pipe Majors Course at the Castle with Willie Ross.
Andrew was, and is, quite a fair player but never got very far with competing which he did pre-war. He wasn’t one of my father’s better pupils but he has a good knowledge of the Cameron School, and the various other schools.
Connell: He was apprenticed to my father as a bagpipe maker when he was sixteen years old. The arrangement was that he would receive tuition as well as a trade. He worked for my father until my father decided to retire from business in May 1957 after suffering a number of corronary heart attacks, the first being April 1951.
In all, Connell would have had at most 9½ years tuition from my father, and most certainly the pupil longest with my father. What Connell has, by way of tuition, was put there the hard way.
As a teacher you will have noticed that some pupils have an aptitude for music, others you have to be spoon fed and you have to manufacture their playing. Connell wasn’t a natural player. What he does have was installed there by my father by sheer hard work. I haven’t heard him play for many years but he will still play about 95% what my father taught him. He is what my father used to describe as a parrot player. What you put in will stay there with very little deviation.
Connell published tapes some years ago with tunes like Donald of Laggan, MacFarlane’s Gathering, Grain in Hides, Lament for the Little Supper, Wee Spree and the Corrienessan’s Salute. They are pretty near what he was taught and any Cameron taught player would have no difficulty following them. Anyway I find them quite familiar and can relate to them.
Of the two, MacNeill and Connell, Andrew would be the more knowledgeable in respect of the Reid family as he was accepted more or less as family. Connell was a different age group and at a different situation so could only relate what it was like as an employee and a pupil.
- To be continued.