My Father, P/M Robert Reid – Part 5

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 judges and professional pipers….

My father had quite a varied career in that his first job was as a piper and dancer in a music hall company touring Germany before the First World War. Being a champion boy dancer and piper he attracted quite a bit of attention.

He toured Germany in 1909 with the Madge Pirie Scottish Dancing Group and had a successful time. A lot of his professionalism was moulded at this time – how he walked with the bagpipe and how he presented himself.

He eventually returned to Scotland to work in the coal mines with his father and brothers. He then moved to Canada and worked as a miner and ditch digger in Alberta, returning to Scotland to join the Highland Light Infantry on the outbreak of war in 1914.

After the war he stayed down the pit until 1926. During the General Strike he was offered the job of manager of RG Lawrie the famous bagpipe makers and Highland outfitters.

He stayed there until he began his own business in 1932 in Glasgow. He opened his own workshop in 1933 in Main Street, Bridgeton, with a shop at 60 George Street, and thereafter at 132/4 George Street. He was a there until he retired in 1957.

His piping career between the wars was eventful. He won the Oban Gold Medal in 1920 and the medal at Inverness in 1921, and the Clasp in 1922. Between the wars he was possibly the foremost competitor in piobaireachd.

When you look at results from these times they would invariably include Ross [Willie], MacDonald [John], Reid and McLennan [GS]. The judging was just the same in those days. They had their favourites who had to get into the prize list.

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But the economic situation was different. To enter a competition took a bite out of the household budget. One shilling (5p) represented the equivalent of six loaves of bread.

As regards his teaching, my father did some tapes for his friends under the proviso that on their deaths the tapes would revert to me. The tunes were chosen to show the best in the Cameron way of playing, how one tune was compatible with the other in its phrases and passages. Often people expressed opinions based on these tapes, opinions they were not qualified to express. Calum [Malcolm] Macpherson has suffered a lot from this.

Speaking of Calum I was at  lunchtime lecture at the College of Piping a few years ago where Tommy Pearston played MacGregor’s Gathering with the birls very open, like a ball falling down a stair – three bumps. When I suggested Calum never played the birl like that I was told that he did and that was how he had taught Seumas MacNeill. Having heard Calum play at my father’s house, I knew his playing of this passage and it certainly wasn’t like that. The only way he could have ended up playing like that was when he had problems with his hand and the pinkie and adjoining finger curved in towards the palm of his hand.

Your interest in my mentioning musical accents was amusing. When you mention this here you get met with blank looks. Pipers don’t seem to get taught such things. I was always accustomed to hearing about accents, passages and phrases, pulse notes, beat notes and other such expressions. They meant specific things. Pipers today don’t know what you are talking about. Professional piping leaves a lot to be desired. Some of them are midway through the ground before you realise they have started the tune and going from one variation to the next is as subtle as a sledgehammer. The transition from one variation to another should be smooth and almost indiscernible.

  • To be continued.

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