My Father, P/M Robert Reid – Part 6

We continue with our correspondence from Robert Reid jnr. to Jimmy McIntosh. This abridged letter is dated 3rd November, 1993. There are mentions for John MacDougall Gillies, James Center, Sandy Cameron, Willie Connell and Allan Dodd….

My father was approximately 18½ years with John MacDougall Gillies. As it was, Gillies was his second choice of tutor. James Center was the first but he had too many pupils at that time and suggested Gillies.

The approach was made by my grandfather and Center agreed to teach my father. The fee was one shilling and sixpence per lesson [7½ pence]. That may look minuscule by present day values but to my grandfather that represented digging, loading and delivering about 1½ tons of coal to the pithead.

My grandfather had enough common sense to realise that he could only teach his son as much as he knew and then had to hand him on to a better player. Few pipers can recognise their limitations, with the result that many good boys are ruined before they have a career.

So far as Gillies’s teaching was concerned my father never deviated from what he was taught, certainly not consciously.

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My father met Sandy Cameron at Inverness after he [Reid] had won the Medal. Cameron didn’t know my father was a pupil of Gillies but recognised that he was by his playing. Cameron approached my father in the games field and said that he [Reid] was a pupil of Jack Gillies and that he had taught Gillies.

At that time my father had thought that Cameron was dead, and coming face to face with Gillies’ teacher was quite a shock. Cameron saw that my father was young and enthusiastic and wined and dined him and quizzed him for as long as possible and made arrangements to meet him the next year. Cameron said that if he played his tune, the King’s Taxes, on the platform he would win.

Sandy Cameron (l) and his pupil John MacDougall Gillies

To your question did my father leave Gillies to get lessons from Cameron the answer is a definite no. He never had lessons from him only conversations over the dinner table. My father would have questioned him over some slight differences with various tunes but he would never adopt them in preference to what he was taught by Gillies. Anyway there aren’t any earthshaking discoveries that could be acquired after a couple of days association with Cameron.

Certainly they would be on the same wavelengths far as piobaireachd was concerned, so any differences would be minor. If you are taught in a particular school you should be able to recognise others who are taught in the same school.

For instance about 1959/60 my father and I attended the Northern Meetings. One of the players in the March was Allan Dodd from New Zealand who played Parker’s Welcome to Perthshire. Before he finished the first part my father and I looked at each other and we knew he had been taught in the Reid style and it turned out Connell [Willie] had taught him.

Allan Dodd, New Zealand

I remember being at the Pipers Club in Glasgow and this lad played. He had been in the Renfrew band when Connell was pipe major. He phrased and pointed tunes just as I was taught.

Most of what you hear today is just better than average band playing. If this applies to march playing it also certainly applies to piobaireachd. People babble on about Cameron style versus the MacPherson style when very few would recognise the subtle differences.

As you know there is a great controversy at the moment between judges and competing pipers. Pipers want the Association of Piping Adjudicators and not Piobaireachd Society judges. Whatever they get they are only getting at best enthusiastic book readers whose musical ability is suspect and whose moral honesty is even more suspect.

All my life I’ve had people coming up to me and telling me they were pupils of my father’s. Most of them weren’t in my father’s company long enough to learn his tuning notes.

  • To be continued.

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