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 MacDonald, Inverness, Seton Gordon, Seumas MacNeill, Tommy Pearston and Willie Connell ….
The photo you refer to [above] would be on MacLeod’s yacht, with Angus Macpherson and James Barke the Burns novelist [sic] in the background. It was taken in 1932 when my father played at the MacCrimmon Memorial at Borreraig.
It is quite interesting that you should mention that both John MacDonald, Inverness, and my father played a piobaireachd, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, together. Old John was not keen to do it but my father told him to play his usual version and he would follow him.
There was no practice or pre-arrangement. It was a spur of the moment thing suggested by someone in the party during the sail over to Borreraig from Dunvegan. In case there is some doubt about what I write, my father was well versed in the MacPherson style, competing against old John and hearing Willie MacLean [Kilcreggan] at the Piper’s Club in Glasgow.
My father always maintained that Willie MacLean was the best MacPherson taught piper he ever heard and that included old Angus, Jockan, Calum [Piobair] and young Calum [MR MacPherson].
Playing piobaireachd with any of his fellow competitors would not have given my father much difficulty. He had a brain which could collate all that people played and break it down into wee pieces and put it all into perspective. I don’t think anyone ever extended him musically, technically or artistically.
I am quite sure Willie Connell thinks himself my father’s equal, but then he had the advantage of being his longest pupil – nine to ten years. It is interesting to see he is going to publish a book of 100 piobaireachd. Connell remarked that it was only after about five years of playing piobaireachd that he started to realise what he was playing. I think he was correct.
Many people think that my father had a favourite tune. His comment was that the one that brought in the biggest prize or the most money was his favourite! The Bells of Perth and In Praise of Morag were alleged to have been two he favoured, but in truth the more technical tunes were of more interest to him.
The Lament for the Children was of interest too but because of its structure. Old John [MacDonald] was supposed to be the master of this tune and Seton Gordon would write it up in the papers and his books. The judges from the Piobaireachd Society gave both my father and Old John the tune at Fort William. They played back to back and didn’t do their man any favours. John MacDonald never played immediately before or after my father again.
Seumas MacNeill was never taught by my father but had a couple of ‘lessons’ on the platform. He wouldn’t want to be reminded of them. Strange too that Seumas claims Calum MacPherson taught him piobaireachd.
A few years ago they had lunchtime concerts at the College [of Piping]. Seumas spoke of MacGregor’s Gathering and said that Calum taught him the tune. Tommy Pearston played it on the pipes with a very open birl I would describe as a chicken picking at corn, dab, dab, dab.
When I told them Calum would never play a birl as open as that, both insisted that he had. The only way Calum would play a birl like that was because of finger tendon trouble. Bobby Hardie suffered from it as well.
- To be continued.