Setting the Record Straight on Reid v Ross in the 1923 Gold Clasp

We are very grateful to piping historian Jeannie Campbell for helping us put the record straight regarding the tie for the Clasp between Willie Ross and Robert Reid at the 1923 Northern Meeting.

Jeannie has produced two pieces of corroborating evidence which show that Craigie Calder (see last weeks’s story here) was misled in his assertion that the award should have been split between the two piping titans.

Jeannie has two relevant clippings from the Oban Times. The first, from 29th September 1923, is headlined ‘The Second Day’s Proceedings’ [Northern Meeting]. It reads:

‘At the Games on Friday, the first competition was that in piobaireachd playing by pipers who had won the Gold Medal of the Highland Society of London at a former gathering.

‘There were six champions forward. P/M W Ross, Edinburgh, and P/M R Reid, 7th HLI, tied for the first prize. They divided the first and second prize money, which amounted to £18, but had to play a second time to decide the destination of the Gold Clasp.

‘Each rendered the piobaireachd the Unjust Incarceration, and the judges came to the conclusion that P/M Ross had given the more perfect performance.

‘The other test pieces in the piobaireachd competition were the Lament for Donald [Ban] MacCrimmon, and Glengarry’s March. The playing of the four prize winners was considered to be very fine.

‘Regret was expressed that John MacDonald, Inverness, did not compete as intended.’

Had this report been erroneous there would have been an outcry, but less than two months later the Oban Times of 3rd November 1923 reported again: ‘At Oban, Reid carried off the first prize and at Inverness he and Pipe Major W Ross, late of the Scots Guards and now Pipe Major of the Lovat Scouts, tied.

‘For a tune they were both asked by the judges to play Cille Chriosd [Glengarry’s March] in the afternoon, and on the playing off of the tie they both played the Unjust Incarceration.

‘Ross played the tune through without mistake. Reid made a couple of slips in the first variation which allowed Ross to win the Clasp to the Gold Medal.

‘But apart from the mistakes, and perhaps a slightly hesitating start, Reid’s playing was very fine indeed, his crunluath-a-mach being brilliantly executed.’

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The Editor: ‘Though clearly in the wrong on this point, Craigie Calder’s tape still makes good listening. It shows his devotion to his good friend Reid. More a bandsman than a soloist, Craigie was willing to accept in Reid’s favour what was, as Jeannie has amply demonstrated, an urban myth.

‘It was the sort of devotion Reid engendered in many of his acolytes from Alistair Campsie to Andrew MacNeill and perhaps William Connell who were all inclined to over-venerate their hero and the so-called ‘Cameron’ school. Not a trap Reid’s other prominent pupils, David Murray or Bob Hardie, fell into.

‘One other important facet that emerges from Jeannie’s clippings: only six played for the Clasp and there were three set tunes. Today entries are usually around 20 and six tunes are asked for, making it a much more difficult competition to win – as it has been for the last 30 or 40 years.

‘The old records might be viewed in this light, though I have no doubt that the great champions of the past would have more than held their own against today’s top soloists.’

Here is the recording from P/M Calder again:

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