Readers’ Memories of P/M Hugh MacInnes

Hugh playing in the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey and Reel at the Argyllshire Gathering. Until the late 80s this event was always held outdoors

Yesterday’s story and recordings about former light music champion piper Hugh MacInnes brought considerable response from readers. Many had fond memories of the man and his piping. The recordings we featured are now in the PP Audio archive and can be enjoyed again here.

The first message was from Tom Johnstone: Hughie and I were both founder members of the Glasgow Skye Assoc. band back in 1967/8 and soon became great friends. At the time I was 14 and Hughie 17. P/M was Jimmy MacLeod (Kenny MacLeod’s father) and P/Sgt. was Eddie McLellan mentioned in your article. We had many piping sessions mainly in Hughie’s Bell St flat.

We later joined Muirheads and around 1977 were invited to join British Caledonian Airways Gatwick PB. P/M was our former Muirheads colleague, Bob Richardson. This was arguably the best band in the World as it attracted so many great names, players such as P/M Angus McDonald, P/M Joe Wilson, P/M Callum Campbell to name just a few. We flew to Gatwick every Sunday for practices and had great trips all over the world to publicise the airline, mostly flying Business Class. Hughie was a great friend, solo piper, and is sorely missed.

MacRaeBanner ’19
Ayrshire Bagpipes Nov 2020
shepherd banner ’22

Duncan Watson: My first memory of Hugh was at the Northern Meeting and I think that would have been his first time there. It was in the Dr Black Memorial Hall or the Caledonian Hotel. Hugh was slim built person and I am not sure what age he would have been. He was about the same vintage as myself. I had never seen him before. In the tuning room he tuned his bagpipe and then played Lochaber Gathering and it was certainly cracked out in super style. It was the sort of thing that was imprinted in memory it was so outstanding.

Later in in the company of the Pipe Major Angus MacDonald I heard him say of Hugh, ‘That guy is dangerously good!’ And so he proved to be. March playing of that calibre is rarely heard now as even some of the most successful competitors seem to be aiming to get through their marches in a safe way, lacking in sparkle or bite. 

Hugh when he was P/M of the B Cal band

Clive Douglas: Great to hear the recordings of Hughie, thanks to Jack. They brought back a lot of happy memories of practices and trips round the games. He really was a great player and an absolute master at setting up a set of pipes. In all the years I knew Hughie, I never heard him with poor pipes. As he would say, ‘The big pipe’s always booming, Scotty’. Years after I stopped playing I would occasionally bump into him. He would eventually get round to asking if you were well or how the family were doing – but his first question was always ‘how’s the pipes going?’

In 1982 I think he won the Former Winners at the Scottish Pipers, the Uist and Barra, London, the Argyllshire Gathering and was second in the big MSR at Inverness. It was always a thorn in his side that he never won the Former Winners there.

Towards the end of his competing days he came really close. By that time they had changed the format to two of each in the MSR, rather than the same tunes twice over. Starting out, Hugh played the first few notes of what should have been his second march, then realised what he had done an tried to cover his tracks with a few tuning notes, before starting again with the correct march.

Unfortunately, the false start was spotted and he didn’t feature in the prizes, but Andrew McNeill who was on the bench, told Hugh he would have won if he hadn’t gone off on the wrong tune. Easily said after the event right enough. He would have loved to get it, just once!. That would have been around the mid 80s.

For a time Hugh worked for RG Lawrie, testing pipes and chanters. Proprietor Arthur Lawrie can be seen in the background

Hugh thought ‘big’ Angus [MacDonald] was the greatest player he had ever heard, and he really studied his playing and pipes to try to match him. Indeed, for a while Hughie competed playing Angus’s pipes. Was the photo of Hugh, Angus and Campbell taken at Inveraray?

You made a point a few weeks ago about the sound of pipes now, and I would agree that a lot of the current top players’ pipes don’t sound anything like big Angus or Hugh’s pipes. There just doesn’t seem to be the same harmonics in the sound now, compared to these guys. Perhaps its the higher chanter pitch, or the synthetic bags and drone reeds, or no MacAllister chanter reeds or a wee bit of everything – but something has changed.

Hugh did play piobaireachd too. I think he took lessons from John MacFadyen for a while, but he never really talked about why he didn’t compete with it. Somewhere I’ve got a tape of him playing a few tunes.

You mentioned Eddie McLellan in your article. I suspect Hugh is playing his old Henderson pipes in the photo from Oban. Eddie did teach Hugh for many years, but it was Hugh’s dad that started him off, and they both played together in the Glasgow Cleansing Dept. band.

2 thoughts on “Readers’ Memories of P/M Hugh MacInnes

  1. I was the steward at the Scotway competitions back in the 1980s. The first time Hugh played I was looking for him and found him in the bar chatting with others and with the pipes beside him. I offered to show him to a tuning room but he said no he would stay in the bar and I could fetch him when I needed him. When his turn came he went straight from the bar onto to the stage. He must have had total confidence in the pipes which I believe were Campbell McGougan’s.

  2. Dear Sir,
    In fact Hughie usually competed with Pipe Major Neil Campbell McGougan’s seen in the photos, .set up by Campbell…..
    .’The Golden Drones’ as the set was known , or ‘The Big Pipe’. A set with an interesting history, made by Duncan Macrae.
    Tabby Angier.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *