History: The Northern Meeting 1949

I have in my possession four pages from an old Northern Meeting programme for 1949. The pages are for Day 1 only. Above is a picture of Andrew Pitkeathly, the winner of the Gold Medal that year.

Twenty-four entered the Medal, but whether they all played I am not sure. The programme was given to me by the late Dr James Finlayson who was a Consultant Physician at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. He attended the Aberdeen Piping Society and had come across the programme which he had retained for many years.

By Duncan Watson

The names of the competitors are interesting as are the tunes noted by Dr Finlayson. He could not tell me of the names of all the tunes played. The number of entrants is about the number that organisers are now capping entries at.

In some years, apparently, there were as few as 14 or 15 in the Gold Medal. Correct or not, an old gent, Bert Greig, who stayed in Aberdeen, stated to me that only 14 played in 1947, the year P/M Donald MacLeod won his Inverness Gold Medal. This old gent claimed he was the only one in the audience.

The set tune arrangements in 1949 were rather different than the present: three of own choice and three from a Piobaireachd Society set list. The set tunes that year were Lament for the Old Sword, Clan Campbell’s Gathering and the Little Spree, considered beginner’s tunes these days.

The tunes played as noted by Dr Finlayson are as follows:
Pipe Major Angus MacAulay, The Blue Ribbon – interestingly set for this year’s Gold Medal, James Strathearn, Clan Campbell’s Gathering, P/M JA MacLellan, The Little Spree, Sgt. Charles D Scott, MacKay’s Banner, Donald MacPherson, Lament for the Old Sword. (The Piping Times coverage of the Northern Meeting that year indicates that Donald played The Vaunting and perhaps the reference to Lament for the Old Sword is an error.), John Garroway, My King has landed in Moidart, Ronald McCallum, MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute, Piper Duncan Lamont, Lament for the Only Son, set this year too, Stewart Salmond, Gathering of Clan Chattan, set for this year’s Silver Medal, Norman Meldrum, MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart Lament, Cpl. Andrew Pitkeathly, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, William J MacKay, The Little Spree, Pipe Major Donald MacLean (Lewis), Isabel MacKay, Kenneth Macrae, Clan Campbell Gathering.

The result was 1 Andrew Pitkeathly 2 John Garroway 3 Donald  MacPherson 4 Donald MacLean 5 Sgt R ‘Mickey’ MacKay, Cameron Highlanders. As you can see 4th and 5th may be reversed.

It is clear the set tunes system has undergone significant change with the lists much tougher nowadays. Perhaps the Piobaireachd Society were conscious of the need to ease and encourage pipers back into the competitive fold after the devastation of WW2. Whatever, the tunes seem to live on -MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart is as popular today 77 years after Andrew Pitkeathly won his Inverness Gold  Medal with it.

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The other pages of the programme are in respect of Marches etc. and the results were: 1 John Garroway 2 Donald MacPherson 3 is not noted but the PT indicates that  it was Charles Scott.

March, Strathspey and Reel: 1 P/M John A MacLellan 2 P/M Donald MacLeod 3 P/M A MacAulay   

Despite Andrew Pitkeathly’s address being given as Couper Angus, he was actually stationed at Fort George at the time and was getting piobaireachd instruction from P/M Donald MacLeod. Fort George was then the ‘Depot’ of the Seaforth Highlanders and Donald was known as ‘The Depot Pipe Major’. 

James Watson (no relation) was the Drum Major of the 11th TA band at Fort George of which I was a member. He told me he was very acquainted with MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, having for months heard Andrew Pitkeathly repeatedly playing it. 

I was sceptical and let him know. He took hold of my pipes and played the tune at me! The fingering was rather strange but the melody was very recognisable.

Of the names in the Gold Medal list, there is a man named Stewart Salmond from Dundee who seemed to turn up year after year. I don’t know why, but I still have a picture of him in my mind! He continued playing at Inverness into the 1960s.

There is a reference to Wm J MacKay. He was one of the early Pipe Majors of Aberdeen City Police Pipe Band and is the great-grandfather of John McDonald, Aberdeen, who is having some current piping successes.

P/M William J MacKay at Midmar Castle, Aberdeenshire, 1945

Although a global interest now, the piping community is quite small and it is not difficult to find connections to the past when encountering old records.

Some of those in the lists became very well known over the succeeding years and some less so, William McKay being one. Others are forgotten in the mists of time, but they were no  less important as pipers.

The Piping Times gave the Meetings results on Day 2 as:
Clasp: 1 P/M Donald MacLeod  2 Sgt. R MacKay 3 Donald MacPherson 4 P/M James MacGrady 5 DP MacGillivray
Strathspey & Reel: 1 P/M ‘J’ MacLeod (An error and perhaps Donald MacLeod?) 2 John Garroway 3 P/M A Macaulay
Jig: 1 P/M Donald MacLeod 2 P/M J MacGrady 3 P/M ‘A’ MacLellan (An error for JA MacLellan?) 

1 thought on “History: The Northern Meeting 1949

  1. The article mentions P/M James McGrady, 1st H.L.I.
    Could someone tell me when (year from-to) he was P/M of 2nd HL.I. and of 1st H.L.I.?
    Thank you.

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