Category Archives: Blog

Famous Pipers: More on Captain John A MacLellan MBE

Additional information on Captain John MacLellan who featured in our post last week. This is from the programme notes for last year’s ‘Captain John A MacLellan MBE Piping Championship’ produced by the Army School:

John A. Maclellan was born in Dunfermline, Fife, in July 1921. He attended Fort Augustus Abbey School and joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a boy piper in 1936. In 1941 at age 19 he was named Pipe Major of the 9th Battalion , Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, the youngest man ever named Pipe Major in the British Army.

He would subsequently serve as Pipe Major with the 1st Seaforth Highlanders, the Lowland Brigade and the 11th Seaforths. He was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 1 with his appointment in 1954 as Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st  and 11th Seaforths and served in Germany, Egypt and Gibraltar. In 1946 he attended the Pipe Major’s course under Willie Ross and graduated with a Distinguished Certificate.

Captain John MacLellan at Fort George

He would later be sent for piobaireachd instruction to John MacDonald, Inverness, then the Piobaireachd Society’s official instructor. He won all of the major prizes and to this day he remains the only piper ever to have won piping’s ‘grand slam’ – the Open Piobaireachd at Oban, the Gold Clasp at Inverness and the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey and Reel at both gatherings in the same year, 1958, a record unlikely ever to be matched.

When he took over from the great Willie Ross in 1959, the Army Piping Class was being restructured as the Army School of Piping. Over the next 17 years he ran a centre of excellence at Edinburgh Castle with a long line of superb Pipe Major candidates studying under him.

IN 1963, with much of his best work still ahead of him, he was awarded the MBE for his contribution to the improvement of Army piping. Five years later he was appointed to a commission in the Queen’s Own Highlanders, becoming the first Director of Army Bagpipe Music.



During the 1960s and 70s he published six books of bagpipe music, many containing his own compositions and arrangements. He also turned to piobaireachd composition in which he excelled being thought by many to be the best composer of piobaireachd during the latter 20th century.

His Phantom Piper of the Corrieyairick (winner of the 1969 Saltire Society Award for piobaireachd composition) has entered the repertoire as a staple along with others such as Farewell to the Queen’s Ferry, A Welcome to Patrick Struan, the Salute to the Great Pipe and the Edinburgh Piobaireachd.

From 1978 to 1981 he and his wife Christine published the popular and influential ‘International Piper’ magazine. Captain MacLellan also became a pioneer of piping summer schools, travelling to set up and teach schools in South Africa, Australia the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

One of Captain John’s books. It contains the celebrated ‘Phantom Piper of the Corrieyairick’ piobaireachd

His home in Dean Park Crescent in Edinburgh saw many piping visitors and he was a great supporter of overseas competitors attending the major events. During this time he was also a prolific performer and contributor to the BBC’s piping programmes.

In 1962 he had proposed the idea of amalgamating the Army School, the College of Piping and the Piobaireachd Society under one umbrella to form the Institute of Piping which now includes the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, the National Piping Centre and the Army Cadet Force Pipes and Drums and comes under the umbrella of the Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board offering qualifications in piping and drumming at all levels.

Shortly after retiring from competition he devoted much of his time to the Piobaireachd Society and his work would form a significant part of his piping contribution during the rest of his life. He became Honorary Secretary of the Music Committee, one of the most influential and important appointments in piping, responsible for all aspects of publication, set tunes and judging. He was awarded the Balvenie Medal for his services to piping in 1989. John MacLellan died at his home in April of 1991 at the age of 69.

• We would be interested to hear from anyone who studied under Captain John at the Army School. Email pipingpress@gmail.com.


PP Ed’s Blog: Pipe Bands Australia Appointment/ Johnstone Pipe Band/ D Throw Query/ Schools Trust Job

Congratulations to Dean Hall on being appointed Principal of Drumming for Pipe Bands Australia. Dean joins Brett Tidswell, Principal of Piping, in forging ahead with the development of piping and drumming in that country.

There does seem to be something of a boom in pipe bands down under right now and having worked with these two gentlemen in the past I am certain this will receive further impetus.

PBA President Chris Earl (pictured above far right with Brett and Dean) has come in for a fair bit of stick over various matters lately but he now has individuals with all the knowledge and experience needed to help him navigate the sometimes stormy waters of pipe band politics.

And before leaving Australia we should congratulate Brett on his new baby. Benjamin James arrived last month at 7lb 9oz and both mum Angie and baby are coping as best they can with dad’s practising:


Not a great entry for the RSPBA’s Glasgow and West of Scotland Branch indoor competition to be held in Coatbridge High School this Saturday April 29. Unfortunately it does not augur well for the future of the contest.

There are so many good bands in the branch through all grades it is surprising that they don’t take this opportunity of a run out before the outdoor season starts. Only the newly promoted Johnstone in Grade 1 where I hear former Inveraray Pipe Sergeant Douglas Campbell is doing great work helping whip the pipe corps into shape. Click here for the Coatbridge draw.

Johnstone under Pipe Major Keith Bowes

Nicholas Taitz in South Africa: ‘Have you noticed, there is a modern tendency to play the heavy D throw as simply a grip to D with no C in between?  The correct way to play the heavy D throw, so I was taught, was to play a grip to C, and then play a D.  The C was admittedly very short, but it was there. 

‘I have seen an exercise where five or six of the top players’ D throws were slowed down and they are simply grips straight to D, with no short C.  Once you are listening for this, I think you will hear it more and more.  I didn’t notice this myself until a senior piper pointed it out to me, and he actually was the one who had slowed down the recordings I refer to above, and sent them to me.  I went back and listened to Hugh MacCallum playing the heavy throw, and he definitely plays a grip to C (which is a very short C) and then onto a D to finish.    



‘Anyone else noticed this?  It actually sounds quite nice to play a grip straight to D, it has a nice effect, but it’s not really a correct embellishment, is it?  Maybe it ought to be recognised now as a correct variant, because it’s certainly very common amongst top pipers.’

Have heard this a few times Nicholas but wouldn’t say it was a common problem. Most judges are ready for it and would condemn it if heard. One pleasing development of the last several years has been the disappearance of the heavy D throw from piobaireachd and slow air playing. The extra, or ‘redundant’, low A this version of the movement employs is acceptable when played in quicker tunes but in ceol mor it offends the sensibilities. Tutor Book 1 has a good lesson on the D throw which I can recommend.


Alex Duncan of the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust: ‘SSPDT has just opened up applications for two internships – for a snare drummer and a piper – to start in August – details below.  These are great opportunities for people to gain experience prior to applying for further education courses, or for people who already have an advanced education qualification and who are considering a career as a schools instructor.

‘This is an exciting opportunity for a piper or a snare drummer to gain experience of teaching in schools alongside experienced instructors, and of developing a schools pipe band.’

The interns can opt to include charity administration as part of their portfolio.  The posts will be tailored to build on individuals’ ability and experience . The internships are paid, and can start from August 2017. Full details can be found here:

Closing date 31st May 2017.


Highlands & Islands Draw/ Tickets for the Worlds

All solo piping interest will be on Oban this weekend for the Highlands & Islands Music and Dance Festival with very good entries in all events through P/A, B and C grades. The contest is held in Oban High School on Saturday April 29.

Senior adjudicators are Iain MacFadyen, Ronald MacShannon, Tom Speirs, Robert Wallace, John Wilson and Andrew Wright. There are five prizes in each event. All piobaireachd classes start at 9am with the MSRs in the afternoon. Here are the draws:

P/A Piob

P/A MSR

Gordon McCready and Sarah Muir, recent champions at the Scottish Pipers’ Association contest, will do battle again at the Highlands & Islands

B Piob

B MSR

C Piob

 

 

 

 

C MSR

There is also a full selection of contests for juniors. Check PP on Saturday for all results.



Tickets for the Worlds are now on sale – at a discount if you buy now. Grade 1 arena on the Saturday is £28 plus transaction fee. Other prices (add minimum £1 transaction fee): Here is the blurb: ‘The World Pipe Band Championships are a unique celebration of Scottish culture featuring outstanding musicians who have practised for years to reach the pinnacle of Pipe Band competition. The event has been associated with Glasgow for nearly 70 years.

‘Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band from Northern Ireland are the World Pipe Band Champions for 2016. They fought off stiff competition from Inveraray and District who finished second and St Laurence O’Toole from the Republic of Ireland who were third. The 2016 event was the 30th year in a row Glasgow has hosted the World Pipe Band Championships.’

Get your tickets here.


Virginia Tattoo Participating Bands/ 2017 Silver Medal Tunes

This Saturday, April 29, 2017, the Virginia International Tattoo hosts the second annual Virginia International Tattoo American Pipe Band Championship on Scope Plaza in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. In the past the contest has featured Scottish Grade 1 bands Inveraray and Fife Police. This year UK representation comes from the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards (pictured). Director of Piping for the contest is Andrew Carlisle of Field Marshal Montgomery.

The press release reads: The competition, which coincides with the Tattoo performance weekend, will feature a total of ten bands, three in Grade 2 and seven in Grade 3. Grade 2 bands entered: City of Dunedin (Dunedin, Florida), MacMillan Pipe Band (Washington, DC), Worcester Kiltie Pipe Band (Worcester, Massachusetts).

Grade 3 bands entered include: 1st Battalion Scots Guards Pipes and Drums (British Army, United Kingdom), Carnegie Mellon University Pipes and Drums (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Fredericton Society of Saint Andrew Pipe Band (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), Silver Thistle Pipes and Drums (Austin, Texas), St. Thomas Episcopal School Pipe Band (Houston, Texas), Ulster Scottish Pipe Band (Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania), Wake & District Public Safety Pipes and Drums (Raleigh, North Carolina).

Bands will compete from 12 to 6pm on Scope Plaza, followed by a massed bands performance and presentation of awards. In case of inclement weather, the competition will be held inside Scope Arena. There is a March, Strathspey and Reel competition and a Medley Selection competition for both Grade Two and Grade Three.



The Grade Three MSR competition will commence at 12pm followed by the Grade Three Medley. For Grade Two, the Medley will be first, followed by the MSR as a request by the three pipe majors, as this is the format for the 2017 World Pipe Band Championships for bands that are fortunate enough to qualify for the final.

Cash prizes will be awarded to the aggregate winners in each grade:  Grade 2: 1st $2,500 (£2,000 approx.), 2nd $1,000 (£800), 3rd $500 (£380); Grade 3: 1st $2,000 (£1,500), 2nd $800 (£600), 3rd $400 (£300). The event will also include an Open Drum Fanfare Competition with a single $1,000 (£800) prize. Participating bands were also given travel stipends to help assist with the costs of travelling to Norfolk.

The spectacular Virginia Tattoo in Scope Arena, Norfolk

‘I am thrilled to see a contest like this happening within our borders,’ remarked Dan Cole, President of the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association. ‘We were blown away by the success of last year’s event,’ said J. Scott Jackson, the general manager of the Virginia Arts Festival and Producer/Director of the Virginia International Tattoo. ‘We had world-class bands and great support from enthusiastic spectators. Most importantly, the bands had a positive experience, starting off their competitive season against strong competition and playing for outstanding judges. For 2017, we again have a highly qualified panel of international adjudicators representing six world pipe band associations and spanning three continents.’

The Virginia International Tattoo runs from April 27-30 at Scope Arena. International pipe bands scheduled to perform include Australia’s Scotch College Adelaide Pipe Band, the Canadian Forces Base Trenton 8 Wing Pipes and Drums, New Zealand’s Christchurch City Pipe Band and the 1st Battalion Scots Guards.Tickets for the Virginia International Tattoo are still available at www.vatattoo.org. A video of the massed bands and awards from last year:

Entrance to the 2017 Virginia International Tattoo American Pipe Band Championship is free of charge to the public. Tickets for the Virginia International Tattoo are still available at www.vatattoo.org www.youtube.com/user/virginiatattoo.


Budding Silver Medallists will be interested in a new post from the Piobaireachd Society concerning Donald MacLeod tunes set for this year’s Silver Medal and intimating that recordings from expert pipers Finlay Johnston (Cronin Padruig Seamus), William McCallum (Roderick MacDonald’s Salute), Angus MacColl (Lament for John Morrison of Assynt House) and Iain Speirs (Lament for the Iolaire) are now available on the Society website

Anyone who’s not yet a member of the Society should join now!

Lessons on the other tunes in the 2017 Silver Medal list are available from PP Editor Robert Wallace. These tunes are all taken from the Society’s most recent book, Book 16, but appear in other out of print source collections too. The tunes are Hail to My Country, Rev. Dr Norman McLeod’s Lament, the Sword’s Lament and Lord Berisdale’s Salute. All four have been recorded in full on the practice chanter and give guidance on how the tunes might be played. The student can play along with the recording and get an idea of how to link the phrases and variations. Use the drop down arrow to select your tune(s).


PP Ed’s Blog: Gourock Contest/ PP Audio Archive/ Argylls Book/ Bagpipe Muffler

Pleased to see such a healthy entry for the Grade 1 contest at Gourock on May 14 with Glasgow Police, Shotts, Inveraray and Scottish Power all to the fore.

There is a top down effect at these minor contests. If the big boys are there it gives the event the kudos it requires and brings in much needed revenue. Many of our smaller pipe band events have been struggling of late. I have always argued that the leading bands have what you might call ‘a duty of care’ for these contests. It is where many a youngster first get a taste for pipe bands and certainly takes the best music to the grassroots.

So well done to all participants (not just those in Grade 1) and to those Grade 2 bands playing up – great experience for them. Here are the G1 bands and the playing order and times courtesy the RSPBA.

Grade 1 MSR – Ring 1
01 15:35 Scottish Power Pipe Band
02 15:45 Inveraray and District
03 15:55 Lomond and Clyde
04 16:05 Shotts
05 16:15 Johnstone Pipe Band
06 16:25 Glasgow Skye Association
07 16:35 Glasgow Police (pictured top)


Top of the Pops, piper Chris Terry, South Africa

The PP Audio Archive continues to attract many listeners and it is interesting to see, from time to time, whose recordings are the most visited.

By far the most popular recording, and therefore our ‘top of the pops’, is South Africa’s Chris Terry playing the piobaireachd, the Glen is Mine. Chris has had 896 listens so far. Second place goes to John MacFadyen, with 633 people dipping in to his Too Long in the Condition.

Next comes a recital by the imperious Alasdair Gillies with 606. Thereafter we have Donald MacPherson with a recital which includes Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod, then the writer with 540 for his MacDougall’s Gathering closely followed by Jimmy McIntosh with 534 for Lament for the Children.

Here’s the list:
Chris Terry, Glen is Mine 896
John MacFadyen, Too Long in this Condition 633
Alasdair Gillies recital, 606
Donald MacPherson recital, 589
Robert Wallace, MacDougall’s Gathering, 540
Jimmy McIntosh, Lament for the Children, 534
Andrew Pitkeathly, light music 480
Donald MacLeod light music, 476
Robert Reid light music, 449
John MacDougall, MSR, 443
Angus MacColl MSR, 442

Other recordings of note: Gordon McCready’s winning tune at the recent SPA Professional has had 87 listens so far and Dr John MacAskill’s  self-penned piobaireachd Rubh An Dunain 118. Good figures after only a couple of weeks on the stocks.

Any reader who has recordings – band or solo – he/she believes deserves a place in the archive please forward same to the usual address. All of these recordings are offered free of charge both by the artists themselves and by Piping Press. The cost of the archive is borne by our advertisers so a big thanks to them for advancing piping education in this way.