Category Archives: Blog

Fred Concert and Scots Guards KO Details/ FMM Bass Drummer Retires/ Denny & Dunipace Recruiting

The Scots Guards Club’s Knockout contest details have been announced featuring some of the best young professional pipers currently on the solo scene. The club is also staging a recital  by Fred Morrison. Jimmy Banks: ‘Our winter piping programme will start again on 24 September [this coming Sunday] with the first in our popular series of knockout events starting at 4pm. Tickets are £5 on the day with pies on sale.

‘The legendary folk musician Fred Morrison (pictured top) will perform from 5.30pm on Sunday 26 November, immediately after the knockout. Tickets on sale shortly.’

Sun 24 September: Callum Moffat v Jonathon Simpson

Sun 29 October: Ben Duncan v John Dew

Sun 26 November: Jamie Elder v Dan Nevans

Sun 28 Jan 2018: Callum Watson v Ross Miller

The Scots Guards Association hold their annual junior competition in Inchdrewer House, home of the Army School of Piping, on October 21. The school hosts the Captain John MacLellan Memorial professional competition on Oct 7.

Denny & Dunipace Gleneagles Pipe Band: ‘We had a successful 2017 season in which the band were placed in four of the five majors and placed in the top three in all the minor contests entered including becoming Grade 4A British Champions and placing fourth in the World Championships. The band is now hopeful of being upgraded and is looking to increase both the pipe corps and drum corps for the 2018 season.

‘This is an exciting time for the band with the senior band also making a return. The band also teaches beginners on Monday nights from 7pm with the aim of developing players to go right through the grades. Anyone interested should contact P/M David Todd  or get in touch through the band Facebook page or go along to practice on Monday nights in Denny High School.

Chris on the FMM bass

John Kelly reports: Chris Pollock, who for the past twelve years has played the bass drum for Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, has announced that his time with the band has come to an end.  I first photographed this big guy in July 2008 at, of all places, my home town of Lisburn.

In a Facebook post Chris says, ‘For the past 12 years I have had the honour to play for Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band.  Every second has been a pure joy.  In particular the last 11 seasons, the time I was entrusted with beating the big drum, will be a time that I will treasure forever.  It’s not possible to put into words how humbling it is to be deemed good enough to play in Keith Orr’s drum corps and in Richard Parkes’ band.

‘That alone makes my time in FMMPB special.  The music – wow, what a thrill!  The titles are just a bonus.  But there is ‘a time for everything’ and my time in FMM has come to an end.  Work commitments and my growing family mean that I would be letting down the people I love the most, my Lord, my family and my band mates, if I were to continue.  So, I’ve handed the big drum on to Robert Smyth and no finer man could I be handing it to!   Robbie, I pray you have as much fun playing in ‘the best spot in pipe bands’ as I did – and even more success!’

Chris with the best bass drummer trophy at the All-Irelands

Appeal for More Information on P/M Willie Jack of the Dalziel Highland Pipe Band

Reader Kerry MacIver has written asking for information about her grandfather, P/M William Jack of the Dalziel Highland Pipe Band.

Kerry writes: ‘I am wanting to find out more about my grandfather and I was wondering if you could help. His name was Willie Jack and he was Pipe Major of the Dalziel Highland Pipe Band. I believe it was based in either Motherwell or Wishaw.

‘He passed away in 1978 but in his day he seems to have been fairly well known. Going by a photograph I have, he was one of the judges at the SPBA competition at Murrayfield, Edinburgh in 1947.

Judges at the SPBA’s first World Championship held at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. P/M Jack is third from the right, the only one wearing a Glengarry!
The back of the photograph has the details of the personnel who made up the adjudicator panels that day

‘I was just wondering if it was possible if anyone still remembered him and had any anecdotes or photos (or both!)

‘If you know of where any archives of the band are likely to be kept, or others I can contact, please let me know, and I’d be grateful if you were able to put the word out there to see if anything comes up. I have already contacted the Pipe Band Association archive group but I thought I would come to you too.

‘Here are some photos below. In the top photo, my grandfather is wearing the dark jacket. In the band photo, (excluding the two guys kneeling at the front), he is sitting to the left slightly behind the chap in the suit on the left of the bass drum. I hope you can help. Best wishes, Kerry MacIver.’
The Editor writes: Fascinating photographs Kerry and thanks for sharing them with us. I am sure you have come to the right place to get some more information on your grandfather. Off the top of my head the World Championship held at Murrayfield in 1947 – exactly 70 years ago – was the first to be run by the Scottish Pipe Band Association as it was then. Prior to this date the Worlds were always held at Cowal. Your grandfather must have been held in high esteem to be invited to adjudicate that day.
The winning band out of 26 competing for the ‘open’ title at the first Worlds were Bowhill Colliery from Fife under P/M Chris Sutherland. Clan MacRae were second, Bonhill Parish third, Clan Fraser fourth and Dundee City fifth. Other notables taking part were Renfrew,  Shotts and Dykehead, Dalziel Highland, Muirheads, MacKenzie Caledonian, Glasgow Shepherds and Glasgow Corporation Transport.
Dalziel Highland (sometimes Dalzell Highland) I know from our records won the Worlds Drumming title at Cowal in 1931, the first time the rod-tensioned snare drum was used in competition. I don’t know if your grandfather won the band title that day.

Dalziel were famous for their drumming and spawned Leading Drummers Gordon Jelly, who emigrated to Canada, Jimmy Catherwood and the great Alex Duthart. AD Hamilton seen far left of the picture above is considered the father of pipe band ensemble and was instrumental in establishing the RSPBA’s education programme. Also in the picture is Malcolm Macpherson, son of Angus Macpherson, Invershin, and a recognised expert and performer of ceol mor. The J Wilson mentioned must have been John Wilson, Edinburgh, who was soon to emigrate to Canada and become such an influence of piping in North America.

Over to our readers. Please email or leave a comment below if you can help Kerry (and us) with more on her grandfather.

PP Ed’s Blog: St Thomas’/ Stuart & Finlay/ Union Pipes/ Grampian League

Lyric Todkill of the flood-hit St Thomas’ Episcopal Pipe Band: ‘Thank you again for such a great article. I think it will help our cause.If anyone has difficulty with donating through the website, international donations can be made with the following account information.
International Wires with SWIFT code instructions:
Prosperity Bank
ABA: 113122655
Beneficiary: St. Thomas Episcopal Church & School Flood Relief Fund

Acct #217165824

Finlay Johnston winner of the March, Strathspey & Reel at this year’s Uist & Barra competition

Finlay Johnston and Stuart Liddell are off to Australia this week on a teaching and recital trip. The Queensland Highland Pipers’ Society are promoting their concert in the Regatta Hotel, Toowong, on Monday (Sept 18) at 7pm. Tickets to hear these two master players are a very reasonable A$10 (£6.50 approx.). Suporting them will be Kyle Warren.

Heartening to receive this about a set of union pipes (above) I sold to  collector Andreas Hartmann-Virnich a couple of years back: ‘I just got the Donald MacDonald Pastoral Pipes back from restoration by Andreas Rogge. He is very happy with the result. The sound is amazing, deep and warm. Andreas did do a great job with the missing treble drone that he reconstructed, and the missing chanter foot. He also made a new bag, reeds, and a blowpipe, all visually matched.

‘The setup is extremely air-efficient and pressure-friendly. The chanter in the picture plays two fully chromatic octaves – if you know how to play it correctly; I don’t. I believe that we will see the reproduction on the market in the near future. There are only two MacDonald Pastoral pipes world-wide that I am aware of (Hugh Cheape confirms), and yours is now the only playable set, the other one from the Scottish west coast being but a bunch of damaged parts. You may be confident that this set has been taken care of in the best possible way, and it is a truly wonderful instrument.’

I have asked Andreas for a recording so that we can hear what the pipes sound like. From my own not too successfukl attemots at getting them going I believe they will be similar to the Irish uillean pipe. The great thing for Highland pipers is that the fingering is very similar to ours. If this instrument goes into production I think we could see another important development in the bellows pipe world, something to match the smallpipe boom. I bought this instrument at auction in 1990 and loaned them to the College of Piping Museum for the 15 years I was there.

Patricia Grant compiler of the John Milne Fine Arts Grampian Piping League: ‘It was a good day at Braemar and the standard of piping was very good. I have attached the final placings and I would be obliged if you could advise any changes.  We were presented with a new trophy for the Junior Piobaireachd which was won for the first time by Liam Brown.  Unfortunately he was not able to attend but this addition is very much appreciated.  Good to see so many names figuring in the list of prizewinners and we can only hope that next year there more youngsters come to play in the various Games competitions.  Thanks to all the judges for their help and patience with me arriving possibly at inappropriate time to see if I can get results and to the Games Secretaries who send me the results.  Hope for a good year in 2018.  Patricia.’

Piobaireachd (senior):
1       Anna Kumerlöw                                           10
(Anna is pictured top after winning the 2017 Braemar Gold Medal)
2=    Allan Russell                                                    8
2=    Edward Gaul                                                    8
3=    Gordon McCready                                       7
3=     Ben Duncan                                                     7
4       Calum Brown                                                   6
5=     Faye Henderson                                            4
5=     Alan Clark                                                         4
6=     Raphael Mercier                                           3
6=     Sandy Cameron                                             3
7=     Andrew Hall                                                     2
7=     Ursa Beckford                                                2
7=     Gordon Barclay                                             2
8=     Bruce Macdonald                                         1
8=     Jamie Dyson                                                    1
8=     Duncan Watson                                            1
8=     Dan Lyden                                                         1
Calum Ian Brown, winner of the Grampian League senior ceol beag

Ceol beag (senior):
1        Calum Brown                                              50
2        Ben Duncan                                                 23
3        Allan Russell                                                22
4        Alan Clark                                                     20
5        Eddie Gaul                                                    17
6        Gordon McCready                                 16
7        Brighde Chaimbeul                                  8
8        John MacDonald                                       7
9=     Lewis White                                                 6
9=     Robbie MacIssac                                       6
10=  Andrew Donlan                                         5
10=  Anna Kumerlöw                                        5
11=  Struan McLennan                                     4
11=  Ross Shand                                                   4
11=  James McHattie                                        4
12     Sandy Cameron                                         3
13=   Andrew Hall                                               2
13=   Gary Murray                                              2
13=   Gordon Barclay                                        2
13=   Kris Coyle                                                    2
13=   Jonathan Greenlees                              2
14=    Kate Kimove                                             1
14=   Peter McCalister                                     1
14=    Nick Hudson                                             1

Piobaireachd (junior):
1     Liam Brown                                                    11
2     Jamie MacRae                                                 5
3=  Jordan Ednie                                                    4
3=  Andrew Ferguson                                         4
4=  Angus MacKay Robertson                       3
4=  Finlay Cameron                                              3
4=  Lee Taylor                                                           3
5=  Tom Spencer                                                     2
5=   Bobby Allan                                                      2
6     Angus Duffy                                                      1Ceol beag (junior):
1      Liam Brown                                                      46
2     Jamie MacRae                                                 11
3=   Robert Howie                                                   8
3=   Daniel Ferguson                                              8
4=   Robbie MacIssac                                             7
4=   Finlay Cameron                                               7
5=   Lee Taylor                                                            6
5=   Angus Duffy                                                       6
6=  Angus Mackay Robertson                          4
6=  Jordan Ednie                                                      4
6=  Andrea Yeats                                                      4
6=  Adam Reid                                                            4
7=  Andrew Ferguson                                            3
7=  Peter McEwan                                                   3
7=  Archie Downie                                                   3
8     Lewis Russell                                                       2
9=  Tom Spencer                                                        1
9=  Bobby Allan                                                          1

Dress at Oban and Inverness and the Standard of Play in B Grade Events

By Robert Wallace

A last look at the piping at the 2017 Northern Meeting today. Before that a word about Oban and its dress code. Pipers at the Argyllshire Gathering are permitted to play without jackets. The rooms get hot at times and the laudable aim of the organisers is to make the competitors as comfortable as possible in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the small theatre at the Corran Halls and in the confined space of other competition venues.

You might think that such a dispensation would yield a pipe band outcome where everyone wears a waistcoat, a smartly pressed shirt with cufflinks, fastened tie and a bonnet correctly (mostly) positioned on the head. Not so. What I witnessed this year was a noticeable decline in appearance. Here we had some of the most important piping events in the world (and some of the best musicians) parading in rolled up shirt sleeves, ties unhinged, bonnets askew, no waistcoat or kilt belt – and no visual respect for the occasion.

So it is one thing for promoters to try to accommodate sweaty pipers, but if the no jacket allowance leads to a further drop in standards of dress and deportment then we need to be concerned. Could Oban not state in its rules that pipers who drop the jacket must wear a waistcoat, must have ties appropriately knotted, shirtsleeves fastened at the cuff etc? In the picture up top young Luke Kennedy shows pipers how they should dress at the Gathering if they don’t want to wear jackets (bonnet to be added). Luke is seen receiving the P/M RG Hardie Memorial Trophy for Intermediate MSR playing from AG Assistant Piping Convenor Jamie Mellor.

No such worries at Inverness where jackets are de rigueur….. shame about some of the playing in the ‘B’s. The topic of conversation amongst many of the adjudicators who presided over the ‘B’ grade March, Strathspey and Reel and ‘B’ Grade Hornpipe & Jig was of the indifferent (I don’t want to go any stronger than that) standard of performance. One judge wrote to me: ‘I am seriously concerned about the state of piping among our up and coming players – lack of musicality, technique, phrasing, bagpipes etc. Three minutes should be ample to tune a set of pipes surely? Very few achieved it. That was an uncomfortable experience today for all three of us – for seven hours.’

I would echo these sentiments but would say that in the ‘B’ Hornpipe & Jig that I judged with Ian McLellan the prizewinners all played well and there were others who perhaps had a good hornpipe but failed in the jig and vice versa. I am sure this would be the same in the ‘B’ MSR, however my correspondent’s point is well made.

Sandy Cameron, winner of the Northern Meeting ‘B’ Hornpipe & Jig and a regular winner round the games this year. Sandy is pictured at Arisaig

The number of times pipers came to the floor with the pipes well in, only to put them out, and then struggle to recover their tuning – and invariably failing – was considerable. Add to that the flaws in basic technique: D throws not properly grounded to low G, double Es from F false fingered, inconsistencies in grips and taorluaths, the list goes on and this at the Northern Meeting!

Consider too, a failure to understand, or deliver, the basic ceol beag idioms and we have a problem. Are senior pipers/ judges doing enough teaching? Are the draconian rules of the Solo Piping Judges Association already having an effect? Do nerves play a big part? Certainly, this is Inverness after all. But there is a world of difference between someone trying to play correctly and failing and someone who misunderstands the basic requirements of the art.

Band playing may have made an unfortunate impact too. The quality of fingerwork required to succeed on the solo platform probably exceeds that of the average Grade 1 piper. We often hear pipers fresh from a win at the Worlds struggling to execute their solo stuff with the required clarity and definition. Rhythm: in bands this comes from the pipe major and the drummers. Individual feel for the music is secondary, yet on the solo board the piper is lost without it.

And tuning. Do pipers actually rehearse the three or four-minute tuning lights regime they encounter at Oban and Inverness? I would be amazed if they did not, yet judging by the evidence, this is clearly not the case. (Some even think that by standing with their backs to the lights as the red approaches they will gain extra time and fool the judges. Believe me, this does the guilty piper no favours.) Has a reliance on electronic tuners caused a decline in the development of what used to be called a ‘good ear’? It would seem so.

Many pipers will be hurting after a disappointing Oban and Inverness. I’ve been in that movie. The only response can be a complete re-evaluation of your instrument (from the bag up), your technique, your appreciation of basic rhythm and expression and a thorough look at your practice regime. For goodness sake don’t despair. Many’s the piper who, with a change in direction or a look at the basics, manages to turn round their performance and consequent success rate. Remember, just to get to Oban and Inverness says something about your standard of play. You have to be a very good piper to be accepted.

Do not wander in the wilderness cursing judges and misfortune. Seek out a senior player or judge who has been there and done it all. Hopefully some guidance will be forthcoming. Get your set tunes off by Christmas; cut out that march you never seem to do well with, think hard about linking your strathspeys and reels and how well they sit together. Is John Morrison, Assynt House worth the risk when Alick C would do? Look logically and rationally at all of this, take the necessary action and you should be able to approach next season with renewed confidence.

Get full results from Oban here. Get full results from Inverness here. 

Shotts Juniors/ Cancale/ Pitlochry/ Kiltwalk

Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band’s Junior Piping and Drumming Championship will be held on 18 November 2017 at Calderhead High School in Shotts. Entries are now open and close on 30 October, writes organiser Alison Gilmour.

This is the fourth year the band has organised the competition in partnership with North Lanarkshire Council; an event that has grown year on year becoming an established winter solo competition for youngsters. The band hopes to welcome a large number of competitors who have the opportunity to compete in a range of categories on chanter, pipes, stick and pad, snare and tenor. The competition attracts a high calibre judging panel and offers generous prizes for those who may have little or no competition experience through to more experienced players.

Please see the band website for more information and follow their Facebook page for regular competition updates:

The Shotts band are pictured top after their Worlds win in 2015.