Category Archives: Comment

Adjudicator Reveals Detailed Content and Source of Emails

The following statement was made today by Mr Barry Donaldson to his fellow adjudicator members of the Solo Piping Judges Association (SPJA). A copy has been passed to Piping Press and is reproduced here. Text in bold is Mr Donaldson’s emphasis. The statement reads:  

Fellow Adjudicators,

Many of you will now be aware of the apology published a few days ago by the College of Piping.  This relates to communications made by Colin MacLellan to persons in Germany about my suitability to instruct at the 2017 Piping School in Lohheide, Germany.  These emails led to submission of complaints to both the CoP and SPJA.

The CoP has published an apology, however the SPJA have advised the complaint is dismissed.  Regrettably, I feel it incumbent on me to circulate the facts surrounding this matter to fellow members. The following is factual; I have supporting documents.

The Lohheide School had an existing partnership arrangement with the College of Piping which I personally helped to arrange last year. However, when I was subsequently asked by the College’s Business Manager to teach at the 2016 school, I was unavailable.

Shortly after agreeing to instruct at this year’s school, 2017, the Principal P/M Ronnie Bromhead received a number of emails from Colin, by then Director of Piping at the CoP. These concerned myself and in the absence of a satisfactory explanation, they represent a personal attack on my character and ability.

One email advised: ‘The most pressing thing at the moment is your appointment of Barry Donaldson. I’m afraid he is one of the very, very few that unfortunately is not acceptable to the College. I was talking to John Wilson today and we are both anxious this is resolved because it will impact on the school at Homburg. I hope we can talk about it but the long and short of it is that if Barry is to teach at Loheide [sic] the College would have to break its association with Loheide immediately, and I do not want to do that.’  

John is referenced in a manner suggesting he was supportive of Colin’s comments; I now know this was not the case.

On 1 September 2017 Colin advised the Principal that, as a consequence of my involvement, the CoP was terminating its association with the school, stating: ‘It remains the case that the College cannot approve him as a teacher at anything which is College connected. The reasons for this are completely sound and reasonable’.  

This comment is perhaps the most disturbing. What were these ‘sound and reasonable’ reasons Colin had for taking this stance against me?

On 14 September Colin forwarded an email to the pipe major of a German band whose members were signed up to attend the school. He stated, ‘I heard that your group goes to the College schools – unfortunately the College has had to withdraw from Lohheide because the organiser hired instructors some of which we do not think were good enough to be endorsed by the College’.  

Unfortunately the content of these emails became increasingly public, raising my concern for the potential damage to my professional position as a piping instructor, as well as my reputation within the piping world.  

On 20 September I complained to the CoP following which, on 16 November after several exchanges with the Chairman, I received a communication advising the CoP was now in a position to make ‘constructive progress’.  A few days later Colin resigned.  Thereafter the apology was posted.

My main reasons for sharing this information:

  • This matter has been circulating widely within the public domain for some time, I have been inundated with questions from various individuals, not just within the UK. The public apology has raised more questions than answers and I now I consider it appropriate that the facts are made available to you all.
  • I believe the SPJA committee have not conducted this matter as they should have. This was not about judging per se, but about integrity, honesty and respect for fellow members.
  • The terms of the Complaints Procedure have not been followed.
  • My complaint was live the week leading up to Colin’s appointment to the Chair (like many of you I was unaware of his nomination until after the AGM as his nomination was not communicated).
  • The decision by the committee that my complaint was not competent was taken directly prior to the AGM.

In conclusion, Colin has had ample opportunity to explain himself and could have attempted to build bridges, unfortunately, for whatever reason, he has chosen not to. The CoP was not able to provide an explanation.

I have been a senior judge for some 25 years and never experienced anything like this. I am angry and disturbed by what has happened and my confidence in our committee is at an all time low.

In reply to Mr Donaldson’s circular to the judges, Chairman Colin MacLellan immediately responded: ‘Could I just say that I submitted my resignation letter to the College of Piping on October 31st, 2017, and that my departure from the College was, and is, nothing but friendly and amicable. It had, and has, absolutely nothing to do with Barry Donaldson. 

‘Our Committee [SPJA] is properly taking care of Barry’s complaints, and I properly, am not party to any discussions on the matter.  This will be my one and only communication to the members of our Association.  I do not believe in mass emailing, nor do I believe in washing dirty laundry in public. I am embarrassed by Barry’s email and consider that in the College we have [sic] a perfect right to say who was acceptable or not to teach at our schools. We also have a perfect right to say who is good enough and who is not.
‘This matter has nothing to do with the affairs of the SPJA. May I take this somewhat unusual opportunity to sincerely wish everyone the very best over the Christmas period.’

PP Ed’s Blog: Cailean’s Last Show/ Piob Soc Conf/ West Fife Band Plea/ New Music/ College Board

Cailean MacLean’s last broadcast as presenter of ‘Crunluath’ the Gaelic piping programme is on Thursday (Dec 14) at 4pm. Cailean is stepping down after 20 years at the mic.

I don’t know who the Beeb has lined up to follow him but his are a difficult set of brogues to fill. Cailean was also the piping convenor at the Skye Gathering for many years, a post now held by Cameron MacFadyen. Among other pursuits, Cailean now hopes to spend more time adding to his marvellous catalogue of photographs of his native isle.

Those already planning their diaries for 2018 might like to note that the Piobaireachd Society Conference will be held on the weekend of 23/24 March with an eclectic mix of interesting papers planned and mingled, as usual, with lots of good music and camaraderie. Everyone is welcome to attend for the full weekend or as a day visitor. Venue is as before, the Birnam Hotel in Highland Perthshire. More details as they become available.

I hope someone can step in and help this band. Alister Rae, Secretary, writes: ‘The committee of the West Fife Schools Pipe Band [pictured top] is pleading to the entire piping community for help as the band is struggling to find experienced piping tutors. The band was set up in 1994 with the specific objective of providing school-aged children with the chance to learn to play pipes and/or drums at an affordable cost. We currently have eight intermediate pipers, three chanter learners and six learner drummers, all of whom attend schools in the West Fife area and they range from 10 – 14 years old.

‘The band has produced a strong performance in competitions and local galas over the 2017 season, however our senior piping tutor has retired, leaving the band without a leader. We have had help from a parent, pipers from other bands and one particularly gifted young piper who have all kept the show on the road so far. We now need some individuals to take ownership of the band’s development and progression. Without experienced piping tutors taking charge, it will be difficult to compete in 2018. We do have a very proficient drumming tutor who is making huge strides in developing the drum corps. We recently launched a recruitment drive for new pipers and drummers, and we have had a very encouraging response.

‘If there are any experienced piping tutors out there that can commit to a couple of hours per week, we would love to hear from them. We competed at Novice Juvenile Grade this year (2017) at all the major competitions by teaming up with another band. Our ultimate goal would be to do the same again next year under our own steam. The guys are very enthusiastic and always keen to do their best. All we need is a leader and a couple of experienced tutors to take us there by developing our pipe corps and improving our skills.

We meet at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline, Fife, on Tuesdays and Thursday at 18:30. Contact the Band via the following: Facebook:
Email: WFSPB@GMX.COM Telephone: 07508 621148

Those interested in new music, and especially music which has been influenced by piobaireachd, may like to look out for ‘The Wisdom of the Reeds’ by William Sweeney and performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at a concert last Saturday. The composer’s note reads: ‘The title was suggested by the Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacall. The piece could be thought of as a dream in which one of the great piobaireachd players meets Johnny Hodges [Duke Ellington’s alto sax man]. There is also some material which grew out of my attempts to represent the sounds of elaborate bagpipe figuration….’ The performance will be broadcast at 10pm on BBC Radio 3 on Feb 10 on the ‘Hear and Now’ new music show.

Following the weekend’s apology from the College of Piping Board to P/M Barry Donaldson a few readers have asked who comprises the Board. They are: Colin MacNeill, Chairman, a successful Edinburgh lawyer who is a partner in one of the country’s biggest corporate legal firms, Dickson Minto. Mr MacNeill is a noted amateur piper and a member of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society. He succeeded his father Dugald MacNeill as Chairman.

Stuart Cassells (38) is the youngest member of the board. He is a founding member of the piping rock group, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, and was a successful junior piper. Personable, Stuart puts his easy way with people to good use as a promotions man with Edrington distillers.

Major Bruce Hitchings MBE BEM is a retired Army officer and former P/M of the Queens Own Highlanders. For many years he was assistant to Gavin Stoddart at the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle. Bruce runs his own bagpipe accessories business and is also a member of the Northern Meeting Piping Sub-Committee.

David Kerr (70) is a retired insurance broker, a member of the Glasgow Highland Club and has been a member of the CoP Board for 30 years. Mr Kerr has a holiday home on the island of Tiree where he is a director of the Tiree Maritime Trust.

College of Piping Apology to P/M Barry Donaldson

The College of Piping has issued the following apology to professional bagpipe instructor, senior solo piping adjudicator and former College director, Mr Barry Donaldson.

The apology reads: ‘Barry Donaldson; The College of Piping acknowledges the rumour and speculation which has recently surrounded the appointment of Barry Donaldson as a tutor at the Northern Piping School in Lohheide, Germany, in November 2017. This rumour and speculation clearly followed comments made in College emails to the School’s Principal. The College wishes to record that the decision taken by its Board to withdraw its support for the Northern Winter School had nothing to do with Mr Donaldson’s presence as a tutor and was primarily because of the College’s ongoing commitment to its own Winter School in Homburg, Germany, which takes place in February 2018. The Board would like to further emphasise that it has no concerns or reservations regarding Mr Donaldson’s personal profile nor his experiential background as a piping instructor and, therefore, the College regrets and unreservedly apologises for any damage which may have occurred to Mr Donaldson’s reputation as a result of the comments made.’

Mr Donaldson said: ‘This has been a very trying episode but I cannot comment fully on it at this time as the matter is the subject of an ongoing complaint to the Solo Piping Judges Association.’

This latest apology by the College of Piping follows several difficult months for the long-established institution founded by Seumas MacNeill and Thomas Pearston in 1944. On August 15th Piping Press reported on the replacement of General Manager Fraser MacInnes: ‘Just when things seemed to be settling down at the College of Piping we hear of another departure, that of General Manager Fraser MacInnes, writes the Editor. My information is that the parting was not as harmonious as it might have been. There must have been personality issues here for, according to the Office of Scottish Charities Register (OSCR), the College’s profit last year was £21,000. The old place seemed to be doing alright under Mr MacInnes’s guidance, however business will now be conducted jointly by Piping Times Editor Stuart Letford and Piping Director Colin MacLellan with the firm hand of Chairman Colin MacNeill conducting traffic from Edinburgh…..’

There then followed defamatory comments made on the College’s ‘Butterfingers Blog’ about Piping Press Editor Robert Wallace. This matter was settled out of court with costs paid in Mr Wallace’s favour. A published apology read: ‘Robert Wallace – an apology: In the Butterfingers Blog on 18 August 2017, we published a post relating to the withdrawal from the Argyllshire Gathering by one or two senior pipers, because of the presence of a particular judge. Although the judge was not named we accept that, to those familiar with the subject matter of the post, he would be identifiable as Robert Wallace. [Offensive language redacted]. We accept that such comments were rash and ill-judged and to make them in a setting which afforded Mr Wallace no simultaneous right to respond or comment was unfair. We also accept that such comments were not appropriate for a blog that is published by the College of Piping and we would like to unreservedly apologise to Mr Wallace for any professional or personal embarrassment and hurt caused to him and his family by the statement.’ Mr Wallace was College of Piping Principal and Editor of the Piping Times for 15 years from 1999 to 2014.

Following this, on November 20th, there was the surprise resignation after only 15 months in post of Colin MacLellan the then CoP Director of Piping. A statement from the College read: ‘The College of Piping announces that due to pressure of other commitments, Colin MacLellan has decided to step down from his position as Director of Piping with effect from the end of November 2017. The College is very grateful to Colin for his hard work in the short time he was in the role and is pleased that Colin will remain associated as an adviser and friend of the College.

‘Stuart Letford, editor of the Piping Times, will carry on as Interim Manager at the College until March 31, 2018, while the board continues its strategic review of the College’s vision and activities.’

Now, three weeks later, this latest apology to Mr Donaldson. Mr Donaldson is very active in piping and pipe bands. As well as duties as a solo piping judge and teacher, last month was accepted as a member of the RSPBA’s Adjudicator Panel and is also an RSPBA Assessor for the Piping & Drumming Qualifications Board.

Mr Donaldson is also in much demand as an overseas instructor and this year attended the Bagpipe Association of Germany’s summer school at Burg Breuberg, as well as the above mentioned Northern Winter School, also in Germany. He will be Senior Instructor of Piping at the South Florida Pipe and Drum Academy in February, a post he has held since the school inception almost three years ago.

Mr Donaldson is a former member of the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band under P/M Ian McLellan and won 11 World Grade 1 titles with the famous pipe major. He also led Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Pipe Band to major championship success in Grade 2 and was latterly pipe major of the City of Edinburgh Pipe Band.

New Film About the Boys Brigade and the 214 BB Pipe Band/ Troon Blackrock Recruiting

A new video about the Boys Brigade in general and the 214th Glasgow Company and its famous pipe band has been posted on the Pipers Persuasion website.

The video, by Pipers Persuasion editor and publisher Allan Hamilton,  features Piping Press editor Robert Wallace who was a member of the 214 ‘piping academy’ which also spawned P/M Ian McLellan of Strathclyde Police Pipe Band and many other top players.

The video also contains footage of an interview with an Australian woman, Irene McClue, originally from Glasgow, whose husband David was a member of the 214BB in the 1950s. The interview with Mrs McClue was a purely chance affair as viewers will see.Robert Wallace talks of his early days in the BB and the band, how it achieved success and how it was influenced by P/M Donald MacLeod. P/M MacLeod and 214 pipe major Alex MacIver were both Lewismen and close friends. The film was made in the Mitchell Library’s archive department. Throughout the month of November the library mounted a special display of documents and photographs connected with the Boys Brigade and its founder Sir William Smith.

Read more about the 214BB here. Check out the Pipers Persuasion website here. The picture at the top of this article is of Boys’ Brigade pipers playing at the 50th Jubilee gathering in 1933 organised to celebrate the BB’s founding in 1883.

Troon Blackrock Pipe Band are looking to recruit pipers and drummers, both snare and tenor, to play with the band in the 2018 season and beyond. A statement reads: ‘We are in grade 4A at the moment and are hoping to progress up through the grades over the coming years. As well as taking part in competitions we also participate in parades and gala days.

Troon Blackrock Pipe Band

‘Our members range from nine-year-old learners through to players in their 60s. We practice on a Monday night from 7.45pm until 9.45pm in St. Meddans Church Halls in Troon. Interested parties are more than welcome to drop in to our practice night or alternatively you can contact us via our Facebook page or by email at

PP Ed’s Blog: SPJA/ Iolaire Disaster/ Joe Wilson/ St Andrews PB, Brisbane

The latest post on the Eagle Pipers Society blog has been brought to my attention and it is good to see its writer, Euan Anderson, has retained his sense of humour. He was the judge selected by the Solo Piping Judges Association to investigate the risible ‘sore arm gate’ complaint against me.

These kangaroo court inquiries against fellow judges are reprehensible and my advice to anyone asked to undertake them would be to give them a wide berth. There’s always lasting collateral damage. If the association gets a complaint it should facilitate a meeting between the parties and leave it at that.

Euan talks of the fraternal meetings the Eagles have and it is good to see that they are going from strength to strength in such a vein. The SPJA could learn a thing or two from them.

Canadian poet Karen Clavelle has written a long poem on the Iolaire disaster, the subject of the fine piobaireachd by P/M Donald MacLeod (pictured top). The book was launched last month and the tune was played in the background during the event. Karen, of the University of Manitoba, had written: ‘Having listened to the Lament for the Iolaire on your site, I would respectfully ask if I might have permission to use it at the launch for the book. Malcolm MacDonald of the Stornoway Historical Society kindly referred me to you. I would inquire at this time also, whether the score for the Lament would be available, a question raised by the past-president of our local St. Andrew’s Society. I will forward your response to him.’ The ground of Donald’s tune Karen:

The blurb for her book: December 31, 1918. The war to end all wars was over and nearly three hundred men were returning home to their families, long left behind. When the HMS Iolaire left port on her fateful journey she was overflowing with joyful soldiers who had survived the gun but would not survive the sea. It was the Beast of Holm that sank her that night, plunging the men into the frigid waters no more than 20 feet from shore. 205 died, 82 survived. Iolaire, Karen Clavelle’s debut collection of poetry, takes letters, news clippings and her own unique voice to stitch together one of the most tragic tales in maritime history. Get the book here.

On the Piobaireachd Society website you can listen to the tune played beautifully by Iain Speirs.