Category Archives: Features

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

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.

Patrick Molard in Brittany: You will find enclosed the list of tunes which will be played at this year’s edition of Pibroch by the Sea in Cancale next Sunday 17th September. Thank you once again to the Piobaireachd Society for their financial help.

Thanks to Alan MacKenzie for pointing out that there were grades in the band competition at Pitlochry from Novice up. Check out the summaries here.

Paul White of the City of Edinburgh Pipe Band: Sunday 17 September I will be walking 26 miles around Edinburgh. I’ve done this a few times trying to get home after a good night in the pub, but this time I’ll be hoping to go the distance in the Edinburgh Kiltwalk 2017. My efforts are in support of LinkLiving, a terrific charity which makes a real difference to disadvantaged people in Edinburgh and beyond. I’m hoping to raise £500 and it would be great if you could help me get my fundraising efforts off to the best possible start.  To donate, all you need to do is follow this link:

Review of Bill Livingstone’s Book ‘Preposterous: Tales to Follow’

This book shows glimpses of delicious interactions, thought processes and history, writes our special correspondent MacStig. It should become a standard read for anyone interested in the piping art, pipe bands and humanity. It is all there, fame, failure, family, humour, heartache, and hard work.

The long anticipated reminiscences of renowned piper, lawyer, husband and now author, Bill Livingstone soar immediately from the opening paragraphs of his book ‘Preposterous: Tales to Follow’. There are jaw-dropping instances and the sheer honesty of it all is breathtaking. His described lack of self-confidence, hypochondria and challenges with depression lay bare the man many consider a giant in the world of the great Highland bagpipe. His fortune to have been around a lengthy time, is to have supped, played and walked with names that to many are often only uttered in whispered tones.

From his earliest days in a ‘company’ mining town in Canada where his description made me cough just thinking about the dust and pollution, to his Scottish heritage in learning the chanter, to arguably the solo pinnacle of ‘Gold Medal’, Dan Reid Memorial, ‘Clasp’ and that pipe band defining 78th Fraser concert in 1987 and World Championship later that same week (main picture, top), the book gallops at pace with a look back to significant events, people and themes in Mr Livingstone’s life.

I got through it in two sittings because it is so readable, very compelling and down to earth. The humour is palpable, some slap stick, and I refer to the left hook from Mrs Livingstone in the Georgian Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, to the missing hat issue and resultant PPBSO sanction on the 78th Frasers. Then some more subtle instances, like the description of the apartment he and his wife lived in whilst he studied, and the building’s colourful  tenants. Who wouldn’t laugh at a hapless solo American piper telling the author, sitting on the bench, that he would play King George Versus Army (it was of course, King George V’s Army). There are also dark passages and the author is to be commended for laying it all out. This is no sugar-coated, ‘churn out the anecdotes’ tome. It’s real.

Students of the craft should pay particular attention to the passages about building the 78th sound and repertoire. Younger players might have to ask an elder about being taught by cassette tape sent in the mail – mail that is delivered by a person. In those formative years Bill was a seeker for sure, seeking knowledge and seeking improvement.

The open mindedness, his surrounding himself with good people and willingness to look to other genres and have a go at new ideas, led to that defining concert and World Pipe Band Championship in 1987 – and should it have been in 1986 and 1988 too? The near three decades at the Frasers, and how that ended, how they created the tartan (by accident) and the glory years, all add to the drama.

Bill Livingstone with Winston Pinkerton, President of the Northern Ireland Branch of the RSPBA. Bill receives a glass plaque to mark 30 years since the 78th Frasers ground breaking concert in Ballymena

The courage to call it as he saw it, might have caused issues at the time. The relating of stories of the ‘benches’ he faced, and the instances around judging and authorities all add to the colour. The first segment of the book launches on one such instance and captivates the reader immediately. The questions posed about innovation, the professionalisation of winning and passages towards the end of the book about form and substance are very thought provoking.

Also, there are some great photographs in the book of the young Livingstone, his family, earliest bands and shots of him amongst the celebrated pipers of decades gone by. You’ll recognise some of the fresher faced Glenfiddich competitors.

At the official launch of the book in Scotland during Piping Live, his appearing with Shotts in the pre Worlds concert, and a fitting honouring of Bill Livingstone at the Glengarry Games, Maxville, onlookers would have raised their hats to this man and perhaps a glass of ‘low flier’ too (Famous Grouse if you need to ask) for all that he has done.

As the author writes, ‘The son of a coal miner from Ayrshire with the temerity to pen a memoir, for God’s sake, it seems to be contrary to nature, against all reason and common sense, absurd’. Of course, the author might even think it preposterous. I’m my view, it’s a must read. Period. As an aside, I had the pleasure of his company for a short while one evening, just after he had played for an invited audience on the east coast of the US. Listening intently, the youngsters in the gathering were encouraged to tell him their stories, and what they were doing. That’s a true leader.

• Buy the book here priced £3.86 (Kindle), £25.99 hardback and £16.99 paperback.

Review – ‘Jock’s Jocks’, A One Act Play by Gary West

National Piping Centre, 8th August…………..

Dr Jack Taylor, President of the Piobaireachd Society

Those who survive war often say nothing of their experience, writes Dr Jack Taylor.  So Gary West’s discovery that Jock Duncan, father of P/M Ian and the late Gordon, had taped, then typed out, reminiscences of some 60 World War 1 survivors over 50 years is a precious one, especially as it was done in dialect, mostly the Doric of Jock’s Aberdeenshire.  They could speak freely, comfortable in the colour and cadence of their own language. 

This play is the result.  The four characters, played by Gary West (smallpipes), Charlie West (fiddle), Chris Wright (moothie and cittern), and Scott Gardiner (singer) sit round any kitchen table in Scotland. Charlie West plays young McHardy, a man who has learned he is the great-grandson of one the men Jock talked to. He bursts in with this news, and puts the transcriptions on the table.

Amidst music, banter, and whisky, the stories emerge. The first is about a pencil, a sergeant’s stripes, and great granddad McHardy aged only 17 before Beaumont Hamel. It is all the funnier for being in Doric.

Yet many of the tales are far from funny. It is striking how easily dialect allows horror to sit right next to the commonplace. For example, Jimmy Reid from Alford and a German swap tobacco for bread during the 1914 Christmas truce. Then they clear the bodies, or parts of them, with the awful associated stench……

I gid a lad a tin o Maconnachies and he gid me a broon loaf – but I didna care fort. Baith sides took the opportunity ti collect aa the deed bodies and beery them. My certainly that wis nae picnic, some were just bits and hid ti be collected into bags and the stink beat hell.’

Dialect can be hard to read and understand if you don’t speak it. The author gets round this by making his characters Scots from anywhere, bashfully and often not too successfully trying to imitate the words transcribed so faithfully.

The music is well-chosen. The songs – McGinty’s Meal and Ale, The Famous Forty Twa’, even Waltzing Matilda, and tunes – Flett from Flotta, Battle of the Somme, Jig of Slurs and Neil Gow’s Lament for his Second Wife – are familiar, and they all make their own contribution to the atmosphere. Piping is given its place, and the greats of the era are all there – Lawrie, MacColl, Center, MacLean, MacDonald of Inverness, MacLennan.

The audience at the National Piping Centre were drawn in. Gary West has clearly  succeeded in making the dialect understood. This, together with the homely setting and nature of the subject, made for a thoughtful hour of respite from the hurl and burl of Piping Live.

This play could be performed anywhere.  It only needs a table, four chairs, two bottles of cold tea (presumably), and the actors with their instruments. It would be popular in any village hall, school, or arts venue.

The next performance is in Blair Atholl on September 23rd.