Category Archives: Features

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

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


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

B Piob


C Piob






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.

Piping Live Launched

Press release for the Piping Live Festival held each year during Worlds Week: 

‘The landscape of Glasgow Green looked very different today, Tuesday 25th April, as a giant 23ft piper mural, known as The Colossal Clansman, popped (or piped) up in the park – announcing that Piping Live! Glasgow International Piping Festival and The World Pipe Band Championships are returning to the city from 7 – 13 August.The world’s biggest week of piping will see over 50,000 music fans, families and tourists flock to Glasgow to enjoy 200 events and 8,000 performers throughout the week.

‘The Colossal Clansman was created using a remarkable six miles of fabric – the same amount it takes to kit out the 23 participating Piping Live! bands and 21 competing in Grade 1 qualifiers of The World Pipe Band Championships. The 7m by 4m portrait, made by Glasgow artist, Bruno Gallagher, was created to showcase the grand scale of both events, which annually attract thousands of visitors from across the globe to the city.

‘Piping Live! Glasgow International Piping Festival is the biggest festival of its kind in the world and the week-long celebrations will see over 200 events take place in various venues across the city from 7 – 13 August. Its diverse programme is famed for bringing the best pipers and pipe bands in the world to Glasgow and 2017 is set to be just as outstanding, with acts including Peatbog Faeries, Battlefield Band and Tejedor topping the bill and many more to be announced in coming weeks. The programme will also see performances by the very best international acts from countries such as Estonia, Argentina, Canada, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Australia and Italy, as well as numerous events including the fiercely contested Master Solo, International Quartet and Pipe Idol competitions.

‘Throughout the week there will be daily performances and family fun in George Square, the festival’s city centre hub, as well as recitals, book launches and the hugely popular Street Café at The National Piping Centre. The hugely popular Pipers’ Market will also return this year to George Square, bringing with it some of Scotland’s very best food and drink, as well as craft stalls for everyone to enjoy.

‘The World Pipe Band Championships will return to Glasgow Green on 11 and 12 August. This year it celebrates its 70th anniversary, with the first ever World Pipe Band Championships being held at Murrayfield in Edinburgh in 1947. The event was first held in Glasgow in 1948 and has been staged in the city continuously since 1986.

‘Known affectionately as The Worlds, they’re hailed as the pinnacle of competitive Pipe Band competition and are organised on behalf of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association by the City of Glasgow. This year, the Worlds will be part of the celebrations for the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

‘This year, Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band from Northern Ireland defends the title they reclaimed last year. The band has been World Champions five times in the last six years.

‘In recent years, over 225 bands have travelled from all over the world, bringing around 8000 pipers and drummers to compete in eight grades for the world title. Entries for this year’s event are open and the final list of participants will be confirmed six weeks before the championships.

‘Paul Bush OBE, Director of Events at VisitScotland, said: ‘We are delighted to be supporting Piping Live! and The World Pipe Band Championships, with both events attracting the best piping talent from around the world. Scotland is the perfect stage for cultural events and it is fitting in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology that Glasgow continues to host these two wonderful international events, which truly showcase Scotland’s heritage and cultural offering.’