Category Archives: Features

Historic Picture Handed Over at Celtic Connections by P/M Ian Duncan

Has the World Pipe Band Championship Grade 1 title ever been won with brothers playing in the same band? Yes; 1969 Muirhead & Sons and, surely uniquely, there were three of them in this band, namely Tommy, Jimmy and Peter Anderson all from Falkirk.

We would be interested to hear of other championship bands with siblings in the ranks but for now let’s rewind a couple of days to Celtic Connections and the handover of the historic picture as shown above. In the centre is Pipe Major Ian Duncan of Vale of Atholl/ Atholl Highlanders fame.

On his right is the aforementioned Tommy Anderson and on his left brother Peter. Both were playing that day in Perth when Muirheads won their five-in-a-row Worlds. As our previous story related the picture was taken on the South Inch, Perth, just after massed bands and the prizes.

The photograph held pride of place in a Perth pub for many years and when the place changed hands all the old framed pictures were thrown out. P/M Duncan got to hear of this and rescued the one above from a skip.At the end of Saturday’s successful concert by Johnstone Pipe Band he handed it over to Tommy and Peter who, Ian said, should be the ‘rightful owners’. Peter was able to put  names to the triumphant faces. They are, l – r standing: John Finlay, Jock Waddell, Jimmy Anderson, P/M Bob Hardie, Jim Dow, Douglas Elmslie, Davy Hutton, Eric Shields, Tommy Anderson, Jim Elmslie, Davy Bruce, P/Sgt. Andrew Dowie, Jim Crawford. Kneeling l – r: Jim Williamson, Ian McSkimming, L/D Robert Turner, Band Secretary Lawrence Jenkins, Robert Richardson, Peter Anderson.

Said Tommy: ‘It was a momentous day for the Anderson family. Three brothers playing and winning the World Pipe Band Championship. I don’t think that has ever been done before. I was under a lot of pressure there because that was my first Worlds with the band. I had only joined that year.

P/M RG Hardie

‘My mother and father were there and it was a very proud moment for them to see their three sons winning the trophy. And I would like to thank Ian for saving the picture from the scrap heap. It means a great deal to us.

‘The tunes we played that day were Jeannie Carruthers, Blair Drummond and Pretty Marion. When we came off we felt we had played well. I can remember standing there playing; everything was so tight. We all had to play with Bob and we practised until it was like one piper, all following him. We would practice round the circle and if you had a bad night at one practice you didn’t have a bad night at the next one. He just looked at you – it had to be sorted or you were out. He was a master at getting a band to play well together. All the taorluaths, grips, birls had to be executed precisely and the D throws had to be proper throws, not the grip to C version.’

Peter added: ‘What I do remember that day was that I think it was the first time Jim Williamson was on the bass drum. He moved from the sides to play bass. Obviously Rab [Turner] thought we were going to get something better that day. In these days an RSPBA starter from the National Council gave the ‘By the right! Quick march’ commands to the bands, not the Pipe Major.

‘So we were at the flags and the starter shouted ‘Get ready!’ but Jim, just a small man, was struggling to get the bass drum on its hook. Being a laid back guy he shouted out to the starter ‘Hey, hold on a minute!’ So he did and we were all smiling. It took the edge off everything and a few second later we were ready to go. ‘Okay; on you go,’ said Jim to the starter.

‘It seemed to be a really popular win because when we walked off playing the Kilworth Hills the bands opened up to let us through and all our immediate competitors were all clapping as we passed them. A great time was had by all after that and back at the hotel the manager filled that lovely cup with champagne. I took a drink and thought it was cider. I was only 19 and had never tasted champagne before.

‘As far as the drumming went we were there or thereabouts in the list but we never won a major drumming prize. Rab sacrificed his chances for the band. Bob Hardie was happy with it and that was good enough for us.’

• Listen to the Muirheads band under P/M Hardie here.

PP Ed’s Blog: WW2 Pipes/ Inspector Clueless/ SG Knock Out/ Northern Ireland Burns Show

Calum MacLean has commented on the WW2 pipes story we’ve been running. If you haven’t seen his post, Calum wrote: ‘I have a set of Lawrie bagpipes with the engraving: ‘THE GIFT OF THE ASSOCIATION OF HIGHLAND SOCIETIES OF EDINBURGH 1939’.

‘I wonder if these are WW2 bagpipes as well. I have seen another set with the same engraving on the chanter stock which were Lawrie bagpipes as well. I wonder why this Association had these sets of pipes made and all in the same year?’

I think the pipes were for Army pipers Calum. There would not be many PoWs in 1939 I don’t think, so I am assuming the pipes were supplied to help the growing number of regimental pipe bands that would have been formed immediately after and during mobilisation. This generosity was then extended to PoWs as the earlier story mentions. I know next to nothing about this Association and would be grateful if anyone with additional information could forward it.

One positive thing to come out of the recent SPJA shenanigans and the ‘sore arm gate’ affair is a new tune from prolific Canadian composer Michael Grey (pictured). Mike reminds us all not to take ourselves too seriously with a new tune he’s written for ‘Inspector Clueless of Gayfield’.

Mike writes on his blog: ‘There’s never any shortage of drama, indignancy or high dudgeon in the small world that is piping. I read Rab Wallace’s blog the other day and seriously LOL’d when I read his description of the officiant connected with a judge’s complaint: ‘Inspector Clueless of Gayfield’. I can’t say why, exactly, I just laughed. Maybe because it was a riff on a classic pipe tune naming convention, and, well, who knows. Gold, I say. Rab has a way with words, there is no doubt.

‘I wasn’t fully aware of Rab’s tribulations connected with the Solo Piping Judge’s Association (I can say, I am a member). And until he outed himself I wasn’t fully aware of Inspector Clueless; that is, his perspective. The good Inspector turns out to be none other than the one and only Euan Anderson of Edinburgh, bon vivant and good company. Clueless or not, this is near the highest praise I can offer any person.
All aside, I am sorry for any situation where pipers – or, I guess, anyone or any group, for that matter – clash. I’m sure calm and amenable waters are not far off. And I suppose this is all to say, I’m seizing this brazen excuse to post what I think is a new tune. And so here it is; inspired the very morning I read Rab’s post.’

Touching picture of a wee girl piper doing her bit for women’s rights:

Don’t miss the next round of the Scots Guards KO to be held in the SG Club, Haymarket, Edinburgh, on Sunday at the usual time. Organiser Jimmy Banks writes: ‘We have our next round of the KO on Sunday 28 January,  Ross Millar and Calum Watson; should be a really good session.’ Jimmy’s email.

Field Marshal piper Scott Wallace, the current All Ireland Senior Solo Piping Champion, is pictured up top during the BBC recording of ‘Burns an’ Mair’ at Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church in Belfast. The Burn’s Night concert will be shown on 25th January on BBC2 at 9pm probably only in Northern Ireland. Helping with the presentation will be world-class side drummer Mark Wilson, who was also the Musical Director.  The concert celebrating Burns’ musical legacy also features Alasdair Fraser (fiddle), Natalie Haas (cello), Siobhan Miller (former Scots Traditional Singer of the Year) plus a host of local musicians including Ballyclare High School Choir accompanied by piper Grahame Harris.

The BBC blurb reads: ‘Here in Northern Ireland, we are more than familiar with the major poetic works of Robert Burns.  Though he has long been heralded as Scotland’s National poet, Burns was primarily a songwriter with an often-overlooked body of work containing upwards of 400 songs. He was a composer and arranger of consummate skill, a fiddle player and a song collector. This programme, made by Barking Films, celebrates Burns but not in the traditional sense with an ‘Address to a Haggis’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’, delving instead more deeply into the musical world of Robert Burns, and the writers and performers his work inspired. 

‘Burns had a lifelong passion for music and made a major contribution to ‘the Scots Musical Museum’. Published in the early 1800s, this collection of folk songs played a pivotal role in the preservation of Scotland’s song tradition. As well as a collector, Burns was an innovator who re-wrote and reshaped many of the songs and tunes he included in this publication.’

Review: Johnstone Pipe Band Concert at Celtic Connections 2018

What a thrill it  must have been for the youngsters brought on to the stage for the finale of Johnstone Pipe Band’s Celtic Connections concert yesterday, writes the Editor. It made for an emotional end to what was a thoroughly pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The concert began with warm up sets from Finlay MacDonald, Angus MacColl jnr. – at times you could have sworn it was dad up there – and the spectacular uillean piper Jarlath Henderson. This was the first time I had heard Jarlath and he is clearly a master of his complex, exciting pipe. His closing, rousing set of reels brought the first half to a vibrant, exalted climax.

Beginners join the band on stage for the finale

But to the main course. Seeing Johnstone’s three bands, Grade 1, Grade 3A and Renfrew Schools (NJ) all lined up on the biggest concert stage in the pipe band world was visual testament to the incredible work being wrought by one of our youngest pipe majors, Keith Bowes. Keith is ably assisted by the old man, Keith snr., and former Inveraray P/Sgt Douglas Campbell. Indeed the rise of this band is bested only by that of the current World Champions. Johnstone made Grade 1 last year via winning the Worlds in G3A in 2014 and G2 in 2015 and 2016. On the evidence of this concert they will be in the top echelon for the forseeable future.

Their discipline, their tone, their music warmed the 1,000+ audience on what was the coldest weekend of the winter in Glasgow. I would venture to say that they do not yet have the precision in some of their execution that the top six bands in G1 possess, the last part of Allan Dodd’s Farewell to Scotland a case in point. Here the descending melodic sequence and its attendant doublings proved particularly challenging.

And maybe the drums were a little loud. The blowing improved when the pipers could hear their instruments better as in the Gaelic air (lovely singing here from Dingwall lass Kirsty MacKenzie). Last grumble – ditch the Pipers Warning piobaireachd/march thing. Pipe major! It just doesn’t work! Other than that, here was an excellent choice of material carried off with some aplomb. The band demonstrated a thorough understanding of the rhythmical requirements of each idiom.

Jarlath Henderson – a master of his instrument

For most of the pipers and drummers it would have been their first time on the big stage. Nerves must have been close to the edge. Yet they rose to the demands of such a high pressure performance admirably. On and off the stage like professionals, each set was right on cue and this enabled the concert to build in momentum until that heartwarming ending with each section stepping forward to take a collective bow. Plaudits too to the dancers, a not over-chatty MC and a discreet backing group. For those who couldn’t manage along, I understand the BBC’s ‘Pipeline’ show has recorded the event for broadcast.

Johnstone Pipe Band are Grade 1 – make no error. Still a bit raw, they are a work in progress, but with their organisation, their feeder system, their knowledge and quality sound, they will be around for many years to come. Their commitment to teach is worthy of the highest praise (140 SQA certificates since 2014). The band are currently celebrating their 75th anniversary. What a way to kick off a year of celebration. Congratulations to everyone involved.


New Recording from Donald MacPherson added to PP Archive/ RSPBA Update Prescribed Tunes

A treat for piobaireachd aficionados today with the posting on the PP Audio Archive of a performance of the Lament for Mary MacLeod by Donald MacPherson, writes the Editor. The recording was made by the BBC in 1977 during a recital Donald gave with P/M Angus MacDonald at the Eden Court Theatre, Inverness.

We are grateful to Donald McBride, one of Donald’s former students. for passing it on. Donald’s playing reflects all the touches of a master and, interestingly, he plays  a high A instead of the more common high G in the third line of the variation doublings. Listen to the tune here:
Read more about Donald here.

The PP Audio Archive is brought to you free of charge thanks to the support of our advertisers and your support for the Piping Press Shop.

Chris Terry playing outside the HQ of the Transvaal Scottish regiment in Johannesburg. Chris is ‘top of the pops’ on the PP Audio Archive

Reviewing the list of recordings it may be of interest to readers to find out which is the post popular. Well way out in front is South Africa’s piobaireachd expert Chris Terry whose performance of the Glen is Mine has had 1,149 listens. Well done Chris! Chris is one of the judges for this year’s Shasta Piping Society Piobaireachd Composing Competition.

Next we have Chris’s teacher John MacFadyen with Too Long in This Condition with 689 listens and following that is Alasdair Gillies’s recital with 664, then yours truly with MacDougall’s Gathering on 651. Next is Donald MacPherson with Lady MacDonald’s Lament on 624 and his recital with has the piobaireachd Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor has 610 listens.

Robert Wallace, Company’s Lament, 598
Jimmy McIntosh, Lament for the Children, 581
Donald MacLeod, Jigs, 532
Andrew Pitkeathly, ceol beag, 515
John MacDougall, Former Winners’ MSR, 513
Donald MacPherson, MSR, 498
Angus MacColl, MSR, Oban, 483
Robert Reid, MSR, 481
Jimmy McIntosh, Earl of Seaforth, 466
RU Brown, MSR, 448
Govan Police PB (first ever recording of a pipe band), 416
John MacDonald of Inverness, Lament for the Children, 410
Gordon Walker, MSR/H&J, 372
Jori Chisholm’s winning Shasta tune from last year, 301

One shouldn’t read too much into these figures; some recordings have been posted for a much longer period than others. The success of ceol mor tracks does show the thirst for knowledge and information on how specific tunes may be timed. There is an extensive library of music on the Piobaireachd Society website which those who enjoy the PP Audio Archive recordings may also like to tap into.

If any reader has a tape or mp3 of music they think would be suitable for our archive please forward it to the usual email.

The RSPBA has updated its list of prescribed tunes for lower grade competitions for 2018. Among tunes added are: Thomson’s Dirk, John MacDonald’s Reel, Glen Caladh Castle (used to be a a Grade 3/ Grade 4 favourite) Hugh Kennedy, Barren Rocks of Aden, Weary Maid, Burning of the Piper’s Hut, the Maids of the Black Glen and Forest Lodge. The tunes contained in each category are now very extensive with something to suit all tastes. Check out the full lists here.  The Association website states:

Major Championships – Grade 4B and Novice Juvenile B
4 x 2 parted Marches from the RSPBA Prescribed Tune List
All tunes played must come from the RSPBA Prescribed Tune List

Major Championships – Grade 4A and Novice Juvenile A
4 Parts March (in 2/4 Time Signature), 4 Parts Strathspey and 4 Parts Reel
1 x 4 Parted 2/4 March or 2 x 2 parted 2/4 Marches
1 x 4 Parted Strathspey or 2 x 2 parted Strathspeys
1 x 4 Parted Reel or 2 x 2 Parted Reels
All tunes played must come from the RSPBA Prescribed Tune List

Minor Contests:
Grade 4 and Novice Juvenile remains as stipulated currently – being 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 Minutes Quick March Tempo.
Grade 4 and Novice Juvenile A MSR Contests; Championship playing requirement change will also be applied.

‘These tunes have been carefully chosen to reflect the relative experience and ability of pipers and drummers in that specific grade, presenting them with the opportunity to perform in contests, ‘on a level playing field’, as each piece is regarded as having equal ‘weighting’, and this should be borne in mind when making those choices for contest performances.’

PP Ed’s Blog: WW2 Pipes/ Piobaireachd Society Conference/ CoP Lecture

A couple of weeks ago we highlighted a request from RSPBA Vice Chairman John Hughes for information about a set of pipes presented to his uncle, PoW William Chisholm, during WW2. The pipes had a plaque on them which indicated they may have arrived in Germany via the Piobaireachd Society. We asked if any other readers had similar sets.

Iain Duncan

I was pleased to hear from Iain Duncan, the former archivist for the RSPBA, and son of Archie Duncan the Kintyre composer. Iain wrote: ‘I have a wartime set of bagpipes in my possession which I played intermittently before and during my time with the Glasgow Skye Association Pipe Band.  They were manufactured by J&R Glen, Edinburgh, according to the bass drone top tuning slide.

‘They are made from cocus wood with good solid sounding drones with EPNS ferrules on the drone joints and stocks.  The bell top of each drone is dressed with a ferrule of the plastic of the time and the ‘projecting mounts’, which were small and just a token to decoration, were turned within the one block of wood.