Category Archives: History

Fine Selection of Second Hand Books Offered for Sale by Piping Press Shop Now Sold

Six classic piping books were offered for sale today for by the Piping Press Shop. These have now sold within one hour of going on sale. The books, first lot, were the ‘Seaforth Highlanders Collection’, Seumas MacNeill’s ‘Tutor for Piobaireachd’ and Roderick Cannon’s ‘Highland Bagpipe and Its Music’. Revenue from these sales will help maintain Piping Press’s not for profit, subscription-free service.

The ‘Seaforth Collection’, currently retailing new at £25, was first issued in 1936 and contains over 250 tunes. The edition offered here was the 1998 reprint. What makes the Seaforth Collection so outstanding is the quality of the settings. No superfluous gracenotes, just good traditional and regimental tunes easily assimilated by every competent piper.

Seumas MacNeill’s ‘Tutor for Piobaireachd’ was first published in 1990 and was the first modern tutor for this music. Tunes covered are the Company’s Lament, Mackintosh’s Banner, Glengarry’s Lament and Lament for Alasdair Dearg MacDonnell of Glengarry.

Dr Roderick Cannon’s ‘Highland Bagpipe and Its Music’ was first published in 1995 and is a very well-written account of the instrument, its history and the nature of its music. Dr Cannon was a bagpipe music scholar of considerable renown and for 30 years a mainstay of the Piobaireachd Society’s Music Committee. This book is essential reading for every young piper.

The second lot we had for sale is now sold too. The books were ‘P/M Angus MacDonald’s Bk 2’, currently out of print, the ‘Seumas MacNeill Collection’ and ‘Masters of Piping’ also by Seumas MacNeill.

P/M Angus’s book (1995) is a formidable collection of tunes by the late, great, pipe major (pictured top). Stand outs are Allan MacDonald’s Dr Flora MacAuley, Carradale, Alan MacPherson of Mosspark, P/M Joe Wilson, P/M Angus MacDonald, another great tune by Allan MacDonald, the piobaireachd Lament for Alan, My Son, the airs Mull of the Mountains, Highland Cathedral, Peter MacLeod’s celebrated march, the Rhodesian Regiment and many, many more.

‘Seumas MacNeill’s Collection’, was offered in its original edition, was first published in 1960 and also contains some outstanding music: Major Byng M. Wright and Jeannie Carruthers by John MacColl, David Ross of Rosehall by Seumas’s teacher Archie MacNeill, the Back of the Moon by Archie Kenneth, Echoes of Oban by Donald MacPherson, Jim Tweedie’s Sea Legs by New Zealander J Allan MacGee to name a few.

The third book in this lot was ‘Masters of Piping’ by Seumas MacNeill and edited by Robert Wallace. Published in 2008, its 220 pages explore the lives of some of the great names of piping of the past: Calum ‘Piobair’ Macpherson, John MacLellan, Dunoon, Donald Cameron and Willie Ross are four. A very valuable book for those interested in piping history.

P/M Donald MacLeod: New Slideshow Depicting His Life & Times

The great Donald MacLeod died 35 years ago last month, writes the Editor. Today we mark this with a new slideshow (link at foot of column) depicting the life and times of the master piper with thanks to the unnamed reader who alerted us to this important anniversary.

Donald MacLeod was born in 1917 and died in 1982.  He was one of the greatest pipers of the 20th century both in terms of his competition prowess and as an outstanding composer of pipe music.

He was born in Stornoway and initially taught the pipes by his father, Donald ‘Doyle’ MacLeod, Pipe Major of the Lewis Pipe Band. When, in the 1930s,  P/M Willie Ross visited Stornoway  on a teaching stint Donald attended his classes and was encouraged to join the Scots Guards. However he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders (1937) and whilst stationed at Fort George had tuition from John MacDonald, Inverness. This continued on and off for 25 years and laid the foundation of Donald’s extensive piobaireachd knowledge.

His pipe major in the Seaforths was DR MacLennan, half-brother of GS Maclennan. Donald was eventually promoted Pipe Major. On the outbreak of WW2 he found himself in France with his regiment as part of the 51st Highland Division. Like so many others he was taken prisoner at St Valery. Fortunately Donald managed to escape by diving into a ditch during a forced march. Donald, seldom spoke about this incident, but dismissed it once by saying that he ‘was so small and insignificant that the guards hadn’t notice he had slipped away’.

On any encounter with German soldiers he spoke his native Gaelic, was presumed to be eastern European, and allowed to go. He was picked up by the Resistance and eventually made it back home. He returned to France following D-Day and played the 7th Seaforths across the Rhine against the express orders of his Commanding Officer who recognised the danger to Donald and his unique musical qualities (see picture top). Donald very seldom spoke of his time during WW2 but it would surely make a wonderful documentary or film for Gaelic or non-Gaelic television.

His late wife Winnie spoke to me once of Donald never sleeping well and waking during the night with nightmares about his time during the conflict. Hardly surprising, and who knows the effect this had on his health in later life.

After the war Donald came into his own as a solo competitor adding eight Clasps to his Oban and Inverness Gold Medals as well as eight Silver Stars for the Former Winners MSR at the Northern Meeting. There is also a suggestion that he won the Inverness Jig competition nine times, many of them with his own compositions. He also won all the main competitions at Oban many times over.

He ranks among the greatest composers in the history of pipe music, taking his place alongside GS McLennan, Peter MacLeod (Jnr. and Snr.), John MacLellan (Dunoon), Willie Lawrie and John MacColl at piping’s high altar of melodic genius. In all he produced six books of ceol beag and one book of ceol mor. Some of his tunes have been set for this year’s piobaireachd competitions at Oban and Inverness marking an acceptance of his music which would surely have been a source of considerable pride to him.

There is one story that he composed the final two parts of his jig The Seagull ex tempore whilst on the platform at the Northern Meeting. Probably apocryphal but the fact that it has become part of piping folklore is indicative of his extraordinary compositional gift. The story was believable. One anecdote that is true is his composing the tune the Judges’ Dilemma whilst waiting on the outcome of the Jig competition at Inverness. By the time his name was announced as winner he had completed the tune in the margins of the programme. Donald later competed with this tune and others may have information on whether he won with it or not.

His music is as popular today as it was when first published. The list of classic tunes is considerable: Knightswood Ceilidh, Crossing the Month, Hen’s March, Butterfingers, Glasgow Police Pipers, Donald MacLellan of Rothesay, Susan MacLeod, Fiona MacLeod, Stac Pollaidh, Donald MacLean of Lewis, Dr Ross, MacLeod of Mull, P/M George Allan and whole host of beautiful Gaelic-inspired airs and retreat marches.

One of his final competition appearances was in the Knock Out competition run by the Scottish Pipers’ Association playing against another great composer, teacher and piper, Duncan Johnstone. Donald was pushed into second by the vote of the audience but was the first to congratulate Duncan, ‘It’s no loss what a friend gets’.

Donald was deservedly made an MBE in 1978, an award widely applauded throughout the piping world. Here was a man who could not have done more for our music and always with a quite, un-assuming demeanour.

After retiring from competition Donald continued to teach, judge and compose. He was the sole judge at Inverness when his erstwhile student Donald Bain, New Zealand, won the Gold Medal with MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart (the tune you’ll hear played on the harp accompanying the slides). Donald helped many others to achieve this accolade all of them outstanding pipers in their own right: P/M Iain Morrison, Angus John MacLellan, John Wilson and Andrew Wright to name a few.

Along with John MacLellan, John MacFadyen and Seumas MacNeill, Donald was instrumental in the establishment of summer schools in North America, particularly, in Donald’s case, in western Canada.

He pioneered the tuition by tape scheme whereby students would be sent lessons on a particular tune always accompanied by his characteristic ‘this is how it might go’ comment. These recordings were the basis for an extensive series of CDs issued by the Lismor label in the 1990s some 220 piobaireachd in all.

The Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition was established in Stornoway in 1994 to honour one of the best pipers of the 20th century. Initiated by the Lewis & Harris Piping Society our top pipers are invited to play Donald’s music. Each April large crowds gather to hear the work of this maestro performed on his native isle.

• Read more on Donald from someone who knew him well, P/M Jim MacWilliams, Saskatchewan, here. Check out the slideshow here.

Bill Livingstone Releases Memoir on Aug 1

Well known piper and solo adjudicator Bill Livingstone from Ontario has announced that he will release a book of his memoirs on August 1. The blurb: Bill Livingstone, record-setting Pipe Major and soloist, will release his memoirs, entitled Preposterous: Tales to Follow, on 1st August 2017. Written by Bill, the 276-page work covers over seven decades of Bill’s life, ranging from his childhood in the tough mining town of Copper Cliff in northern Ontario, Canada, to some of his most high-profile solo and pipe band ventures around the world.

‘This book has been in the works for several years now,” said Bill. ‘Writing it has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions as I have not held back on putting my memories, my views and my feelings out there for everyone to see. Seeing it finished is simultaneously elating and terrifying.’

Preposterous: Tales to Follow will be available for sale online, in hard and softcover, at all major book retailers from 1st August 2017. Hard and soft cover copies will also be available for sale at the Glengarry Highland Games, Ontario, on 4th/5th August 2017, where Bill will officially open the 70th edition of the games as guest of honour. 

A publicity campaign celebrating the release of Bill’s memoirs will roll out over the coming weeks. Go to Bill’s official Facebook page @williamjrlivingstone and for all the latest news and updates. Stay tuned for more special announcements!

A biography released with the book reads: William John Roderick (Bill) Livingstone was born in Copper Cliff, a mining town near Sudbury in northern Ontario. He is a graduate of Laurentian University and of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

Soon after being called to the Bar of Ontario, Bill opened his own law firm in Whitby, Ontario and practiced in the Medical Malpractice field until his retirement in 2013.  He has been married to Lillian for 51 years and still calls Whitby home today.

Bill began his piping career with the Copper Cliff Highlanders Pipe Band, lead by his father, Bill Sr. Growing up, Bill received bagpipe tutelage from his father and from several of the art’s most legendary names both in Scotland and Canada. 

Bill has captured almost every major prize available in both light music and piobaireachd. Bill was one of the first serious North American solo competitors to join the competitive circuit in Scotland and one of the first non-Scots to win the Highland Society of London Gold Medal.

Bill holds the distinction of being the only person in history to have led a Grade One band to a World Championship and to have won a Clasp for piobaireachd at the Northern Meeting in Inverness, Scotland (1981 & 1984).

As Pipe Major of the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band of Toronto, 1981 – 2010, Bill led the band to its most famous achievements, including victory at the 1987 World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, which marked the first time ever that a non-Scottish band took the top prize.

Bill has produced several solo recordings, six pipe band recordings, including the landmark 1987 Live in Ireland concert, and two collections of music. He is currently in high demand as a teacher and adjudicator around the world and is a member of the Grade 1 Toronto Police Pipe Band.

Prominent pipers and drummers have been gives pre-reads of chapters of the book. Here are some of the comments:

‘It’s filled with gossip, insight, history, laughter, tragedy and a little bit of payback — all packaged within Bill’s delightful gift for language.’ – Jim McGillivray

‘Written with wit and humour. To hear the stories from the horse’s mouth was fascinating.’ – P/M Richard Parkes MBE, Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band

 ‘I found it fascinating…I couldn’t put it down.’ – P/M Stuart Liddell, Inveraray & District Pipe Band

 ‘A real eye-opener and entirely relatable…I see myself in him.’ – L/D Stephen Creighton, St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band

PP Ed’s Blog: John McGregor Letter/ Scots Guards Juniors/ Highland League/ Alden Biesen

Grateful to piping historian Keith Sanger for forwarding this letter from the Blair Castle archives. It is dated 1830 and is by Perthshire piper John McGregor. It mentions his (McGregor’s) winning the prize pipe and Angus MacKay (pictured above) coming second. MacKay is intimated as piper to the Duke of Gordon which is news to me. I understood that before royal service with Queen Victoria he was with the Laird of Islay, hence his tune Farewell to the Laird of Islay. 

In 1830 Angus would have been aged just 17 or 18 and perhaps already working on his monumental collection of piobaireachd. I would be interested in anything further on his time as piper to the Duke of Gordon if anyone has the time to research the muniments. As regards the letter it is clear that a piper in service in the 1830s was a busy man.

The letter reads: ‘Drumcharry, 15th August 1830: ‘Sir, I take the liberty of writing the following lines to inform you that I regret much that I happened to be from home when Mr Graham and Dr Niven was [sic] in this country. I have been from home all last week. I was at Taymouth on Monday and at Bridge of Tilt on Tuesday night, at Edradour on Wednesday, on Thursday at Urrard and at Foss on Friday, so it was Saturday before I got home. I find that Mr Graham was very anxious for to see me but first time you write him please to let him know that if I had known of his being in this country that I would certainly be home in time for to see him.

The 1830 letter from John McGregor

‘On the 24th of June I attended the Bannockburn Society where I have competed and won the prize pipes and one Angus MacKay got the second prize. He had named himself as PIper to the Duke of Gordon and I suppose that if he has engaged this lad that his Grace is not going abroad as he intended. I remain with due respect, Sir, your most obedient and humble servant, John McGregor.’

Read more about Angus here and read about his memorial on the banks of the River Nith in Dumfriesshire here.

Still on letters from illustrious pipers, read Duncan Watson on the new pipes v old article of a couple of weeks ago here.

Reminder for all those planning to play at the National Mod in Lochaber in October – entries close on July 7.

Patrick Molard tells me that he will be in Skye this summer filming more footage for his piobaireachd film. It’s due out in 2018.

The Scots Guards Junior Solos will be held on October 21 at the Army School, Inchdrewer House, Edinburgh. This is a very well run event and I would encourage all young pipers to give it their support. Under 15 and 18 events. Entry form here.

John Milne Fine Arts Highland League placings after Drumtochty Games:

1 equal Gordon McCready and Faye Henderson on 4 points                          2 equal Eddie Gaul and Ben Duncan on 3
3 equal Calum Brown and Allan Russell on 2
4 equal Bruce Macdonald and Alan Clark on 1

1 Calum Brown                                       17
2 Eddie Gaul                                             10
3 Brighde Chaimbeul                           8
4 Gordon McCready                            6
4 Allan Russell                                         6
4 Lewis White                                          6
5 Ben Duncan                                           5
6 John MacDonald                                3
6 Alan Clark                                               3

Rudi Schils of the Scottish Weekend, Alden Biesen, Belgium, has sent this: ‘Every year, about 20,000 Scotland lovers and Celtic culture enthusiasts descend to the Scottish Weekend at Alden Biesen to be submerged in the Scottish-Celtic culture. Visitors will be able to enjoy the Belgian Pipe Band competition, the Highland Dancing competition, the Highland Games, the folk artists, the Scottish market and different (children’s) entertainment all weekend long!  Folks wanting to participate in the Highland Games, Pipe band competition, Dance competition, etc… can register now through our website.

The organisation is proud to offer our visitors a chance to enjoy the Band of Welsh Guards, one of the best military bands in the world, visiting the Scottish Weekend on both Saturday and Sunday. As part of The Massed Bands of the Household Division, they accompany the Queen in the UK at all official gatherings. They will perform for us on Saturday and Sunday! Book your tickets and camp site allotment now in pre-sale and enjoy special discounts.
More information at: As you can see, a visit to the Scottish Weekend will certainly be worth your while on September 8, 9 or 10, at the Landcommandery of Alden Biesen.

Historic Video Recording of Donald MacPherson Saved For Posterity

An important, good quality video of a recital given by the late Donald MacPherson has been saved from the waste bin thanks to the inquisitiveness and diligence of an Irish piper. 
The recital was given by Donald in the Crookhaven Hotel in County Cork in 1990. Introduced by local stalwart Noel O’Mahony, Donald gives a brilliant demonstration of ceol beag and ceol mor. His mastery of the instrument and its music is a lesson for pipers everywhere. He plays for around 35 minutes finishing with the piobaireachd, Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar.
Ronan Maguire, a leading piper with the former World Champion St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band, takes up the story: ‘I was about to throw out an old video recorder recently and I could see there was a tape stuck in it.

‘The eject mechanism didn’t work, so I had to pull it apart to get the tape out. Eventually I did and was delighted that it turned out to be a recording of a recital featuring Donald MacPherson, from Cork in 1990 so it was definitely worth saving for posterity.