Category Archives: History

PP Ed’s Blog: Inveraray PB/ BB Exhibition/ Pipers’ Persuasion/ Judges Poll/ Jubilee March

I hear Inveraray Pipe Band are to pipe in the New Year on BBC Scotland’s Hogmanay television show. It caps off a great year for the band after they were crowned World Champions on Glasgow Green last August.

Add to that the fact that P/Sgt Alasdair Henderson won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting and Leading Drummer Steven McWhirter the World Solos and you can see that the band has something to celebrate come the bells welcoming in 2018. Hearty congratulations to them. Here’s Steven winning the drumming with a little help from Callum Beaumont, another Inveraray champion piper:

Still in Argyll, Allan Hamilton tells me that he has completed video interviews with I’ray P/M Stuart Liddell and Angus MacColl, the latest in the Pipers Persuasion series. The videos will go live possibly at the end of the month; watch PP for notification. This series has become increasingly important as time takes its toll. Thanks to Allan we have interviews with recently deceased luminaries such as Lt Col David Murray.

I met Allan at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow yesterday to do a voiceover and film for him on the exhibition celebrating the founding of the Boys Brigade in Glasgow in 1883 by Sir William Smith. In a remarkable coincidence a woman, Mrs Irene McClue, was there from Melbourne, Australia. She  overheard me talking about the 214 BB company, Gordon Park Church and our minister the Rev. Harry Thompson. Mrs McClue rightly interrupted to tell us that that was the company her husband, David McClue, formerly of 1237, Dumbarton Road, Whiteinch, Glasgow, and now living near to Melbourne Australia, formerly a BB bugler, had belonged to as a youngster in the 1950s.

Allan kept on filming as she talked of his friendship with Joe Noble the well known drumming judge, and other bits from her time in Glasgow pre-emigration and how the BB was thriving in Australia. I was able to tell her of the 214 ex-members association and asked her to ask her husband to make a short video message for our annual dinner next March. Allan has it all on film and will be making it available once the editing is complete. Serendipitous or what.

Considerable response to my article on judges and when they should retire – and to the accompanying poll. Please let us have your thoughts:

Iain Duncan (pictured), former archivist for the RSPBA, has kindly forwarded this: Taking the opportunity of going through more storage boxes of which I’d forgotten their contents, I came across this curio (attached). It’s an original cutting from the Daily Record and Mail (presumably the forerunner of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail) of Monday, 6th May 1935.  It looks like there was more newspaper interest in piping back in those days, certainly enough to promote a tune composing competition.  Some interesting gracing and inconsistencies in the notation and it’s surprising that whoever adjudicated the entries did not even sort things out for the composer. I’ve checked my big tune index and there is no sign of it ever having been followed up. Anyway, hope you find it of some interest.

Very interesting Iain and I see what you mean about the gracing – look at the way the grips and taorluaths were presented as recently as the 1930s (if that is recent). It was these inconsistencies that P/M Willie Ross standardised in his famous collection and all pipe music written today now follows the P/M Ross pattern.

Would that the Daily Record still showed some interest in piping other than children at the Worlds wearing glengarries and licking ice cream and visiting footballers trying to blow sets of plastic pipes. Along with tripods, lenses etc., these used to be standard photographic equipment for the tabloids and probably still are.

Pipers Play Their Part in Remembering the Fallen

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday and pipers and pipe bands around the world will be playing musical tributes to the fallen of past and present wars.

Over in Northern Ireland earlier this week (on Monday) Raffrey Pipe Major Francis Strain (Ulster Defence Regimental Association, Belfast) was the lone piper at the official opening of the Belfast Field of Remembrance.

John Kelly reports: A short act of remembrance was led by the Rev Canon Samuel McVeigh MBE (Northern Ireland Chaplain of the Royal British Legion), Rev Dr Isaac Thompson (Regimental Chaplain, Royal Irish) and Lt Col Alex Bennett (38 Brigade Senior Padre).

Rev Canon Samuel McVeigh, Lt Col Alex Bennett and Rev Dr Isaac Thompson leading a short act of worship at the official opening

Following the service, buglers played the Last Post and Reveille and Francis played while crosses in tribute to the fallen of two world wars and every conflict since were placed at the Field of Remembrance. It is situated on the Donegal Square West side of Belfast City Hall, adjacent to the Cenotaph.  The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nuala McAllister, also took part in the commemoration.

Lone piper Francis Strain

Remembrance Sunday is particularly poignant this year given the 100th anniversary of the end of Battle of Passchendaele in WW1. More pipers died in this war than in any other due to the gallant, but disastrous, practice of piping troops ‘over the top’. The following excerpts from ‘The Pipes of War’ by Seton and Grant will give readers an idea of pipers’ bravery amid the horrors of the trenches:

‘It was during the Ypres fighting, where gas was first used against us, that an incident occurred of which the facts are as stated, but unfortunately it has been found impossible to get the names of the men concerned. The men looking into the storm of shells ….. and at the awful cloud of death now almost on them, wavered, hung back – only for a moment. And who will dare to blame them?

‘Two of the battalion pipers who were acting as stretcher bearers saw the situation in a moment. Dropping their stretcher they made for their dug-out and emerged a second later with their pipes. They sprang on to the parapet, tore of their respirators and charged forward. Fierce and terrible the wild notes cleft the air…after fifteen yards the pibroch ceased, the two pipers choked and suffocated, staggered and fell…

‘…….The attack…..on the Hohenzollern Redoubt was accompanied by fearful casualties, with uncut wire in front in an atmosphere heavily laden with gas, exposed to machine gun fire in front and flank, the 6th KOSB, 10th and 11th HLI and 9th Seaforths were decimated. The KOSB were played over the top by their veteran Pipe Major Robert MacKenzie, an old soldier of 42 years service. He was severely wounded and died the following day…..

‘…The heroism of the pipers was splendid. In spite of murderous fire they continued playing. At one moment, when the fire of the machine guns was so terrific that it looked as if the attack must break down, a Seaforth piper dashed forward in front of the line and started Cabar Feidh. The effect was instantaneous – the sorely pressed men braced themselves together and charged forward. The Germans soon got to realise the value of the pipes and tried to pick off the pipers…

‘….The Tynesiders were on our right and as they got the signal to advance I saw a piper, I think he was the Pipe Major, jump out of the trench and march straight towards the German lines. The tremendous rattle of the machine guns completely drowned the sound of the pipes, but he was obviously playing as though he would burst the bag and faintly through the roar of battle we heard the mighty cheer his comrades gave as they swarmed after him.

‘How he escaped I can’t understand, for the ground was literally ploughed up by the hail of bullets; but he bore a charmed life and the last glimpse I had of him as we too dashed out, showed him still marching erect, playing on regardless of the flying bullets and of the men dropping all round him…….Of the two battalions, 10 pipers were killed and five wounded and Pipe Major Wilson and Piper G Taylor both got the Military Medal….’

This page from the book tells its own story:Read more on pipers and pipe music from WW1 here.

History: Pipers, Piping and Pipe Music in the Seaforth Highlanders 1778 -1924, Part 2

Today we continue with our abridged excerpts from the above book by Ian Hamilton Mackay Scobie. The book was published in 1924 and is now out of print. This excerpt talks of regimental dress and has an interesting take on piobaireachd, with the suggestion that it can only be played properly by pipers from the ‘North’. Above is a picture of Seaforth militia pipers in 1880 under P/M Ronald MacKenzie…. 

From earliest times, as we have seen, the Pipe Major carried the Regimental Banner, which was that of the Colonel’s, on great occasions, the other pipers carrying those of their captains. The banners always bore the badge of the regiment on one side  and, latterly, the private crest of the officer on the other, the Colonel’s banner, in addition having the Union [Jack] in the top inside corner.

In the 72nd however, the custom of embroidering the officers’ own crest on their banners appears to be of comparative recent origin, certainly not dating further back than the 70s of last century. The Colonel’s banner has not always borne the Union flag.

In matters of dress, the pipers of the 72nd ( as in other Highland corps) wore the same uniform as the rank and file, although armed with the broadsword up to 1809. During the period 1808 to 1823, when the regiment lost the Highland garb, the pipers, who were retained, wore ordinary line uniform….. On the 72nd resuming the Highland dress, but with trews, in 1824, the pipers wore the kilt and plaid of Stuart tartan, red and white (soon change to Stuart tartan) hose and buckled shoes…They had a black leather shoulder belt, broadsword, sporran and red hackle in the feather bonnet. To these appointments were added a waist belt, dirk and a shoulder brooch, circa. 1840.

In about 1850, a green doublet and blue glengarry bonnet were taken into wear. This dress lasted, with few alterations or additions, until 1822 when the regiment became the 1st Seaforth Highlanders. The tartan was then changed to MacKenzie and the pattern of the badges worn altered to suit the new title of the regiment.

Kenneth MacKenzie, 7th Earl of Seaforth 1744 -1781. He raised, and was first Colonel of, the 1st Seaforth Highlanders, the old 72nd Regiment

In regard to music, until about 1850, the ‘Ceol Mòr’ (Big Music), or Piobaireachd, was the only music permitted to be played, except when on the march, when the ‘Ceol Aotrum’ (Small Music), i.e. marches and quicksteps were allowed, or, for dancing, reels, strathspeys and jigs. After the above date the ‘small music’ supplanted the longer and more difficult ceol mòr, the later, however, still being played on guest nights in the Officers’ Mess and on certain other occasions either by the Pipe Major or a selected piper.

All pipers do not now learn piobaireachd, although no piper is a finished performer until he can play and has a fair knowledge of the classical or ‘big’ music. The word ‘piobaireachd’ in English, is ‘piping’ simply, but in time it has come to mean the Big Music (Ceol Mòr). This word has sometimes been shortened to ‘piobrach’ but  it is now more commonly (phonetically) spelt in English as ‘pibroch’. To Sir Walter Scott we owe this style of spelling which he adopted for his English readers.

Piobaireachd is usually of five different kinds: The Cruiuneachadd (Gathering), Failte (Salute), Cumha (Lament), Caismeachd (War Tune) and Spaidsearachd (March).

Besides these there are numerous descriptive pieces, especially those commemorative of battles. A Piobaireachd, a lengthy piece of music, may be defined as a theme with variations and is the symphony of bagpipe music. To a person, however musical, who has not heard this species of music before, it may seem, with its strange and peculiar passages, to be devoid of meaning or musical interest.

On being accustomed to hear it, however, he will soon appreciate its worth and genius when well played. To properly understand piobaireachd one must be of the North and familiar with the circumstances under which the tunes were composed.

A piobaireachd is divided into parts, the first being the ‘urlar’ (the groundwork, adagio or simple melody), followed by its variations which are termed the ‘suibhal’ [shoo – al] and the taorluath and their doublings. These become more complex and intricate until the piece concludes with the crunluath, the final or closing part, with its quick and open movements and, in the larger pieces its tripling (i.e. crunluath breabach, crunluath fosgailte and crunluath a mach). A crunluath is properly finished by repeating the urlar and thus is similar to what is known among musicians as a ‘rondeau’, i.e. a piece of music ending with the repetition of the first part.

To be continued. Read the first instalment of this feature here.

History: Pipers, Piping and Pipe Music in the Seaforth Highlanders 1778 -1924

Today we begin abridged excerpts from the above book by Ian Hamilton Mackay Scobie. The book was published in 1924 and is now out of print. It contains interesting details on the origins of titles such as ‘Pipe Major’ and the author also comments on drums drowning out pipes, questions whether playing in a band helps the piper’s playing and gives a date for the formation of the first pipe bands. Above is a picture of Seaforth militia pipers in 1880 under P/M Ronald MacKenzie…. 

‘My Loss, My Loss, without Three Hands
Two for the Pipe and One for the Sword’
– Clan MacDougall’s Incitement to Battle (about 1299)

Pipe music has always been fostered and kept up in the 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders and the regiment has produced many excellent pipers during its existence. On the raising of the regiment in 1778, each company, and there were ten companies in those days, had its own piper provided and maintained by the captain. In time however, a Pipe Fund was raised and contributed to annually by the officers.

The Earl of Seaforth’s piper was the ‘head piper’ or Piper Major as that position was then called, afterwards changed to Pipe Major and later on officially to Sergeant Piper [in 1822].

In 1920 Sir Bruce Seton wrote in his ‘Pipes of War’: ‘Throughout the Army there is, and always has been, a strong objection to the title of Sergeant Piper which in official parlance is employed instead of Pipe Major. No one ever calls a Pipe Major a Sergeant Piper…and the withdrawal of this modern and indefensible title could result in nothing but good. As there is no financial aspect involved in the change, it would be a graceful and inexpensive concession to a body of men to whom the Army and the nation owe much.’

Pipers, as we shall see later, were not officially recognised in the Army until the year 1854, but they were always kept up and played an important part in the life of all Highland corps, being held in the greatest esteem by officers and men.

The bagpipe has been employed in Scotland and more especially in the Highlands ‘for the purposes of war, to heighten mirth and lighten labour, for marriages, to dance to, as well as to bewail the loss of the brave and the honourable and that, perhaps, from remote antiquity.’ In old times the clan pipers were men of high musical attainments. The courses of training which they underwent, lasting most cases over several years at such piping schools as those of the MacCrimmons and MacArthurs, turned out finished performers.

A good piper was not easily made and this was fully recognised, for, as the old Gaelic word has it, ‘to the make of a piper go seven years of his own learning, and seven generations before’. After the drastic changes which took place in the Highlands following upon the rising of 1745, the bagpipe fell upon evil days, and, indeed, might even have become extinct but for its continued use in the Highland regiments raised soon after that date.

After a period of depression lasting from about 1747 to 1781, during which time much of the old music was lost, the bagpipe gradually came into its own again and, at the present day is more of a national instrument than ever, while its cult has spread over the world wherever Scotsmen are to be found. In the late world war [WW1] the pipes played an even greater part than they had in past campaigns.

Up to 1854 the position of Pipe Major was a purely honorary one, the holder of it being a Sergeant or a Lance Sergeant, the other pipers being under him for the purposes of music only, while for discipline they were under the Drum Major. The post was paid out of regimental funds, while in order to get the pipers extra pay they were sometimes appointed drummers. The Pipe Major always belonged to the Colonel’s company….

The duties of the day, as is still the case, were marked by the sound of the pipes from ‘sunrise’ to ‘tap-to’. At mess, a piper played to the officers before and during dinner, the regiment assembled to the strains of the pipe, and a piper accompanied all fatigue and market parties to and from the barracks.

The pipes were always used in the Highlands as an aid to labour. When engaged in works of strength and joint tasks such as launching a large boat and the like, the Highlanders commonly employed a piper to regulate the time. Similarly, when thickening the new-proven plaiding or working at the harvest, they did so to the sound of the pipe. In the harvest field the piper generally kept behind the slowest worker. When the inhabitants of Skye were occupied in making roads in the year 1786 each party had a piper.

The drums and fifes and pipes played separately. When fifes were eventually abolished [in Highland regiments], the drum came to be used as an accompaniment to the pipe. Hitherto the pipers had usually played individually when in barracks or in camp. When on the march they had taken post at the head or on the flanks of their company. Only on special occasions did they play together in concert. With the introduction of the drum however the pipe band as we now know it, came into being.

Whether this was to the betterment of the individual piper as a player or not is open to question. To march to, pipes and drums cannot be excelled, the tendency however, being often to drown the pipe with too much drum.

To be continued.

PP Ed’s Blog: Glenfiddich/ Strachur/ Bobby MacLeod/ Scots Guards KO

‘Charlie’ posted a comment on the Glenfiddich results report asking if I will be doing a critique on this year’s performances. The answer is no Charlie. They don’t invite me I’m afraid. The last time I was there, in 2014, I had to ask for a press pass. People might not realise it but behind all the smiles and bonhomie on display …..

My report that year mentioned that the audience seating was sore on the backside and that it was time they had tuning lights, and on another occasion I reported that it was time they stopped allowing the competitors to submit the same ‘pot boiler’ tunes year after year. None of that went down too well. You would have thought that after forty odd years they would be mature enough to accept fair comment.

2017 Glenfiddich Champion Jack Lee

Anyway, my situation is unimportant and I would like join with all our readers in offering congratulations to Jack Lee on his success.  Some good news too for the Canadian west coast still in grief after the tragic loss of Andrew Bonar. After winning the Former Winners’ MSR at Oban Jack hinted that he might only be competing for one more year ‘to see how that goes’. Clearly there’s a lot of good playing left in the man so let’s hope he keeps at it for a few years more and I should imagine he’ll be back to defend his G’fidd title next year.

Congratulations are also in order for Sandy Jones on winning the Balvenie Medal for Services to Piping. Sandy has done an inordinate amount of work spreading the piping word throughout North America with his academy of piping and drumming. Forty-five years and still going strong.