Category Archives: History

PP Ed’s Blog: Two New Books Reviewed/ Northern Winter School/ South Florida

I am always struck by the gratitude of students. At last year’s Northern Winter School Horst Krauss  presented me with this fine book ‘The Bagpipe – The History of a European Folk Instrument in Pictures’ by Fritz Schneider. The well-written text is in four languages, including English, and is graced with  beautifully reproduced photographs. It says this about the GHB:

‘The British brought the Scottish bagpipe to the once worldwide British Empire. That is why the ‘Great Highland Bagpipe’ became the generally most famous of all bagpipes. It is still played in the army and police of several countries that have been independent for many years. The fact that the instrument is played in bands, the members of which are dressed in eye-catching costumes [see pic up top the book uses to illustrate this point], contributed to its fame….The instrument differs from other types… in its sound quality. That it is sometimes disliked is caused by the fact that its scale degrees differ slightly (a quarter tone) from the usual scale…which renders its music suitable for leading troops into battle, but sounds off tune to the ear trained to listen to more conventual [sic] music…’

Our instrument’s popularity probably has as much to do with the quality of the music and striking nature of its delivery than anything else, and this off-key explanation is always overstated in my view. Usually the writer has only ever heard street pipers – those we still encounter destroying our music and our instrument’s image on the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The book also peddles the music hall myths surrounding the GHB and has this cartoon from the now defunct ‘Punch’ satirical magazine. The soldier has survived the rigours of the Crimean War only to be knocked on his back by a piper: 

It features these super reproductions, the first of artist David Wilkie’s painting (1813) of  a lowland piper, well-known to all elbow pipers:  

and this one of from a steel engraving c.1840 by Edwin Tyrell after a painting by Thomas Sword Good, 1822: The book, 170 pages full colour, is a high quality publication. It comes highly recommended and is available online at Many thanks to Horst for his kindness. The book is now safely ensconced in the PP reference library.

• Registrations for the 2018 Northern Winter School (Nov 2 – 9) open mid-March.

Whilst on the book review kick, another new volume of 46 compositions ‘inspired by the landscape and nature of Scotland that bring a fresh voice to the world of pipe music’ has come my way from Munlochy -based composer Hilary de Vries. It comes with this glowing tribute from Allan MacDonald, Glenuig now Edinburgh: ‘I found myself after only a quick surmise of the book, humming The Barley Skimmers without me knowing it until I re-discovered it written on the page in front of me. This is the ultimate test of a good tune – the old grey whistle test, or worm that you cannot rid of until you play it! There are more within……’

Allan also plays the music on an accompanying CD on smallpipes. Here’s the track he mentions ‘The Barley Skimmers’, also the title track of the book:

The ‘Barley Skimmers’ is available for £15 + P&P from Boarstone Publishing.

This letter from me has been sent to all our students: ‘Only a few days to go until we all get together for the fourth South Florida Pipe & Drum Academy. Your instructors are looking forward to meeting you all and to spending some really valuable time with you: teaching, listening and learning. We will combine the very highest quality world-­‐class instruction with an understanding that it cannot be all work and no play.

‘We will be with you throughout the day, and during that time we will have plenty of down time when we can socialize and share our common interest in piping and drumming. If we don’t enjoy this then what’s the point!! That said, our and your enjoyment will be that much more if we can make some good progress with your piping and drumming. This is of paramount importance to your tutors.

The South Florida class of ’15

‘We want you to leave the school a better piper or drummer than when you joined. So hard work will be required -­‐ but after we can let our hair down (assuming that unlike me that you have any) and have a good time in each other’s company. Please remember to bring your instruments, chanters, drum pads, cameras, phones, recorders, tuners, pencils, notebooks and any other equipment that will help you enjoy your experience at SFPDA 2018.

‘You should feel free to record all lessons and performances, the better to have something to refer to in the weeks and months following the school. Finally, can I thank you for your support for the Academy. Our long-­term aim is to effect a serious improvement in piping and drumming in South Florida. To that extent you are all pioneers and I hope that in years to come you will be able to pass on the knowledge you have gained at the Academy to future generation of Floridian pipers and drummers.’

PP Ed’s Blog: Mull School Pipers/ Duncan Lamont/ N Ireland Fundraiser

Just back from a very enjoyable weekend on Mull teaching the kids at Tobermory High School. Calum MacLean is the local schools teacher and given that he only has two days a week to cover the whole island and neighbouring Iona it is remarkable that he can turn out a band at all.

In total he has 48 boys and girls all learning pipes. It augurs well for the future of piping on these islands. I hope we see some of them competing in the juniors at Tobe games in the summer. During our lessons we spent a lot of time working on the basics of timing, fingering and tuning and then had a small class on piobaireachd. The kids and Calum are pictured above. All success to them at the forthcoming Scottish Schools Piping Championship.

Duncan Lamont (r) and ?

In the evenings Calum and I spent some time talking of the old pipers on Mull, men such as Duncan Lamont (whose career we have already covered extensively on PP). Calum has a lot of Duncan’s old music collection and included in it are the following tunes. The first is the Coronation Hornpipe by P/M J Robertson, Banff, he of Farewell to the Creeks fame, friend of GS McLennan and tutor of P/M Joe Wilson. There can’t have been many hornpipes around in the early 50s. This one seems to be dated 1954 (see bottom left):

Isn’t it a fine thing to have these tunes written in the composer’s own hand? Here’s another by P/M Robertson:

I presume ‘Cairneywhind’ or ‘Cairneywhing’ is somewhere in the north east. Finally a tune by a George Grant. Any relation to William Grant, Strathdon, composer of the Lonach Gathering?:

Duncan Lamont must have been well thought of to have these composers sending him handwritten copies of their tunes. If anyone has further information on them I’d be obliged if you could forward it and thanks to Calum for permission to have them published on PP.

Congrats to all those who took part in the major Northern Ireland fundraiser at the weekend. John Kelly reports: A charity event ‘Kids with Cancer’ held at the Royal Hotel Cookstown on Saturday 17th February raised a significant amount for the Children’s Cancer Unit, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.  Organised by Gary Smyth (Leading Drummer of Quinn Memorial Pipe Band), the fundraising event was attended by over 250 pipe band enthusiast and friends.

Stephen Creighton and the SLoT drum corps

An impressive line up of pipe bands, pipers and drummers took part including former Ahoghill man Steven McWhirter, who recently won his eighth World Solo drumming title. Steven, a former member of Cullybackey Pipe Band, is now Lead Drummer of current world champions, Inveraray and District.

Richard, Gary and Steven

Also taking part were: Pipe Major Richard Parkes MBE and a mini band of fourteen members of eleven times World Champions Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, St Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band Drum Corps, Tullylagan Pipe Band Drum Corps and Bernagh Folk Group.  Pipers included:  Senior Ulster Solo Piping Champion (2017) Ashley McMichael, Glenn Ross and Ryan Cupples-Menendez (Field Marshal) and Ian Burrows (Drumlough Pipe Band).

FM mini band on stage

Snare drummers included:  Steven McWhirter and Chris McNicholl (Inveraray), Stephen Creighton and Michael McKenna (St Laurence O’Toole), Gareth McLees (Field Marshal), William Glenholmes (Vale of Atholl), Daniel Lynn (Cullybackey), John Scullion and John Lappin.

Tullylagan performing at the ‘Kids with Cancer’ charity event

Tenor drummers included:  Jordan Bailie (Inveraray) and event organiser Gary Smyth’ son Calum (Quinn Memorial) from Magherafelt.

PP Ed’s Blog: Alasdair at the Games/ MacDonald Mem./ Indian Lady Piper/ Masters of Piobaireachd/ Corby Change

Our Guide to the Games is proving very popular even after only one day. It gives me the opportunity of running the picture above from the collection of reader Duncan Watson. It is of a young Alasdair Gillies playing at Cawdor Castle games in the 1980s.

Alasdair was a supporter of the games even after he achieved what you might call piping’s equivalent of superstar status. Too many of our top professional shun the smaller games today. Not Alasdair; nothing he enjoyed more than having a tune and some crack in the outdoors. With the Gold Medals, Clasps etc comes a responsibility to support piping in every way possible and that includes getting out to Ceres, to Blair, to Pitlochry, to Morar and to Arisaig.

So come on you big boys, make a pledge for this summer not to confine your fresh air activity to Inveraray. If the games were good enough for the great P/M Alasdair Gillies they are good enough for you.

Read more about Alasdair in our ‘Famous Pipers’ column here and here he is performing at Luss:

If any reader has old piping or pipe band pix they’d like to share with the rest of our community please forward them on to the usual address. Having these pictures published is a rewarding way of re-kindling memories. And the pictures needn’t be from the top end of our endeavour. Everyone makes their contribution, therefore we are interested in snaps from all levels of the piping and pipe band spectrum.

MacDonald Mem

Northern Ireland correspondent John Kelly: McDonald Memorial Pipe Band and McDonald Academy Pipe Band hosted a great evening of food and craic at a Quiz and Social Night in Dromore Rugby Club on Friday 2ndFebruary.  The quizmaster was Gary McDonald.  The McDonald Academy Pipe Band hope to make their debut appearance in pipe band competitions in the second half of the season, possibly at the Ulster Championships at Newcastle on Saturday 21st July.

Indian piper Archy Jay has sent this from Delhi: ‘It’s a great honour for me that the Indian government has presented me with a National Award and Recognition at the President’s House for being India’s first Professional Female Bagpiper. This event was organized to honour about 112 ladies from India who are the first to excel in their field and the first to do what they do. In a country where people don’t even know what a bagpipe is very well. I was chosen for that instrument and officially bagpipes has now come under an award category which makes me immensely proud! I would love to share this news with the piping community.  I play the semi electronic bagpipes called red pipes. I play the medieval bagpipe model of the red pipe.’Well done Archy on getting the instrument recognised and on your award.

Received the latest royalty statement from Greentrax Recordings re sales of the Masters of Piobaireachd CDs. Still trickling out the door after many years and I think the benefit is being heard on the boards – though some could do with re-referring. The great thing about these CDs is that they represent traditional teaching, the carrying stream of knowledge. It is very easy in piping to drift off the timing you thought you were applying to a given piece. A quick listen to Messrs Brown and Nicol and you realise where you were going wrong.

Norman Matheson MBE, on whose collection these CDs were based, deserves enormous thanks from the piobaireachd loving community worldwide. He has been recognised by HRH Prince Charles for his service to piping on Deeside (below) but it is time the wider piping community acknowledged his contribution to our music.
By the way the royalties referred to go to a very deserving Highland games charity.

Prince Charles and Norman

The RSPBA have announced a change to their Diary: Corby will be on July 15 not July 8 as advertised. Get other band dates here.

Guide to the Games/ Pipe Band Drum Corps Recordings from 1970

The  Piping Press Guide to the Games 2018 is published today. It is based on that of the Scottish Highland Games Association and we are grateful to them for the information. Apart from the dates, this list does not profess to be complete or totally accurate. We have done our best with the available information. 

The list has been published as early as possible to allow pipers and enthusiasts to plan their summer and to encourage them to get out and have a tune in the outdoors among Scotland’s celebrated scenery. Many of the smaller games have been suffering from lack of attendance with the larger graded games attracting big numbers. But the small games are important too and they will only survive if pipers make the effort to support them. Rain and midges aside there is nothing quite like the Highland Games circuit in Scotland as those who have experienced the camaraderie and musical fun will affirm. Don’t let it die!

Winner of the Jigs, Brian Lamond, Fife, playing at Pitlochry Games 2017

We welcome any further information and corrections; please forward these to and we will update the list as soon as possible. Some of the secretaries listed may be for the general games with other individuals responsible for the piping. We would be obliged if those involved could let us have this additional information if available.

Please check before entering or travelling. Get the 2018 PP Guide to the Games here. Entries for the prestigious Braemar Gold Medal are now open. Click here. The picture up top is of the 2017 winner Anna Kummerlöw, Germany.

If any games would like to advertise their event on Piping Press please download the Advertising Booking Form here. Cost is £50 for one month with a guaranteed readership of 10,000+ per week.

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Steve Rooklidge (left), who featured in yesterday’s story about a new piping radio show, has kindly forwarded an interesting pipe band recording from his collection. Steve writes: ‘I found something that may interest you. I have a cassette tape that was recorded at the Cowal Games in 1970.

‘It was recorded by Bill Wendeborn; he was my first drumming instructor and owned a specialty shop in Portland, Oregon, called British Imports Ltd.  Some veteran pipers and drummers still around may remember Bill and his wife ‘Granny’ Clarke when they hosted many of the regimental bands that passed through the Pacific Northwest in the 1960s to early 1980s.
Alex Duthart and his Shotts corps rom the late 1950s

‘When Bill would travel to Scotland he would wander about the games recording drum corps especially, and this audio file shows that meandering on/off recording he did.  Strange and delightful things pop up.  There is Duthart running his corps through the paces of the famous Hills of Alva medley, and others with no names.

‘I’d be greatly interested if some old timers can pick out their bands in the background. There is great elegance in the simplicity of some of these drum scores, and I think some modern bands, particularly of lower grades, should listen carefully.  Great stuff is timeless!’

Check out the recording here. If anyone can identify the relevant drum corps please email us with the approximate time from the recording. That way we will be able to build up a list of who is actually playing on the tape.

PP Ed’s Blog: Band Numbers Poll Result/ Piob Soc Recital/ Ulster Petition to BBC

I think it is a bit far-fetched for yesterday’s Sunday Mail newspaper to say there is a boycott of the Worlds over band sizes. Quite the opposite with record numbers signing up every year. 

Still, good that they picked up on the Wall Street Journal story and gave the issue some publicity as best they could. Shouldn’t expect the SM to get everything right and I had a laugh at the sub-editor’s blundering ‘American Pipe Major Robert Wallace’ line.

I say again, my view is 20 playing pipers should be plenty for any band with 25 max registration. Readers seem to agree that something needs to be done with a huge proportion of the votes in our poll in favour of a cap. Here are the figures:

So 73% of respondents want some sort of legislation on the issue with over half convinced there would be more quality bands around if numbers were capped. It’s over to the RSPBA now to see if there is the will to enact a change to their rules.

The Piobaireachd Society have announced that they are promoting a major recital of ceol mor in Edinburgh in August. Four pipers will play  a selection of tunes in continuous fashion (no tuning!). The venue is the beautiful 200-seat St Cecilia’s Hall and the date August 12. The plan is to keep the evening as affordable as possible so tickets for this must see event will not be too expensive. They will be available via the Fringe box office in due course.

The show will follow the format pioneered by Allan MacDonald at the Edinburgh Festival it must be oh, 20 years ago now. First piper walks in playing his tune and out on the return to the ground. As he does so he is met by the next piper making his way into the auditorium. As one tune decreases in volume so the other grows; somewhere in the middle there is an amazing cross-pollination of melody before the new tune achieves pre-eminence.

St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh. Not seen is the cupola which lends light and an airy feel to this delightful performance space

The packed audience for Allan’s show was ecstatic at the result. Pipers back then were myself, Roderick MacLeod, William McCallum, William MacDonald (Benbecula) and Barnaby Brown playing an eclectic mix of tunes. I’m sure Aug 12 will produce a similar response to that evening especially when we see the expert pipers who are taking part:  Ian K MacDonald (pictured top playing at Glenfinnan), Jamie Forrester, Callum Beaumont and Glenn Brown. Four of the very best. A printed programme with notes on the pipers and the tunes will obviate the need for any announcements. Refreshments will be available at the evening’s conclusion (circa. 9.30pm).

St Cecilia’s Hall is a particularly apt venue. Not only has it been tastefully refurbished by its owners Edinburgh University, but they have a fine collection of pipes and other musical instruments on show (bellows pipes above). Therefore if you get cornered by some boring pibrochologist you can wander off and look at the display.

Alastair Campbell of the Inverness Piping Society: ‘An update on our recitals. In addition to Willie MacCallum, we are delighted that Roddie MacLeod has also confirmed he will give a recital in April. The dates are: Willie MacCallum 23 March 2018, Roddie MacLeod 20 April 2018. We look forward to seeing you on both occasions.’

Brilliant drummer Mark Wilson is the popular host of the ‘Pipes and Drums’ show

I hope everyone will support the Northern Ireland branch of the RSPBA in their bid to have their pipe band show restored to its former frequency. Ian Burrows of the RSPBANI writes: ‘BBC Radio Ulster has reduced Mark Wilson’s Pipes and Drums Radio programme to just a summer series for 2018, which is only six programmes. This is a reduction from 16 programmes two years ago. Please click here to sign the petition for the BBC to restore it to 16 programmes.’