Category Archives: Pipe Bands

More Memories of Donald Mackinnon, Skye & Queensland

Reader Catherine Herzig has kindly shared her recollections of life and times with war hero and piper Donald Mackinnon. This is  a warm, personal memoir which gives a real feel for the man’s humanity and dedication to his music. We are grateful to Cath for sharing it with us. The picture above is of Donald in KOSB rig piping during the Korean War.

I was 12 when I had to take a year off Highland dancing due to knee issues and decided to learn the pipes while I waited for the knees to heal. Mum took me to Donald when he was living in Wavell Heights, a suburb of Brisbane. I learnt from Donald between the ages of 12 – 15. What an immense privilege. He had an enormous impact on my view of life. I had lessons with him each Saturday morning at his house and I remember having a group lesson as well in the hall at Wavell Heights High School.

Poor Donald used to lament our combined inabilities when it came to learning canntaireachd and also our laziness when it came to practice. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the other students very well. I do remember that we enjoyed ourselves learning as a group but my favourite times were always when I had my private lessons.

Donald always played along as I learnt the tunes and that was how I think he taught me musicality. I also had mum who was a fantastic violinist and she would help me at home when I practiced, talking about the value of each note, and between them both they passed on that piping, or any music for that matter, was about singing from the heart.  And Donald would always sing.

He’d sing and we’d laugh. His wife Ina was wonderful and she and mum would sit and listen as we played. I do remember being introduced to Lewis Turrell from New Zealand who was a lovey bloke and he used to have lessons with Donald as well. [Iain Bruce, who gave us the initial story on Donald, tells us that there are six of Donald’s tunes in the Lewis Turrell Collection of Bagpipe Music. Get the book here for only $15CAD.]

One funny memory I have was when Donald was taking me to the Callies Club. His mate arrived and he and Donald had one for the road before we set out – a rather large Vegemite jar of a light brown liquid! Those were the days.

In WW2, he started in Spitfires then got transferred to Mustangs.  I think that must have been when US joined the war and provided Britain with the planes because, from memory, Mustangs were American.

The Mustangs had a big air scoop underneath. Following one operation the rest of his squadron had come in but Donald was late.  From the barracks, Ina saw his plane coming in.  The scoop had been shot up badly and was actually facing sideways as he landed.  She remembered seeing a plane coming in to land at the airfield near the barracks where they once lived, smoke billowing everywhere and she said to herself, ‘That’ll be Donald’ – and it was. 

There was also the time his plane got shot down over either the North Sea or the English Channel too. The rafts provided were very small and his head was sticking out one end and his feet, the other.  He was picked up by a motor torpedo rescue boat. Dad was pretty sure it wasn’t the only time he was shot down.

Donald’s Korean War regiment, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, won a prize for step ups. Apparently, it was competition  to see how fit the men were. Donald said that the regiment made the last bayonet charge for the British Army. Dad also remembers Donald recounting how he’d play the pipes for the charge then afterwards he’d sit with the boys. He always had two water bottles on his belt and both were filled with Drambuie that he’d share round after the battle.

Dad remembers that Donald really did defy death in surviving his heart operations. Ina apparently had a hand in his survival after the bypass when the doctors took a big blood vessel out of his leg. He heard Ina yelling at him to come back so he did! His leg always caused him a lot of pain after that operation.

When Donald and Ina moved to Ormiston House I thought it was great. The little cottage was gorgeous. I’d sometimes stay for the weekend and have two lessons in a row! We’d also have lessons in Lord Louis Hope’s office in the actual Ormiston House which was Heritage listed. I’d get to wander through that old house at odd times and the grounds were just the most beautiful place to listen to Donald playing his lovely silver-mounted pipes.  

And the old Carmelite nuns loved him. I’d see a few around the grounds who had permission to come out of the monastery. He’d always give a hand when needed and I do remember Donald serving at the altar in the chapel. There’s a bit of a story behind those pipes for sure but not for me to tell. I did get a go of them a few times but they were pretty hard to blow.

Donald Mackinnon in later life

When he lived at Ormiston House he had a big German Shepherd dog. From memory, his name was Kaiser and he loved Queensland nuts. He’d crack the nut, spit the shells out and eat the nut. It was quite a feat knowing how tough the shells were.

Donald managed to get me my own set of pipes. They belonged to Rosie McLelland’s husband. We knew Rosie through the dancing of course. She’d always been in my dancing life and was a beautiful kind generous lady. So I was lucky to have them both. I do remember that Donald had a special recipe for seasoning his bag. He used it in mine as well. He always used honey, whiskey and alum but you had to be careful when you hung the bag up to dry that mice couldn’t get to it.  They loved it.

 He was great mates with Donald MacLeod. I still have my old music case (a hand me down from mum) and it has notes about this piece of music and that from ‘wee’ Donald (MacLeod) to ‘big’ Donald (Mackinnon) and I have a few of his pieces that he wrote in my manuscript book for me along with the exercises he gave me to practice. No computers back then; all by hand and I think so much more personal as a result.

Donald had the biggest heart in every sense. I’m thrilled that someone is looking to write about the great musician that was Donald Mackinnon. Some funny little notes to share. They might be of interest. Lovely, cherished memories for us but they may be too personal or ‘small’ for their purposes in Skye.

Donald’s actually buried in the Cleveland Cemetery here in Redland Bay where I now live. I think Ina’s there with him but there’s no marking on the grave. They were just the loveliest, most warm-hearted couple. Real characters. I’ll always remember Donald as a wonderful man with more music in his little finger than most people will ever dream of possessing.

• Read more on Donald MacKinnon here.

Review: The 2017 British Pipe Band Championships Grade 1 Performances

By Robert Wallace
One of the first rules of journalism is ‘be there’ and if you want to give a detailed and accurate, albeit subjective, account of an important pipe band contest then that is exactly what you have to do.

No amount of social media chatter, summary sheet perusal or YouTube re-runs is in any way a substitute to actually positioning yourself at a suitable coign of vantage and listening and watching the whole contest from start to finish first hand.

At the British Pipe Band Championships on Saturday it was fairly easy to get close to the action and that is what I did. The Grade 1 contest began at 2.15pm and ended near to 5pm. It was cold to begin with but warmed up as the afternoon wore on. Despite others in the crowd talking throughout some of the performances (how annoying is that?) I was able to get a pretty good impression of the playing.

The grade could be split between those who had the chance of a prize and those who didn’t. Two grades would have been ideal from the 16 bands forward. Grades 1A and 1B anyone? I had InverarayFMM, and SLoT vying for top spot with the first named my preference.

A super fifth place finish for Fife Police’s L/D Mick O’Neil and P/M Douglas Murray
Both British Columbia bands were disappointing and I was surprised Dowco placed above SFU. The cold may have been a factor for both bands but they have been coming to chilly Jockoland for many years and should know what to expect. The three newcomers to the grade, PSNI, Buchan Peterson and Johnstone all acquitted themselves well in their new surroundings. They will get better.

The fare was March, Strathspey and Reel, the discipline which truly exposes the technical and musical ability of a band. It may not be as popular with the crowd as the Medley, but be under no illusion about  where the real test of a band’s prowess lies. The discipline suffers in attraction because of the frequency with which we hear the same tunes, nothing else.

A closer look now at the playing……There was a hushed silence as Inveraray and P/M Stuart Liddell, last on, approached the arena. The air of expectation was almost palpable; we were not disappointed. The first few bars showed we had a solid sound with the breadth in the top hand that every band needs. I was slightly taken aback at the lack of phrasing in places in the Links of Forth but the band really came onto a game with their strathspey The Bob of Fettercairn (who knows what a ‘Bob’ is; a dance?) and the reel, Charlie’s Welcome.

One of the star players in the Inveraray line-up is P/Sgt. Alasdair Henderson
Not the most attractive setting of this tune but handled brilliantly by  P/M Liddell and his pipe corps. And what a corps! With pipers such as Finlay Johnston, Calum Beaumont, Greig Canning and Alasdair Henderson in the ranks he can’t have much teaching to do. I heard later that one piper did not get away – not something obvious from where I was standing. If true, the judges, who can now swap such information, were right to keep it in perspective.

Inveraray were deserved winners though the summaries showed only a one point gap to second placed Field Marshal. Full marks to P/M Parkes for selecting an unusual march in Braes of Badenoch (a march better handled than Inveraray’s ‘Links’) but after that FMM seemed to sink into a slough of despond and there was a distinct lack of panache about the strathspey and reel Blair Drummond and Pretty Marion. Maybe it was the cold. FM were third on when conditions were decidedly inhospitable. They displayed a fine quality of fingering throughout discernible even though bass and tenor work was surprisingly heavy-handed at times.

A number of new judges were on training stints at Paisley, amongst them the former Boghall P/M, Ross Walker
Shotts were placed third. They played beautifully with perfectly judged tempi and quality handwork excepting the tachums in the Smith of Chilliechassie which were very clipped. To my ear the chanters were pitched overly high. This really thinned down the top hand and this seemed to be emphasised by their powerful, rich, drone tone. Maybe the band played too much before going on. Everything else is in place for Shotts. More breadth in the top hand and they may have been challenging for top spot, their playing was that good.

St Laurence O’Toole, fourth, had no such chanter worries and tune presentation was top drawer too. I particularly liked the lift and expression in the Shepherd’s Crook especially the way they controlled the run downs beginning with the F to double E at the end of the parts. Maybe they rushed into the reel but it soon settled down. Did the drones drift towards the end or was that a band playing in the nearby Grade 2 arena that I was hearing? This is the advantage the judges have over the critic in the crowd.

One of the greatest drummers of all time, Jim Kilpatrick, spotted in the crowd at the Grade 1 arena
Fife Police, fifth, were big and bold with their work. Going for the jugular from the off, this band showed they were serious about winning. If they faltered then they were not going die wondering. The fact is that they did not falter and were worthy of their fifth prize, perhaps their highest ever placing in a major championship. The only negative for me was a shrillness in the top hand of the chanters. Again it may have been caused by overblowing before the performance. It will be a problem easily solved for a professional reedmaker like P/M Douglas Murray,

I thought the sixth placed band, Scottish Power, had one of the best sounds of the day and well done to them for playing Roderick Campbell’s Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band as their march. Looking at the programme they have ditched the Royal Scottish Pipers Society for 2017; smart move. I thought them a little nervous in the ECPPB however and the phrasing suffered. Like Inveraray, they settled down in the strathspey and reel, and here their precise fingerwork shone through – but are the extra birls in the last part of Loch Carron really necessary? A fine band who can look forward to the other majors with relish.

Of the others, it surely can’t be long before Boghall, unplaced here, start making the list again. I, and others nearby, were impressed with their playing. I thought I heard an early E and again the chanters were high pitched. The BC bands I have already mentioned. SFU did not have the cutting edge sound we associate with them, though the playing was steady if rather uninspiring. Dowco were equally lacking in spirit and the drones drifted quite badly. PSNI had a rock like tone but the unison got ragged the more their set progressed – serious potential in this band. Ravara and Bleary tried hard, had a good initial sound, but everything seemed to regress thereafter with some sloppy playing (particularly from Bleary) in the reels.

Dowco Triumph Street will have better days
Johnstone started well with a bold tone but some pipers were struggling with the technical difficulties of Brigadier Cheape, Tulloch Castle and John Morrison, Assynt House; P/M Bowes slowed the tempo of the reel to help them but that won’t do in G1. Glasgow Police had good, Grade 1 tempi throughout but again it seemed as though some pipers just couldn’t manage the challenge of the Young MacGregor, never mind Blair Drummond and the Smith of Chilliechassie. Vale of Atholl might like to look at the bass and tenor stuff going on in their strathspey; I found it distracting and not in keeping with the complexities of Dora MacLeod. One piper not away. Solid sound, best for a couple of years.

Overall a good, if not great, standard of play affected early on by snell winds and the exposed situation at St James. Aircraft taking off are a minor aural distraction – but a distraction nevertheless. A move to the nearby King George V Playing Fields in Renfrew, as hinted at by RSPBA Chairman Gordon Hamill, might not be a bad idea.
Well done to all those bands who ventured into new territory with seldom heard tunes.

• Keep checking Piping Press for our report on Grade 2. Check the dates of the remaining majors here. Check all band summary sheets from the British here. Inveraray Pipe Major Stuart Liddell is pictured top with the winners trophy courtesy Peter Hazzard RSPBA.

Inveraray Win First Major of the Season

A damp and cool St James Playing Fields at Paisley west of Glasgow was the venue today for the British Pipe Band Championships, the first major championship of the season.

The chill weather affected  the bands who were on early in Grade 1, the best performances coming later on.  The winners were the holders of the title, Inveraray. They are pictured up top in the in the circle today. They pushed Field Marshal Montgomery into second; third went to Shotts, fourth to St Laurence O’Toole, fifth to Fife Police and sixth to Scottish Power.

There was a distinct lack of a local audience, even though admission was free, few families venturing out on what started out as a bleak day on the exposed flats adjacent to Glasgow Airport.

In Grade 1 there were good showings from Boghall, PSNI and the other two newly promoted bands, Buchan Peterson and Johnstone, both acquitted themselves well in the top grade.

The G1 drumming went to St Laurence O’Toole pictured here rehearsing before their performance with Leading Drummer Stephen Creighton centre stage: 

In the hotly contested Grade 2 contest, Lomond & Clyde  emerged as champions with Glasgow Skye runners-up and Manorcunningham from Eire taking the drumming. Other results:

Novice B Champions: Lochalsh Juniors; Drumming: Bucksburn
Novice A Champions: Dollar Academy; Drumming: Dollar Academy
4B Champions:
Lisnamulligan; Drumming: Lisnamulligan
4A Champions:
Denny & Dunipace; Drumming: Kinross
Juvenile Champions: 
Dollar Academy; Drumming: George Watson’s 
3B Champions:
Royal Burgh of Annan; Drumming: Quinn Memorial
Champions: 2622 Squadron RAF; Drumming: 2622 Squadron 

Get all results summary sheets here. Stay tuned to Piping Press for comment from the British Pipe Band Championships from our editor Robert Wallace, who listened to the whole of the Grade 1 contest and from MacStig our special correspondent who did the same in Grade 2. Read the pre-contest interview with RSPBA Chairman Gordon Hamill here.

Pipe Bands Australia Receive Cash Gift from Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Pipe Bands Australia report: ‘We will develop an expanded and enhanced online learning portal to assist players in developing best-practice skills under a donation from the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (REMT). 

‘The Board of Trustees of REMT has made the gift after the tremendous success of its overseas tour in 2016 that included sell-out performances in Melbourne over four days.  The “legacy donation” follows ongoing discussions with Tattoo chief executive officer and producer David Alfrey, production manager Steve Walsh and Pipers Trail project officer Stevie Small who all praised the commitment and skill of Australian bands during those performances and those bands who have appeared in the Tattoo in Edinburgh.

‘In thanking the Tattoo board chairman, Edinburgh Lord Provost Rt Hon Donald Wilson, for the legacy gift, Pipe Bands Australia president Chris Earl said: “Pipe Bands Australia has long cherished the close fraternal ties with the REMT, links stretching back more than 50 years that have provided performance opportunities and a wonderful experience for so many of our bands and their players over that time. It has also been our privilege to provide assistance to the Tattoo management and production teams when the spectacular has come Down Under.

‘We are pleased that along with opportunities going forward for our bands to participate in the Tattoo, the advent of the Pipers Trail project as part of the Tattoo now provides additional pathways for individual pipers and drummers dreaming of that once-in-a-lifetime experience of performing on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.”

‘The principals of PBA’s Australian Pipe Band College are currently preparing content concepts for the enhanced online education and training platform for early implementation with the aims of engaging the public on the musical journey of bands and motivating young people to take up pipes or drums, educating instructors to provide quality tuition and chart pathways for players towards fine practice, rehearsals and performance skills.

‘They are also considering whether any elements of college examinations can be included in the new portal to increase access for pipers, drummers, drum majors and administrators wishing to obtain qualifications.’