Category Archives: Pipe Bands

PP Ed’s Blog: South Florida/ Darach & Finlay Hong Kong Trip/ Charles MacLeod Williamson

To the US for some sun at the South Florida Pipe & Drum Academy at Boca Raton. I should have something to report – all good I hope.

Around 50 students, 28 for piping with class sizes kept to five or six. This will be our fourth annual school and I think we are beginning to make an impression. Certainly standards improve year on year. Many thanks to our sponsors David Naill & Co and Pipe Dreams, RT Shepherd, and G1 Reeds.

Senior instructor Barry Donaldson and his class at the 2016  Academy

Also on their travels have been expert pipers Darach Urquhart and Finlay Johnston (Finlay’s dad Tommy is our drum instructor at Boca). Darach reports: ‘A group consisting of Finlay Johnston, Chris Johnston (drumming) and myself were invited to the Kowloon District of Hong Kong in mid-January this year to do a bit of teaching and performance. 

Finlay, Chris, Darach and students

‘Our hosts were the local Boys Brigade, whose hospitality was warm and generous at every point – particularly Man and Ringo who showed us the sights and chaperoned us around all the best eateries and bars! The classes consisted of a mixture of adults and youngsters who were all very keen. At the end of the week we performed a concert to a sell-out crowd and invited members of the class up to perform a finale which seemed to go down very well with the local audience. A thirst for piping it seems exists fairly prominently in this part of the Far East.’

Workshop staff and students

That’s good to hear Darach. At the time of the UK handover in 1997 many thought piping in the former colony would decline. Doubly good to hear that the BB are still going strong there too. Finlay is pictured up top performing at the recital.

Delighted to hear from correspondent Duncan Watson who is now on the mend after his recent spell in hospital. Very grateful to Duncan for this information following the recent letter on Charles MacLeod Williamson. Duncan writes: ‘Regarding Charlie MacLeod Williamson, I did not know the man but heard of him through people I knew who knew him from their Army service. As far as I remember, Charlie MacLeod Williamson was  in what was called the ITC [Infantry Training Corps] Pipe Band which was based, I think, in Edinburgh.

‘The Pipe Major was big Donald MacLean, Lewis, who was of course a Seaforth Highlander. Among those in that band were, as I understand, Willie MacDonald, Benbecula, who was seconded from the HLI, John Riach who was, I think, in the HLI for a time and was later re-badged to the Seaforth Highlanders, Andrew Pitkeathly, who was seconded from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Bob Brown, the son of RU Brown and maybe Alec MacDonald,  who was the station master for a while at Fort William.

The caption in ‘The Scottish Soldier’ reads , ‘Pipe Major Donald Maclean and Drum Major James Watson, King’s Guard Pipe Band at Balmoral Castle, 1947’

‘The Drum Major of the band was James Watson who hailed from Forres (no relation). James Watson spoke of the ITC band in glowing terms from what I could understand. With the amount of good players it had it was very accomplished. Again from memory, I think I can recall that everybody was in awe of Charlie MacLeod Williamson’s finger dexterity when playing his jigs – they were very difficult.

‘A few are available in publications, tunes such as Angus Sutherland and Granny MacLeod, but I was told that they were in simplified form! There was another tune that I heard which would turn your fingers into a knot and it was called the Ecclefechan Dance.  I heard it only once and have since tried to get a copy without success.

‘It appears that although very capable to play anything, he did not have much time for piobaireachd. I do not know  what he did for a living but at one time, the story goes, he  was met by an ex-Army colleague. It appears that Charlie was employed as a toilet  attendant and had his pipes with him. The place was freezing cold, but it did not seem to hamper him as he rattled out jigs – and jigs with the most intricate of fingering. I think he did teach a few about Edinburgh who will still be kicking around and accurate information could be had from them.  This is all from my memory as a young lad listening to stories from older pipers.’
Many thanks for that Duncan and readers may like to know that Granny MacLeod is in the Glasgow Collection along with other CMW tunes, Aonas Sutherland, a reel, named for a piper also in the ITC band, and the jig Myra Hatton.


Archie Kenneth Draw and Tunes/ RSPBA Summer School/ NPC Juniors

The Piobaireachd Society have announced the draw for the Archie Kenneth Quaich, their annual amateur ceol mor contest to be held next Saturday 3rd March. Start time is 9.30am in the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society rooms at 127 Rose Street Lane South, Edinburgh.

Two tunes are asked for. Pipers will be informed in the final tuning room which tune has been selected for them to play.

The draw:
1 Helen Thompson, Tulloch Ard/ Caber Feidh gu Brath
2 Allan Harper, Donald of Laggan/ Struan Robertson’s Sal.
3 John Forbes, Viscount of Dundee/ Too Long in this Condition
4 George Gordon, Corrienessan’s Sal./ Donald of Laggan
5 Stewart Gaudin, Gath. of MacDonald’s (DMcD)/ The Groat
6 Aaron Yeung, Donald of Laggan/ Gordon’s Sal.
7 David Hester, Finlay’s Lament/ Slanfuive (both CC)
8 Andrew Park, Isabel MacKay/ MacLeod’s Sal.
9 Gregor McCulloch, Mary MacLeod/ MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart
10 Robert Wilson, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart/ Donald of Laggan
11 Evan Wraga, Catherine’s Lament/ Glengarry’s March

Tom Peterkin, 2015 winner of the Archie Kenneth Quaich. To Tom’s right is another former winner, John Frater

12 Leslie Barrett, C. Campbell’s Gath./ MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart
13 Graham Farr, Capt. MacDougall/ Lament for the Iolaire
14 Tom Peterkin, Flame of Wrath/ Bealach nam Brog
15 Con Houlihan, Viscount of Dundee/ Capt. MacDougall

Defending champion Bob Frater receives the AKQ from Mr James Burnet of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society

16 Ian Forbes, Donald Duaghal MacKay/ Lament for John Morrison
17 Robert Frater, Earl of Antrim/ Lord Lovat’s Lament
18 Janette Greenwood, Mary MacLeod/ Captain MacDougall
19 Stephen Anderson, Donald of Laggan/ His Father’s Lament
20 Ian Kirkwood, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart/ Queen Elizabeth Sal.

Kirsteen MacDonald from Lincolnshire receives the Quaich in 2016 from Mrs Patricia Morrison, wife of judge Willie

21 Gordon Hislop, MacDougall’s Gathering./ MacLeod of Raasay
22 Dagmar Pesta, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart/ Sir James
23 Walter Gray, Massacre of Glencoe/ Blue Ribbon
24 Marc Stoop, Big Spree/ Lord Lovat’s Lament
25 Andrea Jones, Captain MacDougall/ Massacre of Glencoe

The RSPBA’s annual summer school will be held in Glasgow Gaelic School from Monday 30th July until Friday 3rd August. The school is aimed at encouraging young pipers, snare and tenor drummers and drum majors to fulfil their potential in  pipe bands. Cost: £180 (pipes and snares). School for Tenor Drummers and Drum Majors takes place from Wednesday 1st August until Friday 3rd August at a cost of £120.

Pat Whelan, RSPBA Education Officer, said: ‘Our tutors look at the competition grades in which students are currently competing or would be competing, and identify the support required to raise competition standards. We encourage students to challenge themselves in their knowledge and in their performance.

‘We have a new element in the programme for this year. We are looking to attract adult pipers and snare drummers who, if competing, would be at Grade 4 competition level. However, if not competing, they would also be welcome. The adults will form a dedicated group or groups depending on numbers. The focus would be on improving piping and drumming skills and knowledge, with a view to playing or competing at a higher level.’

Participants can now register online. More information at

The National Piping Centre hold their annual junior competition tomorrow. There’s a Junior Championship, a Novice Championship and a Chanter contest. All events start at 9am in the Piping Centre or in the nearby Holiday Inn (chanter).

Pipe Band Judges Conferring Set to be Approved at RSPBA AGM

By Robert Wallace

The AGM of the RSPBA will be held in Glasgow on March 10 with proposals allowing judges to discuss band performances with their colleagues and a revamp of the Association’s College the major changes up for agreement. There is also an important proposal that Grade 4 band leading drummers should also be allowed to register with another band. At the moment this dispensation only covers the Pipe Major.

The re-vamp of the Association’s College will see the appointment of Principals for Drumming and Piping and for the RSPBA Summer School.

Re judges conferring, the AGM Order Paper reads: ‘To allow the adjudicators to confer / pass comment during the contest after each band has played. The Conferring Pilot Scheme used in 2017 was agreed to be a success by the Adjudicators Panel; there was no negative feedback received; this proposal is to formally adopt this change into the Adjudication rules.’

Old rule: Adjudicators shall not discuss a band performance with colleague adjudicators before deciding their results at the end of the contest, and shall not at any time influence others in the adjudicating team during the course of the competition.

New rule: Adjudicators have an option to confer with colleague adjudicators at the end of a band performance but not while the band is playing. However, adjudicators shall not discuss their placing decisions with colleague adjudicators before all official result sheets have been collected by a designated RSPBA official.

This is a major change for the judging of bands. Hitherto the biggest source of disquiet in beer tent and band hall has come from summary sheets which show widely disparate markings by piping adjudicators or when ensemble judges vary wildly from those doing the drumming. With piping it is not the norm, but neither is it uncommon for one to have a band in the top half of the contest and the other near the bottom. There are three main reasons for this:

1 Subjective preference.
2 Huge bands making it difficult for judges to hear what is being played on the opposite side of the circle.
3 The habit of some adjudicators of relentlessly walking round the band in a different pattern and at different times from their colleagues. It should therefore be no surprise that they hear different things be these in technique, blowing, note errors and the like.

The outdated circle formation

I have long advocated static judging positions but this new rule, which I believe will eventually lead to conferring becoming the norm, is a step forward make no mistake. It is common practice in the solo world where all decisions are arrived at by consensus. Where it falls down is in horse trading and when a particularly dominant personality pushes his/her preference without due regard to the opinion of others on the bench. The RSPBA’s rule barring the discussion of placings before marking sheets have been collected should assuage any worries on that score.

If approved, the Association’s Pipe Band College will be established by restructuring the Education Management Group over a 12 month transition period following the 2018 AGM. It would be a major step forward in piping and drumming education and certification. The Association would appoint a Principal of Piping, Drumming and a Principal of the popular RSPBA Summer School.

Mr Pat Whelan, RSPBA Education Officer

The Order Paper notes that ‘this Pipe Band College will be responsible to the Board of Directors and the members for:

  1. RSPBA input to the syllabus and examination of certificated Piping and Drumming qualifications;
  2. The Curriculum (Theory and Practice) for RSPBA courses leading to certificated qualifications;
  3. The Compilation of RSPBA textbooks and tutors for certificated qualifications;
  4. Managing the RSPBA Examination Centre for certificated qualifications;
  5. Maintaining a panel of qualified instructors (subject to the approval by the board of Directors);
  6. Facilitating the running of courses (for example the Summer School).
  7. Supporting the training and development of Adjudicators.

‘The Education Officer [Mr Pat Whelan, pictured] will be the convener of the Pipe Band College. Each role within the Pipe Band College will have a specification against which applications from members of The RSPBA will be invited, as each post comes up for election. The current post holder can submit an application for consideration against all applications received.

  1. Education Officer, appointed by Board of Directors.
  2. Internal SQA/PDQB/ RSPBA Verifiers.
  3. Piping Principal.
  4. Drumming Principal.
  5. Summer School Principal.
  6. Geographical Piping / Drumming Representatives.
  7. Judges.
  8. Music Board representation.

‘All members of the Pipe Band Collage selected based on their application shall serve for a period from one to three years as agreed by the Board of Directors. The Education Officer shall have the power to co-opt members as required to achieve specific objectives set subject to the approval of the Board of Directors. The duration of the co-option shall not exceed the duration of the objective or one year, whichever is the less.’

The proposal regarding leading drummers registering with another band comes from the MacDonald Memorial Pipe Band in Ulster. At the moment the rule on this reads:  The Pipe Major of a Grade 4 Band, may be registered with one other band.

If approved this rule will now read: Pipe Major of a Grade 4 Band, may be registered with one other band. The Leading Drummer of a Grade 4 band may be registered with one other band.

An RSPBA AGM resolution is successful where it is passed by a majority vote – those votes cast in favour as compared with those votes against and takes no account of abstentions or Members absent from the meeting. Read the full Order Paper here.

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BC’s Boney Invitational Livestream/ New Chairman Ken and Lochaber Juniors

Kevin McLean of the British Columbia Pipers Society has been in touch to notify us of the livestream of the Boney Invitational solo competition this Saturday (Feb 24).
By our calculations the stream begins at 3am early on Sunday UK time – which will not suit everyone! Perhaps the stream will be available for some time after. If you are in North America the time is 7pm PST/ 10pm EST. Here’s the link.

Kevin writes: ‘We are asking for viewers to donate (there’s a button on there) to help support the cause. Profits will be donated to the BC Cancer Foundation.’

Kevin is one of the pipers in the all-star line up of James P Troy, Andrew Lee, Alastair Lee and Jori Chisholm. The Boney Music Memorial Invitational is an annual Piping Competition and Recital to benefit brain cancer research. The competition was initiated in 2016 by BCPA Life Member Andrew Bonar and is being continued by BCPA at Andrew’s request following his passing in October 2017.

The late Andrew Bonar his young son (also a piper) and 2016 Boney Invitational winner, Andrew Lee

The top five pipers in the annual BCPA Open Piping Grand Aggregate standing and the previous year’s winner of the Boney Music Memorial Invitational will each perform a medley of various musical styles. The best performance will receive the Boney Music Memorial Invitational trophy. Date and Time: Saturday February 24 at 7:00 pm, Doors open at 6:30 pm.

Price: Admission by donation. A donation of $10 per person is recommended. All profits will be donated to the BC Cancer Foundation. Free Admission for BCPA Junior Members. BCPA is accepting donations for the event and will issue Canadian charitable tax receipts for donations of $20 or more. Donations may be made at  and enter ‘Boney Music Memorial Invitational’ in the ‘What you desire your gift to support’ field.

Location is the Halpern Centre, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby Campus. Free parking will be available in the East Parking Lot from 5:00 pm to 11:30 pm on the day. No bar or food service will be available at the Halpern Centre although non-alcoholic refreshments will be available. Club Ilia, located on campus at the Cornerstone Building (8902 University High St, Burnaby), will be offering their dinner menu from 5:00 – 7:00 pm at a discounted price of 10% to attendees of this event.

Ken Cameron, father of Silver Medallist Sandy (pictured below) and junior champion Finlay, is the new Chairman of Lochaber Piping Society. Ken has intimated that the Society’s Annual Piping Competition is now scheduled for Saturday 24th March and the venue is Lochaber High School, Camaghael, Fort William, with a start time of 9.30am. Ken says, ‘One change for this year is the inclusion of a class for 19-20 year-olds, who must be full-time students.

Sandy Cameron receiving his Silver Medal from John Campbell of Kilberry, sponsor of the event

‘We are trying to catch a few youngsters who may have pushed through the juniors and may be looking for a slightly softer move into the adult grades. We also hope to catch some juniors who have been graded early. I attach a Competition Entry Form and would be much obliged if you would include the event in your calendar and post details and a link to the entry form. After the event, we will have a discussion on how best to improve involvement of local pipers.’

Entry forms to be completed, signed and returned by Friday 16th March, together with the fee of £2.00. Download the form here. Forms should be sent to the Secretary Mrs M Melville, Lochaber Piping Society, 2 Grange Terrace, Fort William PH33 6JG; tel 01397 703862; email:

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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.