Category Archives: Reviews

Dunedin Games, Florida, and Stuart Liddell Recital

Our North American Correspondent reports a St Thomas Alumni win in  Grade 2 at this north Florida games. The picture up top shows adjudicator Ken Eller scoring Dunedin Middle School…

In a sun drenched arena, 17 bands took part in the afternoon competition, with over 120 solo performers going through their paces in the morning session. A crowd of around 15,000, with a strong Texan contingent,  attended a full day of competition, including traditional heavy events in an adjoining arena. 

Terry Lee, Vancouver, judging the Hornpipe & Jig

In the first larger competition setting of the US season, the 51st Annual Dunedin Highland Games, a EUSPBA sanctioned event, saw a three-way pull for the top grade of the day, with hometown City of Dunedin, St Thomas Alumni (Texas) and Atlanta.

With both St Thomas and Dunedin planning on being in Glasgow for the Worlds this August, it was the only chance that they would have to compete against each other before then. They will be heading to ‘the Green’ knowing that the newly promoted PSNI, Buchan Peterson and Johnstone are up in Grade 1 but that they will still have to face excellent bands such as Lomond & Clyde and Glasgow Skye at the top of Grade 2.

St Thomas took the Medley and Dunedin the March, Strathspey and Reel with the former winning the grade. In the solo competitions Nick Hudson of St Thomas took first in all categories, whilst in snare drumming, Zach Goodrich took the Professional title on MSR preference from Eric MacNeill.

In the other events, there were good showings from the Dunedin Schools Pipe Bands (three in all), all directed by Iain Donaldson the programme director in the city and P/M of the city’s ‘big’ band. The whole day’s organisation was excellent and required a huge effort from the judges who were on solos from 8.30am and bands until 4.30pm.

On the solo bench was Stuart Liddell, who had thrilled a full house on the Friday afternoon with his electric solo playing (see below). John Fisher covered drumming, with Dan Cole, Terry Lee and Andrew Lee also on piping, along with others on the minor contests. Steve McClure was immaculate as ever covering the tenor and bass competitions and Drum Majors.

On their way to victory….St Thomas in the arena
Grade 2 result:
1. St Thomas Alumni
2. City of Dunedin
3. Atlanta
Professional Piper of the Day: Nick Hudson
Professional Drummer of the Day: Zach Goodrich

In other events, there were notable performances from Chris Knife and Ben Peterson in Grade 1 solo piping, sharing honours in the various categories, and from the up-and-coming Steven MacDonald, a student at the Carnegie Mellon programme under Andrew Carlisle. In tenor drumming, flying in from Toronto, Kyle Heaney a former FMM man, took first in the pro competition under his new St Thomas Alumni banner.

Full Results:

Grade 2 bands:

1st St Thomas Alumni
2nd City of Dunedin
3rd Atlanta

MSR (unfortunately announced incorrectly on the field)
1st City of Dunedin
2nd St Thomas Alumni
3rd Atlanta

1st St Thomas Alumni
2nd City of Dunedin
3rd Atlanta
Best Drum corps: St Thomas Alumni

Grade 3 bands:
1st Dunedin High School
Best Drum Corps: Dunedin High School

Grade 4 bands:
1st Atlanta
2nd City of Dunedin
3rd North Georgia
Best Drum corps: City of Dunedin

Grade 5 bands:
1st North Texas Caledonia
2nd City of Dunedin
3rd Dunedin Middle School
Best Drum corps: City of Dunedin

Professional Piper of the Day: Nick Hudson
Professional Drummer of the day: Zach Goodrick

Grade 1 Piper of the day: Chris Knife
Grade 1 Drummer of the day: Cameron McCalldsf

Stuart Liddell Recital – Dunedin, Florida – Part of the Dunedin Highland Arts Activities and Highland Games

Introduced by City of Dunedin Pipe Major Iain Donaldson as the piping equivalent of Michael Jordan in basketball, a warmly disposed full house (on Friday afternoon at 3pm local time), greeted Stuart Liddell for a recital on the eve of the Games. 

With several bands in town ahead of the contest on the Saturday, many pipers, including those from the Dunedin band’s extensive school programme (and a few enlightened drummers), took advantage of the opportunity to hear and watch one of the best in the business, someone who is at the top of his game. 

Stuart opened with two 6/8s, Iain Campbell and the Highland Brigade Depot written by his grandfather P/M Ronnie MacCallum. The rest of the programme was wide, varied and tonally pinpoint. The slow air Fair Maid of Barra followed and the hornpipe Crossing the Minch was a firm favourite and had the feet tapping as did Pipe Major George Allan, a tune inspired by Glenn Miller. 

A classic MSR of  Clan MacColl, Shepherd’s Crook and the Sheepwife and Mrs McPherson of Inveran rattled along, and a jig set about birds (spelled ‘BURDS!’) followed: Seagull, Hen’s March, the Duck and Geese in the Bog, with Glasgow City Police Pipers thrown in – the latter unrelated to the theme of course. 

Stuart Liddell wows the audience at Dunedin

Two traditional tunes arranged by Alen Tully,  Stuart’s good friend and the P/M of SLOT, then followed:  Highland Wedding and Cameronian Rant with intense, clever use of gracenotes in the Rant particularly. Two monster tunes in this arrangement and warmly received. Slow airs, including the locally revered and respected Amazing Grace, some 3/4s and a very nice touch for Adam Quinn, in the audience and the composer of Blue Cloud, to hear his tune, with the Mason’s Apron closing the half. 

Then into the more and less traditional tunes and massive crowd pleasers including AC/DC, the famous Liddell ‘naughty notes’ and some blitz finger gymnastics. The small City of Dunedin, Florida, witnessed something special. Wool kilt and waistcoat (in the US called a ‘vest’) in 30 degree heat presents a certain challenge, so hats (and jackets) off to Stuart. Job done, the Inveraray & District pipe major left the platform to rousing cheers and applause and a well-deserved standing ovation.

PP Ed’s Blog: Schools Poll/ Gordon’s Recital/ SPA Pro/ Piob Soc Conf/ Barnaby

The result of our poll into the suitability or otherwise of the new venue for the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championship were as follows: 

Some heart for the organisers if we amalgamate the two bottom stats: 41% think it okay or are prepared to give it another go. The majority however were clearly not happy. Read about the 2017 contest here. The picture up top shows the main winners, George Watson’s College.

Gordon McCready in action at the ‘Hole in the Wa’

Piper Callum Moffat has taken over as the main organiser of the ‘Hole in the Wa’ piping recitals in Dumfries. First piper of the new season is Gordon McCready, Renfrew. Gordon, formerly of Glasgow Police and Field Marshal Montgomery pipe bands, played at the venue a couple of years ago to wide acclaim. His gig is on March 26 at 7.30pm.

SPA President Tom Johnstone: ‘Just a reminder that entries close for our professional contest tomorrow, Friday, 24th March. Entry forms here. The SPA committee also want announce that all the events in this contest will now have five places (still three cash prizes). Judges this year are : Ian McLellan, Andrew Wright, Andrew Frater and Roddy Livingstone. McCallum Bagpipes have kindly agreed to sponsor the contest once again. Look forward to seeing you all there.’

All arrangements are in place for the Piobaireachd Society Conference to be be held this weekend at the Birnam Hotel, Perthshire. Day visitors are most welcome. In an interesting twist to the usual proceedings, there will be a fiddle pibroch session at the Conference (Saturday, 5pm) led by fiddler Pete Clark with Iain MacInnes (BBC) on smallpipes. Rumour has it that PS President and VP may be on the fiddle and smallpipes too. 

The Conference will see the launch of President Jack Taylor and Patrick Molard’s book from the Campbell Canntaireachd. The Piping Press Shop is offering the book with a pre-launch discount of 10%. Tomorrow is the last chance to order at this price:


Still with the great music, Harry Campbell of Voicebeat has sent this: ‘At short notice we are delighted to announce a ‘WORKSHOP ON CANNTAIREACHD’ by Barnaby Brown at the  Scottish Dance Teachers’ Alliance, 101 Park Rd, Glasgow G4 9JE on  Monday 27 March 6.45 for 7pm; £9 on the door (£5 to existing VB members)  
Hosted by Voicebeat, Glasgow’s world music community choir

Brought up in Glasgow, Barnaby is dedicated to revealing the ancient artistic traditions of  Scotland’s music. He is currently writing a PhD on pibroch at Cambridge and teaches at the National Piping Centre. His workshops on canntaireachd, the traditional teaching chant of the classical bagpipe, allow anyone to develop an appreciation of what he calls the ‘single malts of Western music’, using not only syllables but gestures, and even colour!

Come and learn something of this unique and fascinating vocal tradition, and please help spread the word about this exciting workshop. Best wishes Harry Campbell

Don’t miss this opportunity for world-class piping and drumming tuition

PP Ed’s Blog: Modern Piobaireachd/ AKQ/ Uist & Barra/ Fergie Tune

Writing of Dr John MacAskill’s self-penned piobaireachd on Friday served as a reminder of the current impetus there is behind ‘modern’ ceol mor.

At the end of the month we will have the Donald MacLeod Memorial contest in Stornoway (see banner ad.) where his music will be enjoyed once more by the large crowd. Donald’s tunes feature in this year’s Silver Medal lists too, and other modern tunes such as those by Capt. John MacLellan pepper the airwaves. 

With this in mind, can I remind all composers of the Shasta Piping Society’s ‘new piobaireachd’ competition? Copies of original piobaireachd are to be submitted; the piobaireachd must be original to the composer(s), of any style and cannot have been published before. Prize awards for the top three compositions will be £500/£250/£100. Submissions must be received by April 1, 2017, and winners will be announced on PP in May 2017. Get the full prospectus here.

In the ‘better late than never department’, we now have details of Robert Frater’s fine win in the Archie Kenneth Quaich. Apologies for the delay Bob and to make it up to you we re-run your moment of glory above. Bob is a student of Finlay Johnston at the National Piping Centre.

I was not going to say any more on the recent withdrawals from the Uist & Barra invitational competition a week past Saturday, but recent comments, public and private, need answered. The pipers concerned, Roderick MacLeod and William McCallum, hold important positions at the National Piping Centre; they are expert pipers with fine records at the highest level. They pulled out when they discovered the composition of the bench, namely my presence on it. They must consider me incompetent or corrupt or a combination of both. They are entitled to their view. They may even hope to influence other promoters: ‘invite him and we don’t play’.
Ho hum; you do what you can in this life and learn pretty quickly that you can’t please everyone, particularly if you are a writer who likes to tell it as it is.

This  ‘ah’m no’ playin’ tack has been tried before, and whilst it may offer some sort of self-indulgent gratification to the aggrieved individual(s) concerned, I’m not sure it does piping much good. For years Donald MacPherson refused to compete in front of Seumas MacNeill. It all started with a row over a trip to New Zealand. Donald worked at the College of Piping at the time and Seumas, the boss, said he couldn’t go. Donald went. For a few years the late Alasdair Gillies refused to play for Malcolm McRae believing him – wrongly – to have it in for him. I always urged Alasdair not to be so silly. He eventually relented and got his second Gold Medal – with Malcolm on the bench. 

Every piper has judges they don’t fancy. They see a bench then count themselves lucky if they make the list. Most just get on with it; time evens things out, and anyway there are three men making the decision. In the end this slight frisson made little  difference to the success of the day and I’d like to thank the Uist & Barra committee and my fellow adjudicators John Wilson and Jimmy Banks for their support.

Fergie and box

We’re driving north for a weekend away when the hands-free kicks in.
‘Hello, Robert, is that you? It’s Fergie here.’
‘Hello Fergie how are doing?’
‘Not bad; here I’ll tell you why I’m phoning, I’ve written a new tune and it sounds terrific on the pipes as well as the box.’ 
‘That’s great Fergie, how does it go?’
‘Would you like to hear it?’
‘Of course!’
‘Wait a minute.’ And so with the traffic and windscreen wipers oblivious to our musical premiere, on comes Fergie with his latest tune, button box et al.
‘Great isn’t it? Everyone says its a cracker.’
‘Certainly sounds pretty good Fergie; I’m sure it’ll work on the pipes. Have you got a name for it?’
‘Well there are a few options but ‘Stornoway to the White House is one…..’

‘Fergie’ is Fergie MacDonald, the irrepressible button box player, composer and dance band leader. He’s calling from his house in Acharacle. He’s about to record the tune and will either keep it for his next book or issue it free as a download, hopefully to readers of Piping Press. The title? If you haven’t sussed it already, it refers to US President Donald Trump whose mother came from Lewis. Knowing Fergie he’ll soon be in the Oval Office serenading the President with his latest catchy number. Fergie’s book of tunes suitable for the pipes continues to sell well:


Report on the Army Contest/ Date for Capt. John MacLellan Mem./Pipes for Sale/ Young Piper

Major Gordon Rowan

After a hiatus of seven years, last weekend (March 4/5) saw the Army Piping and Drumming Championships take place at the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming, writes Major Gordon Rowan, Director of Army Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming.

The school, at Inchdrewer House in Edinburgh, resounded to the sound of bagpipes, drums and bugles, as pipers and drummers from across the British Army competed with each other to claim the top spot in fiercely contested competitions.  Spurred on by friends, family and colleagues, all disciplines were broadcast on social media, racking up more than 45,000 views from around the world. 

Independent adjudication was provided by some of the biggest names in the pipe band and solo piping world, with the piping events being overseen by Tom Speirs, Ronnie MacShannon, Walter Cowan, Ian McLellan, James Henderson and Stevie Small, and the drumming being judged by Jim Clark, Brian Alexander, Bill Black and Alec Dudgeon. 

P/M Peter MacGregor

The school opened to the public at 0900 on Saturday, and the weekend’s events culminated with the prize giving ceremony on Sunday afternoon. After a highly enjoyable and successful weekend of music, it emerged that The Highlanders, 4 SCOTS, were the Army Champion Pipe Band, Pipe Major Peter MacGregor, also 4 SCOTS, was awarded the title of Army Champion Piper, and Sgt Callum Marr RMP was named Army Champion Drummer. The picture top features Col. Wallace, Deputy Commander,  Champion Piper P/M MacGregor, Champion Drummer Sgt. Marr.

The championships will feature again next year, over the weekend of 3-4 March, and the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming will also host some top flight competitive solo piping at the Capt John A MacLellan memorial contest on Saturday the 7thof October this year, when the doors will once again be opened to the public. 

Watch highlights of the MSR contest here.

The drone tops of the pipes Calum is offering for sale

A set of pipes which are probably MacDougall of Aberfeldy have been offered for sale by Mull piper Calum MacLean. Calum, who lives in Tobermory, has too many sets and needs to create some space in his back room. Get the details here.

Still with the islands, Pauline Craib has sent this: ‘Hi Robert, I would appreciate if you could amend the contact email address for the Young Piper Competition to the following:

Check out the full PP Guide to the Games here.

Review: The Uist & Barra March, Strathspey & Reel and Hornpipe & Jig

The editor continues with his look back at last Saturday’s Uist & Bara competition this time concentrating on the ceol beag events, the March, Strathspey and Reel and the Hornpipe and Jig, competitions he judged with P/M James Banks MBE and John Wilson……

It is surprising how some pipers give every attention to detail in their piobaireachd but not so when an MSR or Hornpipe & Jig hoves into view. Here we had the Ladies Hornpipe with a throw on D in the first part rather upsetting rhythmic flow and not in any setting I’ve ever seen; there we had the Man from Skye with an extra doubling on low G and a ‘rodin’ B to low A rather than a plain note as the composer made the tune.

We had P/M Jim Christie of Wick, a good enough tune, yet there are much better compositions with which to impress. We had a setting of Cameronian Rant as a jig from goodness knows where – practically unrecognisable. Tune selection and settings do play an important part in the impression one leaves with judges.

Finlay Johnston, winner of the March, Strathspey & Reel

In the end none of these worries concerned Finlay Johnston who was a clear winner of the MSR for the second year in a row. The pipe just hummed from start to finish and Finlay was able to concentrate on the job in hand. His Arthur Bignold was particularly impressive and he seems to have shrugged off the safe playing approach of a couple of years ago to emerge as one of the best ceol beag players around. He was going well in the H&J too until a fumble put paid to his chance of a prize in that discipline.

Second place went to Cameron Drummond (pictured on stage above). Cameron demonstrated a cool mastery of technique and timing; the chanter seemed better than in the piobaireachd too. He pushed Finlay all the way; again the march – Lochaber Gathering – was outstanding. Smoothing out the runs in Caledonian Society of London would help his cause.

Overall winner Callum Beaumont

In third came Callum Beaumont – another fine performance marred by a note error in the last part of Cockerel in the Creel and a couple of doublings unclear: double D from C in Mrs John MacColl and double F in the strathspey, Inveraray Castle.

A commendable fourth went to Douglas Murray; pipe much better than in the ceol mor and technically perfect apart from a bad miss on the birl in Highland Wedding; expert phrasing and bright tempi throughout. His other tunes were Ewe wi’ the Crookit Horn and Alick C. MacGregor.

Graham Drummond proved he was well up to playing in this company. Two-bar phrasing shone throughout his set, with notable control in the reel Alick Cameron, Champion Piper. However a lack of clarity in a few bottom hand movements took the shine of a good performance. Like Innes, Graham deserves all praise for standing in at such short notice. 

Of the others Niall Stewart had consistently weak double Fs, noticeable from the off in Kantara to El Arish but a brilliant bagpipe; Innes Smith seemed in far too much of a hurry – lack of preparation time again; yet the finger and bagpipe is good; Glennn Brown had some slurring on the bottom hand; Wilson Brown was a wee bit erratic in the reel and had one bad miss in the march; Jamie Forrester played a fine march (Alan Dodd’s Farewell to Scotland) and strathspey (Arniston Castle), but lost the tempo plot completely in John Morrison, Assynt House, the large crowd in the College of Piping probably getting to him towards the end. Playing in public at this level is not easy.

Cameron Drummond receives the Hornpipe & Jig trophy from Joan MacNeill

The Hornpipe & Jig was the usual mixed bag of excellence and near break downs. I wonder if giving the pipers their tunes a week early makes them over think their approach? The winner, Cameron Drummond, was outstanding – clarity in the finger, good control of tempo and sure phrasing. Cameron’s tunes here were Colin MacKay and Angus John MacNeill of Barra – a good choice for the U&B.

Niall Stewart made up for his lapses in the MSR with a good clean run in the H&J to take second with Donald MacLeod and the Skylark’s Ascension. The latter is a tune that has grown on me over the years. It was composed, if memory serves, by Archie Lindsay the tragic victim of a road accident on South Uist some years back. The other prizes went to Callum Beaumont (third), Craig Sutherland (fourth) and Jamie Forrester (fifth).

Before he read out the prizes, Piping Convenor John Angus Smith reminded everyone that in the third week in July, the Uists and Benbecula become the centre of world piping with the games and the Young Piper of the Year contest. He urged those who could manage to make the effort either to compete or to attend as a listener. I echo that. There is something unique about a tune on the machair and pipers are always made very welcome by the locals up there.

Piping Convenor John Angus Smith (far right) looks on as John Anthony, winner of South Uist’s Flora MacDonald piping competition 2016, entertains at the U&B ceilidh

A summary of the prizes showed that Callum Beaumont was the Champion Piper of the day and after the presentations and the vote of thanks, it was down to the committee room for some well-earned refreshment and another highlight of a fine day, those gaelic songs.

• Get full results from this major competition here and read a review of the ceol mor playing here.