Category Archives: Reviews

McCallum Bagpipes to Sponsor Launch of Bill Livingstone Book

Meaghan Lyons, the publicist for Bill Livingstone’s book of memoirs, has sent this: 

‘Bill Livingstone is delighted to confirm McCallum Bagpipes Ltd as sponsor of a very special celebration of Preposterous: Tales to Follow, Bill’ soon-to-be-released memoirs. The event will take place on Thursday, 10th August 2017, 4.30 – 5.30pm, at the National Piping Centre and will be hosted by Stuart Liddell.

‘The hour-long event will include a reading of selected passages from Preposterous: Tales to Follow by Bill, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

‘“We are proud to support Bill for this special event. McCallum’s has a long history of investing in piping and drumming’s biggest trailblazers and we wish Bill every success in his latest venture.”

‘“Bill is one of the greats of bagpiping in the modern era,” said host Stuart Liddell. “I am delighted to be involved in this once-in-a-lifetime event and look forward to seeing everyone in Glasgow.”

‘“McCallum Bagpipes has been a dedicated supporter of my projects over the years and those of so many others. I am honoured to be working with them again.” said Bill Livingstone. “I am also delighted to have Stuart Liddell on board as host of the celebration. Stuart will bring an unparalleled level of warmth, humour and fun to this special event.”

‘Hard and softcover copies of the book will be available for sale at the event. To avoid disappointment and ensure a copy of the book is waiting for you on the day, advance sales of Preposterous: Tales to Follow are now open on the National Piping Centre’s online shop at Advance orders must be submitted by Friday, 21st July 2017.

‘Preposterous: Tales to Follow will be available for sale online, in hard and softcover, at all major book retailers from 1st August 2017. A publicity campaign celebrating the release of Bill’s memoirs will roll out over the coming weeks. Go to Bill’s official Facebook page @williamjrlivingstone and for all the latest news and updates. Stay tuned for more special announcements!’

P/M Donald MacLeod: New Slideshow Depicting His Life & Times

The great Donald MacLeod died 35 years ago last month, writes the Editor. Today we mark this with a new slideshow (link at foot of column) depicting the life and times of the master piper with thanks to the unnamed reader who alerted us to this important anniversary.

Donald MacLeod was born in 1917 and died in 1982.  He was one of the greatest pipers of the 20th century both in terms of his competition prowess and as an outstanding composer of pipe music.

He was born in Stornoway and initially taught the pipes by his father, Donald ‘Doyle’ MacLeod, Pipe Major of the Lewis Pipe Band. When, in the 1930s,  P/M Willie Ross visited Stornoway  on a teaching stint Donald attended his classes and was encouraged to join the Scots Guards. However he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders (1937) and whilst stationed at Fort George had tuition from John MacDonald, Inverness. This continued on and off for 25 years and laid the foundation of Donald’s extensive piobaireachd knowledge.

His pipe major in the Seaforths was DR MacLennan, half-brother of GS Maclennan. Donald was eventually promoted Pipe Major. On the outbreak of WW2 he found himself in France with his regiment as part of the 51st Highland Division. Like so many others he was taken prisoner at St Valery. Fortunately Donald managed to escape by diving into a ditch during a forced march. Donald, seldom spoke about this incident, but dismissed it once by saying that he ‘was so small and insignificant that the guards hadn’t notice he had slipped away’.

On any encounter with German soldiers he spoke his native Gaelic, was presumed to be eastern European, and allowed to go. He was picked up by the Resistance and eventually made it back home. He returned to France following D-Day and played the 7th Seaforths across the Rhine against the express orders of his Commanding Officer who recognised the danger to Donald and his unique musical qualities (see picture top). Donald very seldom spoke of his time during WW2 but it would surely make a wonderful documentary or film for Gaelic or non-Gaelic television.

His late wife Winnie spoke to me once of Donald never sleeping well and waking during the night with nightmares about his time during the conflict. Hardly surprising, and who knows the effect this had on his health in later life.

After the war Donald came into his own as a solo competitor adding eight Clasps to his Oban and Inverness Gold Medals as well as eight Silver Stars for the Former Winners MSR at the Northern Meeting. There is also a suggestion that he won the Inverness Jig competition nine times, many of them with his own compositions. He also won all the main competitions at Oban many times over.

He ranks among the greatest composers in the history of pipe music, taking his place alongside GS McLennan, Peter MacLeod (Jnr. and Snr.), John MacLellan (Dunoon), Willie Lawrie and John MacColl at piping’s high altar of melodic genius. In all he produced six books of ceol beag and one book of ceol mor. Some of his tunes have been set for this year’s piobaireachd competitions at Oban and Inverness marking an acceptance of his music which would surely have been a source of considerable pride to him.

There is one story that he composed the final two parts of his jig The Seagull ex tempore whilst on the platform at the Northern Meeting. Probably apocryphal but the fact that it has become part of piping folklore is indicative of his extraordinary compositional gift. The story was believable. One anecdote that is true is his composing the tune the Judges’ Dilemma whilst waiting on the outcome of the Jig competition at Inverness. By the time his name was announced as winner he had completed the tune in the margins of the programme. Donald later competed with this tune and others may have information on whether he won with it or not.

His music is as popular today as it was when first published. The list of classic tunes is considerable: Knightswood Ceilidh, Crossing the Month, Hen’s March, Butterfingers, Glasgow Police Pipers, Donald MacLellan of Rothesay, Susan MacLeod, Fiona MacLeod, Stac Pollaidh, Donald MacLean of Lewis, Dr Ross, MacLeod of Mull, P/M George Allan and whole host of beautiful Gaelic-inspired airs and retreat marches.

One of his final competition appearances was in the Knock Out competition run by the Scottish Pipers’ Association playing against another great composer, teacher and piper, Duncan Johnstone. Donald was pushed into second by the vote of the audience but was the first to congratulate Duncan, ‘It’s no loss what a friend gets’.

Donald was deservedly made an MBE in 1978, an award widely applauded throughout the piping world. Here was a man who could not have done more for our music and always with a quite, un-assuming demeanour.

After retiring from competition Donald continued to teach, judge and compose. He was the sole judge at Inverness when his erstwhile student Donald Bain, New Zealand, won the Gold Medal with MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart (the tune you’ll hear played on the harp accompanying the slides). Donald helped many others to achieve this accolade all of them outstanding pipers in their own right: P/M Iain Morrison, Angus John MacLellan, John Wilson and Andrew Wright to name a few.

Along with John MacLellan, John MacFadyen and Seumas MacNeill, Donald was instrumental in the establishment of summer schools in North America, particularly, in Donald’s case, in western Canada.

He pioneered the tuition by tape scheme whereby students would be sent lessons on a particular tune always accompanied by his characteristic ‘this is how it might go’ comment. These recordings were the basis for an extensive series of CDs issued by the Lismor label in the 1990s some 220 piobaireachd in all.

The Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition was established in Stornoway in 1994 to honour one of the best pipers of the 20th century. Initiated by the Lewis & Harris Piping Society our top pipers are invited to play Donald’s music. Each April large crowds gather to hear the work of this maestro performed on his native isle.

• Read more on Donald from someone who knew him well, P/M Jim MacWilliams, Saskatchewan, here. Check out the slideshow here.

Harpenden Highland Games Results (Pix Added)

Andrew Hall, President of the Scottish Piping Society of London

Glorious sunshine and a very busy Highland Games with lots of different activities and events. Pipe Bands, vintage cars, dancers, birds of prey, rock bands and sprinting races amongst others! Possibly the most varied and entertaining Games on the circuit.

Piping was at the top of the hill away from any distracting noise and with a great view of the whole Gathering.

All six competing pipers were amateur status. It was great to see some new faces we haven’t seen before in London. The playing was a very good standard with all pipers playing at a higher standard than I have heard them before.
An audience of about 15 listened to the piobaireachd in the morning and this grew to 20-25 for the light music in the afternoon.

All pipers showed significant levels of composure particularly in their piobaireachd taorluath and crunluath variations. Evidence of some hard work through the winter! The picture above shows pipers and officials during a break in proceedings.

Overall Harpenden Champion Piper

1st Billy Wardrope
2nd David McRobb
3rd equal Iain Allen and Lachlan Macdonald

1st David McRobb (Corrienessan’s Salute)
2nd Billy Wardrope (Too Long in this Condition)
3rd Lachlan Macdonald (Glengarry’s Lament)

Adjudicator Andrew Hall in action at Harpenden

1st Tom Broderick
2nd David McRobb
3rd Lachlan Macdonald

Strathspey and Reel
1st Billy Wardrope
2nd Lachlan Macdonald
3rd Iain Allen

6/8 or Jig
1st Iain Allen
2nd Billy Wardrope
3rd David McRobb

Adjudicator Andrew Hall

There was also a large dancing competition and it was great to see and hear Steve Watterston playing for the dancers. While his work commitments restrict his solo playing these days readers will be pleased to know Steve is still playing at his usual very high standard.

Big thank you to Jonathan Cox and the Harpenden Lions for organising such a great event and the SPSL President Andrew Hall for travelling a great distance to judge the pipers.

A Brief History of the All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships

Saturday sees this important pipe band competition being held at  Lurgan, Northern Ireland. Here our correspondent in the Province, John Kelly (left), RSPBANI Honorary Vice-President, takes a look back at the championship. John acknowledges that much of what is below has been compiled largely from an article by the late Fred Walker, former President of the Northern Ireland Branch of the RSPBA. The picture above is of the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band in 1989. This band holds the record for the most wins in Grade 1 at the All-Irelands….

Pipe bands were being formed all over Northern Ireland in the mid-1940s following the Second World War.  They became members of the NI Bands Association, which held contests in the Ulster Hall and Grosvenor Hall during the winter months.  It soon became evident that pipe bands were more suitable for outdoor contests held on grass, so it was decided to form a pipe band league.

Wheels were put in motion and a meeting was called in 1945 with nine bands being present namely: Annahilt, Upper Crossgare, Ballycoan, Sydenham, Dromara, East Belfast, McQuiston Memorial, Ballynahinch and Drumlough.  The officers elected were as follows:  Chairman – David Nelson (Sen.) of Dromara, Vice-Chairman – Eddie McVeigh of Ballynahinch, Secretary – Tom Hart of Sydenham, and Treasurer – Norman Bradley of Dromara.  Meetings were held on the last Thursday of each month.

It was also in 1945 that a pipe band league was formed in Eire and it was decided that efforts should be made to arrange a meeting between the two leagues with a view to holding All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships.  The meeting took place in the Adelphi Hotel, Belfast, on Saturday 25thApril 1946.  The North was represented by P/M Sam McManus, P/M Mickey Magee, John Drennan, Eddie McVeigh and Tom Hart with P/M Paddy Sloan and Peadar Wallace from the South.  The main item of business was to establish All-Ireland Championships for pipe bands.

The poster announcing the first All-Ireland pipe band championship

The first All-Ireland Pipe Band contest was held in the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, on Saturday 24th August 1946.  There were three grades, Junior, Intermediate and Senior. There were ten entries in Junior and Intermediate and six in the Senior Grade.

The All-Ireland Championships are held north and south in alternate years and are organised by a committee with five personnel each from the Irish Pipe Band Association and the Northern Ireland Branch of the RSPBA. In the early days the competition was confined to bands from throughout Ireland, but the rules were changed in the 1980s to allow overseas bands to compete. This has had the desired effect as it attracted bands from Scotland, England, Isle of Man, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

The All-Ireland title left these shores for the first time when Scottish Power were winners in 2000.  Pipe Major Richard Parkes and his Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band have won the Grade 1 title 23 times, a record which will most likely never be equalled.  Other multiple winners are Fintan Lalor (nine), Armstrong Memorial (nine), Ballycoan (seven), Cullybackey (five), St Laurence O’Toole (five), McNeillstown (four) and St Patrick’s, Donaghmore (two).

This brief history of the All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships is largely compiled from an article written in 2005 by the late Fred Walker, the then President of the NI Branch. The report was published in the 60th anniversary souvenir programme that same year.  This further updated report (2017) was previously updated in 2015 by Winston Pinkerton (current President of the NI Branch) and published in the souvenir programme for the 70th anniversary of the All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships held in Omagh on Saturday 4th July 2015.

Regrettably Fred Walker died in March 2016.  Fred, who was well known throughout the whole pipe band fraternity, retired as RSPBANI President in November 2014 and Winston Pinkerton had the honour of being his successor. Fred had over 69 years involvement with pipe bands and had devotedly served the Northern Ireland Branch as Secretary for thirty-seven years and then as President for nine years.

The late Fred Walker

Fred Walker concluded his 2005 report by paying tribute to two gentlemen for the impact they have had on the pipe band movement in Ireland, namely the late, great Eddie McVeigh MBE from Ballynahinch and the redoubtable PJ Berrill from Dublin.  Fred said, ‘They have both left behind a wonderful legacy for us all to follow’.

It has been a pleasure for me to further update Fred Walker’s brief history and I would like to thank Gilbert Cromie, George Taylor, Richard Parkes, Darren Frew and Brian Hasson who provided me with both old and new photographs for use in this updated version.

All-Ireland Grade 1 Champions:
1946 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – lveagh Gardens, Dublin
1947 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Balmoral, Belfast
1948 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – lveagh Gardens, Dublin

The Fintan Lalor pipe band in 1938

1949 ……..Dromara, Co. Down – Balmoral, Belfast
1950 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Landsdowne Rd.
1951 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Balmoral, Belfast
1952 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – lveagh Gardens, Dublin
1953 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Portadown
1954 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1955 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Balmoral, Belfast
1956 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1957 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Mourneview Park, Lurgan
1958 ……..St Laurence O’Toole – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1959 ……..Ballycoan, Belfast – Windsor Park, Belfast

Ballycoan in the 1950s

1960 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Santry Stadium, Dublin
1961 ……..29th Old Boys, Belfast – Balmoral, Belfast
1962 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1963 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Showgrounds, Newry
1964 ……..Fintan Lalor, Dublin – Harold’s Cross, Dublin
1965 ……..Quinn Memorial – Showgrounds, Banbridge
1966 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Musgrave Park, Cork

Robert Armstrong Memorial in 1966

1967 ……..Ballynahinch, Co Down –  Lisburn
1968 ……..St Patrick’s, Donaghmore – Oriel Park, Dundalk
1969 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Banbridge
1970 ……..Robert Armstrong (Silver Jubilee) – Trinity College, Dublin
1971 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Newcastle, Co. Down
1972 ……..St Patrick’s, Donaghmore – Newcastle, Co. Down
1973 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Donard Park, Newcastle
1974 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Tralee, Co. Kerry
1975 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Banbridge Hockey Grounds
1976 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Rathcoole, Co Dublin
1977 ……..Robert Armstrong Mem. – Newcastle, Co Down
1978 ……..Cullybackey – New Ross, Co Wexford
1979 ……..Cullybackey – Chambers Park, Craigavon
1980 ……..Cullybackey – Showgrounds, Cork

Cullybackey at the All-Irelands in 1981

1981 ……..Cullybackey – Chambers Park, Craigavon
1982 ……..McNeillstown – Blackrock College, Dublin
1983 ……..Cullybackey – Lurgan Rugby Club
1984 ……. McNeillstown – Dublin Airport Sports Grounds
1985 ……..Royal Ulster Constabulary – Newcastle, Co Down
1986 ……..McNeillstown – Raphoe, Co Donegal
1987 ……..McNeillstown – Newcastle, Co Down
1988 ……..Graham Memorial – Dalkey, Co Dublin

McNeillstown in 1988, P/M Frank Andrews far left

1989 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
1990 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – St Brigid’s Park, Kildare
1991 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Lisburn, Co Antrim
1992 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – ALSAA Club, Dublin Airport
1993 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
1994 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kikenny Castle
1995 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
1996 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kilkenny Castle
1997 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kilbroney Park
1998 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Kikenny Castle
1999 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
2000 ……..Scottish Power – Kilkenny Castle
2001 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Omagh, Co Tyrone
2002…….. Field Marshal Montgomery – Kikenny Castle
2003 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle, Co Down
2004 ……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Letterkenny, Co Donegal
2005…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Newcastle
2006….…Field Marshal Montgomery – Letterkenny, Co Donegal

St Laurence O’Toole in May 2015. The band has won the All-Ireland’s five times: 1958, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2014

2007…….St Laurence O’Toole – Newcastle, Co Down
2008…….St Laurence O’Toole – Ennis, Co Clare
2009…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Lisburn, Co Antrim
2010…….St Laurence O’Toole – Ballina, Co Mayo
2011…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Lisburn, Co Antrim
2012…….Field Marshal Montgomery – Ballina, Co Mayo
2013……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Londonderry
2014……..St Laurence O’Toole – New Ross, Wexford
2015……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Omagh
2016……..Field Marshal Montgomery – Malahide

A Review of Grade 2 at the 2017 European Championships

Grant Park, Forres, looked calm and pristine the night before proceedings, as the vendors were leaving the scene to return in the morning, writes our Special Correspondent. A small ceilidh was going on in the main marquee. The white lines were there to be seen and the circles of four arenas stood by to host the music makers of 110 bands for the 2017 European Championships.

With very little darkness at all so far north and, it being only a few days after midsummer, those traveling in early to the Highland town from all points would have had visibility of the patchy sky, but realised that with a blustery northerly wind, temperatures would struggle to breach 16 degrees and fall to around 10 degrees in the early evening and the long march past.  That changing weather pattern led to several instances of frantic goings on in final tuning as the conditions from micro zone to zone varied greatly with tree cover, up or down hill and the ebb and flow of Mr Blue Sky. Ground conditions were good, not quite the cricket manicured lawn of Stormont, Belfast, but neatly done.

This is a championship atmosphere unlike the other four Majors. It is a community event with a large crowds coming in to watch the contest and also enjoy the many other activities going on. Armed Forces Day and regimental representations, a funfair, Highland dancing, food village, craft beers, prosecco bar, yes prosecco bar, courtesy of the local Forres Mechanics Football Club, and much more besides.The RSPBA would do well to hold on to this venue, notwithstanding the number of bands clearly giving it a miss – no Irish bands in Grade 2 for instance. Next year is the last scheduled one in a five-year deal for Forres, so we will see. Now down to the serious business of the third major and the second Grade 2 Medley contest of the 2017 season. We posed the key questions in the preview piece on these pages last week and committed to a head to head result between Glasgow Skye and Lomond & Clyde. We put MacKenzie Caledonian third, reckoned Balagan would be placed, expected City of Discovery in the six and even left the door open for City of London to raise a few eyebrows.  The drama unfolding did not veer from the script and so close were the top two that I sent the Editor a photo of both Skye and L&C immediately after the grade finished – minute differences.