Famous Pipers: Archibald Campbell, Kilberry, 1877-1963

The Kilberry Book
The Kilberry Book

One of the giants of 20th century piping was undoubtedly Archibald Campbell of Kilberry. His famous Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor, though the subject of some controversy when it was first published and since, has gone on to become the biggest selling piobaireachd book of all time. Its compact size and clarity of style have proved attractive to generations of pipers and teachers. Archibald Campbell is pictured above as a young man.

The following articles first appeared in 1998 in Piper Press, the print edition forerunner to Piping Press: 

As secretary to the Piobaireachd Society’s Music Committee Archibald Campbell was responsible for the publication of books two to 10 in the Society’s collection. This work spanned more than 30 years from 1928 until 1961. Archibald Campbell was a prolific writer of letters and was happy to proffer advice and information to anyone who cared to write to him. One such was Colonel Horace Kemble of Duncraig Castle, Skye, a lifelong friend. Copies of three of these letters are now deposited with the Clan Donald Museum, Sleat, Skye. They offer a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of a man who did much to pave the way for the current worldwide popularity of ceol mor.

The museum and Archibald Campbell’s son, James Campbell, Cambridge,  have kindly given permission for their publication. Moreover James Campbell [died 2003] has also kindly provided explanatory notes to the letters and written a short article on his father’s life…….. 

jamesArchibald Campbell, Kilberry 1877-1963

By James Campbell (left)

Archibald Campbell was born and brought up at Kilberry, Argyll. He entered the Indian Civil Service in 1900 and served in India until 1927, latterly as a judge of the High Court in Lahore.

He retired in 1927, and thereafter until heis death in 1963, he was secretary of the Music Committee of the Piobaireachd Society. As such he was responsible for the Society’s publications and he was active in the production of the first ten books of the present series.

In 1948 he published his own collection, the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. He made numerous contributions to the Oban Times and to other piping journals, and he was widely recognised as a leading authority on all aspects of Highland bagpipe music.

The information in the (Kemble) letters is often out of date but as period pieces and as illustrations of my father’s style they are of great interest. Horace Kemble was a lifelong friend of my father’s. His family were English in origin and they settled in Skye in (I think) the 1880s. Willie MacLean’s 6/8 march Colonel Kemble of Knock was made for his father. Horace was a devotee of the pipes and I believe that he learnt to play – just how far he got I do not know because he was badly wounded in the 1914 war and lost an arm. But he remained a keen supporter and made a hobby of collecting anything in the way of pipe music (published or unpublished) that he could get his hands on. I don’t know what became of his collection – he died about 30 years ago.

Horace was a patron of the Skye Games and he was the presenter of the Kemble Star for march playing.


Archibald Campbell, Kilberry (r) with Shf. JP Grant of Rothiemurchus at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1934. Picture courtesy James Burnet, Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society

In this first extract, explanatory notes from James Campbell appear in brackets:

14 Latham Road
Cambridge
13.10.31

My dear Horace,

Many thanks for your letter. I am delighted to answer your questions, if I can.

My copy of Angus MacKay is the first edition published 1838. I have got a copy of the second edition published in 1839, which belongs to the Piobaireachd Society. I don’t think there is any difference. The so-called second edition, I think, was merely a re-print. If your other copy of MacKay is the one which Kythe (Horace Kemble’s younger sister – later Mrs Malcolm Davidson) used to have, it is a reprint (exact) by Logan, Inverness, of either the 1st or the 2nd edition. The reprint was made in the nineties of the last century and is now exhausted.

The two volumes of Angus MacKay referred to in piii of the Piobaireachd Society book are in manuscript. They were copied in 1892 in London then they were lost sight of and were believed to have been stolen and taken to and lost in South Africa.

They were rediscovered in 1925 by me at Brodick Castle, Arran, where they are now. Only one of the 189 tunes in the manuscript appears in the printed book, namely the Battle of Sheriffmuir. [The two volumes of Angus MacKay remained at Brodick until 1958 when they were deposited in the National Library of Scotland (NLS) on permanent loan by the trustees of the Arran Estate].

The Piobaireachd Collection by G.F. Ross is no good. It consists of tunes which have been radically altered because, in the opinion of the author, they are wrong. The author is a well-to-do businessman in Calcutta connected with some insurance office. I have met him at various times. Very keen on piobaireachd but hopelessly convinced that no one’s opinion is worth anything but his own. Somerled MacDonald asserts him to be daft.


As regards the question of getting copies of the other MSS in the Piob. Soc. Book:

1 Some typed copies of the Cantaireachd MS were made before the war. I have one. [Campbell Cantaireachd MS]. The two volumes are in the NLS having been deposited on loan in 1950 by the daughter of Sheriff John Bartholomew [see Piob. Soc. Book 10, introduction Page 5]. Iain Grant [pictured above with Kilberry] has another and we have a third between us. Whether Bartholomew has any to spare I don’t know but I doubt. I fancy that he would allow further copies to be made but the cost would be very great.

2 Angus MacArthur’s MS belongs to the P.S. and is at present in this house [Now in NLS]. It could be copied or photographed for a member of the Society. The question would be how, and at what cost. It has never been photographed to my knowledge, but should be.

3 Donald MacDonald’s MS [now in NLS] belongs to Lt Col A.F. Thomason, the general’s son, whose last address that I have is Sirbind Club, Ambala, India. I am trying to get hold of it and have it deposited in the Scottish National Library, but I can’t get answers to my letters. When last heard of,  it was packed up with other luggage and stored with Vinig & Co, Delafour Street, London. I am trying to establish touch with Thomason through Neil Ramsay who has just gone back to India. [Neil Ramsay: Major, Black Watch. A very good amateur player in the years between the two wars.] 

To be continued


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