Famous Pipers: P/M Alasdair Gillies – ‘The Day I Was Ordered from the Northern Meeting Stage’

ag-mugWe continue with our interview with P/M Alasdair Gillies from 1999. In it he talks of the infamous occasion when he was ordered from the stage by one of the adjudicators and a former Piping Convenor of the Northern Meeting, the highly respected Lt. Colonel DJS Murray…..

‘1991 will always be remembered. I was red carded from the Gold Medal. I had bet my old man I would be teetotal the month of August. He believed that otherwise things would fall apart at Inverness. I was always on tour with the Queen’s Own Highlanders at this time and there was a great deal of hospitality dished out to us.

‘I completed the month dry, and was feeling really good at the Meetings. I was given Scarce of Fishing to play. My father and I had talked about the tuning lights which had just been introduced at Inverness. He said that I shouldn’t worry about them as nobody had ever been sent off before. I remember trying to settle the pipe but it wasn’t quite spot-on. The red light had come on and time was running out. I stopped my middle drone and tried to get them in as quickly as possible.

‘My positioning couldn’t have been any worse as I had to turn my back to the bench as I did this. I heard a book slam shut. I was on the long low A to start the tune when I heard footsteps. I stopped and John Burgess, who was timekeeper, informed me that he had been instructed by the bench that I had to leave the platform. I turned to the judges and asked: ‘If I strike up immediately and play, will you accept my performance?’ Lt Col Murray’s reply was straight to the point: ‘No. Sergeant Gillies, fall out.’

‘The pressure was really on that night as I had to play in the Former Winners. I managed to win, but I was about as nervous as I’ve ever been. Brigadier Walker, who was then the convenor, came up to congratulate me on my win. He was timekeeper that night. He said: ‘Congratulations, and only 2 minutes 38 seconds to tune!.’

‘1992 was another fantastic year at Inverness for me. I won my 5th Silver Star, the Clasp, and a 2nd in the Gold Medal. I was starting to think that I’d never get the medal. I had come 2nd either side of the red card and broke down the time before that. Nonetheless the record of six Silver Stars was in sight now and nothing else seemed to matter.

‘1993 was a bad year for piping. We had the boycott, which I agreed with. However, I had to play at Inverness as the Northern Meeting was held high in our regiment and a ‘no show’ was not an option. I was glad not to win a major prize that year as I would always rather win when all the top contenders are giving their best. I didn’t play particularly well and wasn’t due a top prize. I hope we don’t have another year like that. My prizes at Inverness that year were, 3rd Former Winners MSR, and 5th in the Gold Medal.

‘1994 saw me win and equal the record for the Former Winners MSR. I was proud that my name was there alongside Donald’s MacLeod and MacPherson. Between the Clasp and MSR these were the men at the top. I realise that I’ll probably not get near their record in winning the Clasp, but I am pleased that I’m there at least in one of the events. I also came 3rd in the Clasp and 4th in the Medal that year.

Alasdair playing at the British Legion contest in the 1990s
Alasdair playing at the British Legion contest in the 1990s

‘In 1995 I missed Inverness as the Highlanders were going to the United States on tour and I was the pipe major of the band. I must admit that I was asked if I would rather stay and compete. I chose to go with the band. A bit of controversy set in that year. I had phoned Rory Walker to inform him that we were likely to be on tour at the time of the Meetings and to ask if we could we still play at Inverness should the tour be called off for any reason. We were based in Londonderry at the time and if trouble flared up there then our tour to the States would have been the first thing to be scrubbed.

‘I asked if we could still enter just in case. Rory informed us that the best he could do was make me 1st reserve and  Michael Gray 2nd reserve for the Gold Medal, Lewis Barclay 1st reserve for the Silver Medal and Ian Ruaridh Finlayson would get slotted into the B Grade light  music [all Highlanders band members]. He told me that I wouldn’t get to play in the medal unless someone pulled out. Thank goodness the tour to the States came off.

‘During 1996, 97, & 98. I extended the record at Inverness for the Former Winners MSR to nine. Donald MacPherson I believe refused to judge the event until the record fell. He was the first to congratulate me when I had won number seven. I thought that a really nice gesture and one that will always stick in my mind. I hope that I can extend the record yet but that is getting increasingly harder. I will just keep getting up there and try my best. If it happens it happens, if not I’ll be happy with what I’ve got.’

Alasdair’s Prizes at the Northern Meeting [to 1999]:
Firsts: 19
Seconds: 7
Thirds: 4
Fifths: 1
Total: 32.

1977: 1st Under 15 March
1978: 1st Under 15 March
1979: 1st 15-18 March, Strathspey & Reel
1980: 2nd 15-18 March, Strathspey & Reel
1981: 1st B Grade March, 2nd B Grade Strathspey & Reel
1982: Didn’t attend due to being posted to Falkland Islands
1983: 1st A Grade March
1984: 2nd Former Winners MSR
1985: 1st Former Winners MSR
1986: 1st Former Winners MSR, 1st Silver Medal, 1st ‘A’ S&R, 1st Jig
1987: 1st Jig, 3rd Former Winners MSR, 3rd Gold Medal
1988: 2nd Former Winners MSR
1989: 1st Former Winners MSR,
1990: 2nd Gold Medal, 2nd Clasp
1991: 1st Former Winners MSR
1992: 1st Former Winners MSR, 1st Clasp, 2nd Gold Medal
1993: 3rd Former Winners MSR, 5th Gold Medal
1994: 1st Former Winners MSR, 3rd Clasp, 4th Gold Medal
1995: Didn’t attend due to USA tour with The Highlanders
1996: 1st Former Winners MSR
1997: 1st Former Winners MSR
1998: 1st Former Winners MSR

Next issue: ‘The tunes I played and some comments made.’
Listen to Alasdair playing 6/8 marches in a new addition to the PP Audio Archive.