Letters Archive

From 2020 the Letters Page is incorporated in the regular blog posts on PP. The correspondence below is retained for interest and will be accessed by anyone using the search engine on the site.

Robert Turner and Jimmy Hardie

Hi Robert, 
I was saddened to read about Robert Turner’s passing so soon after Jim Hardie.  Robert was ages with me and we grew up playing fitba’ and of course with the 214th GCBB pipe band. Dougie Elmslie and I caught up with him when we joined the Muirheads in late 1964 and became almost ‘local heroes’ when the band won the British Championships for the first time the following year! 

The band’s success under Bob Hardie after that is legendary; talk about being in the right place at the right time! My association with the Boys’ Brigade continues down under and just last week I played at the funeral of Max Gray who I first met back in the 1990s when I was involved with B.B. Queensland.

Max’s father was from Hawick and he was very proud of his Scottish heritage. Max became involved in B.B. in Sydney as a young man and became captain of a Company. He instigated the first B.B. Pan Australian Camp involving boys from all over Australia and other countries including New Zealand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and other South Pacific nations.

He was awarded the ‘Order of Australia’ (our equivalent of the MBE) for his amazing work with boys. Interestingly he told me that one of the highlights of his life was a trip to Scotland when he visited the home of Sir William Alexander Smith in Thurso! Hope this finds you in good fettle. 

Gordon Ferguson        

US Attorney General

Hello Mr. Wallace,
Thank you for the interview with Mr Barr. I believe that it is good for people to see political figures as real people with personal histories and human experiences regardless of there political views or affiliations. I am often disgusted with the way people of different opinions are lambasted in social media. We are all here together and have to learn how to deal with anyone who may diametrically oppose our own personal positions without resulting to personal attacks. I hope that this article and others like it will enable people to see the political figure, in this case, as a man and not as a beacon for a political ideology that they either agree or disagree with.
Keep up the good work. 

Regards, Jon Maffett

Band Sizes

Hi Rab
Not wishing to offend anyone, but……… I picked up the comments re the size of today’s pipe bands. Yes they’ve been too big for too long. However, the outcomes of pipe band competitions have much more to do with adjudicators.

In my experience there are three types:
1 Those who respond to what actually happens in the circle
2 The totally inept who apparently have some difficulty hearing and seem to know little about piping or drumming
3 Those who wish to inspire, shape the future but instead simply manipulate.

Until bands get off the fence and demand the formation of an Independent Adjudication Review Body there will be no change on the adjudication front.

On the numbers game, four reasons why it must change. I’m sure others will be able to add more reasons:
1 Grades 2, 3A & 3B have suffered greatly over the past three decades due to the loss of the best leaders and quality players
2 The number of quality pipe bands in Grades 2, 3A & 3B has reduced greatly
3 The top pipers and drummers who once honed the necessary foundation skills in the lower grades before moving up to Grade 1, tend to move up too soon.
4 Grade 1 bands on home turf at present are arguably not all of true Grade 1 standard.
Let the discussion begin. 
Winston Pollock, Northern Ireland

Buchanan Piper

Dear Mr Johnstone,
I would be grateful if you could help me. My husband has recently been 
created the Buchanan Clan Chief. As such he is looking for a piper who 
would be his personal piper and play when ever there is a major event. 
Indeed next year for his inauguration he will need three pipers for 
this. Would you possibly be able to help me with this. Ideally they 
would be Buchanan’s or one of the Buchanan septs and willing to join him 
at the occasional major events.

The following names are considered septs or associated names of Clan 
Buchanan: Calman, Colman, Cormack, Cousland, Dewar, Dove, Dow, Gibb, 
Gibbon, Gibson, Gilbert, Gilbertson, Harper, Harperson, Leavy, Lennie, 
Lenny, MacAldonich, MacAlman, MacAslan, MacAslin, MacAuselan, MacAuslan, MacAusland, MacAuslane, MacAlman, MacAlmont, MacAmmond, MacAsland, MacChruiter, MacCalman, MacColman, MacCormack, MacCubbin, MacCubbing, MacCubin, MacGeorge, MacGibbon, MacGreuisich, MacGubbin, MacInally, MacIndeor, MacIndoe, MacKinlay, MacKinley, MacMaster, MacMaurice, MacMurchie, MacMurchy, MacNeur, MacNuir, MacNuyer, MacQuattie, MacWattie, MacWhirter, Masters, Masterson, MacCaslin, Morrice, Morris, Morrison, Murchie, Murchison, Richardson, Risk, Rusk, Ruskin, Spittal, Spittel, Walter, Walters, Wason, Waters, Watson, Watt, Watters, Weir, Yuill, Yool, Yule, and Zuill

I very much look forwards to hearing from you if you could help in this 
or direct me to someone who could.

Kind regards, Paula, The Lady Buchanan, tel: +44 1877339269

Colin Cameron


Dear Mr Taylor,
I am writing to enquire about any personal information that you may have aquired about Colin Cameron (1843-1916).  His daughter, Alice Margaret gave birth to an illigitimate son in Sept 1907, who was my grandfather (born Gordon Cameron and became Albert Sutherland).  Alice Margaret gave birth in Inverness and was adopted by William and Marjory Sutherland. The family lore is that Lord Lovat was somehow involved, but so far this cannot be substantiated.

I just thought I would ask in case perhaps in the history of this amazing family of pipers, that there was mention of the birth and perhaps the identitiy of the father of this baby (my grandfather). It’s interesting that my grandfather was also an accomplished piper and became a Pipe Major in Canada. I, in turn was schooled by him as a child, though did not continue.

With thanks,
Alistair Sutherland, Arnprior, Ontario, Canada

  • This letter was originally adress to the Piobaireachd Society and its then President Dr Jack Taylor. It is republished here in the hope that someone will be able to help Mr Sutherland.

MacCrimmon’s Gold

Hello Robert,
It was a great moment to see the film with Patrick Molard and Jack Taylor who did a tremendous job about the forgotten great music.
Congratulations to you about your comments at dinner , I totally agree, yes it is unique and surely it will start maybe other researchs.
I am always involved with history of pipe makers of the past and look for pictures or what could highlight details of making. So I am convinced that former players did their reeds themselves (at Mac Crimmon time) and especially with elder reeds for the drones. I tried myself such material and proud to say that sound is great and steady into vintage pipes. Why not a next post about the subject if you wish.

Best Regards

Yves Tyson

  • I am sure you are correct about the pipers making reeds for themselve Yves. Has anyone made reeds from elder? If so please get in touch. Ed.

Henry Starck Pipes

I have been searching the internet for information on bagpipes made by Henry Starck in London. I have an ivory mounted/blackwood set of these pipes and have found it difficult to arrive at a date of manufacture. The ivory mountings are cup-shaped and do not project, the drone sound boxes are the ‘tulip’ style and one of the tenor’s tuning pin is marked as: ‘Makers: Henry Starck, London 0075’ with the government broad arrow below. I wonder if any of your readers could throw any light on this set’s date of manufacture? I would much appreciate any help.

Slainte,   P/M David Waterton-Anderson, KSG, KMM, OLJ, OMLJ

Scots Guards

In the very interesting article in your 2 November 2018 edition of Piping Press titled ‘Thoughts on Recent Posts Concerning Highland Dress’ the author, Pipe Major The Chevalier David Waterton-Anderson propounds to have served in the First Battalion Scots Guards (‘As a member of the Pipes & Drums of the 1st. Battalion Scots Guards, I can say….’).  There is no record that this gentlemen served in any capacity in either battalion of the Scots Guards, unless of course he did so under a different name.

Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Patrick Gascoigne MBE, Chairman, Scots Guards Piping and Highland Drumming Committee

• P/M Waterton-Anderson responds: Heaven knows why anyone should wish to contact you over such an issue, perhaps I could have been a little more explicit in my article, but I didn’t really think it would be necessary. Whoever has written to you has clearly made assumptions and is not in possession of the full facts. I trained and recruited young pipers who I introduced to the Regiment as far back as 2009. Following on from this I was invited to attend passing out parades and also a Scots Guards gathering in 2013 at Catterick, in which I met with members of the Pipes & Drums with whom I got on exceedingly well. When the guys came back from Afghanistan, Pipe Major Ross McCrindle, with the full co-operation of the Adjutant of the day, invited me to become a guest piper with the band to bolster the numbers and make use of my experience. 

I practiced with them at Catterick, was issued with kit and competed with the band in several competitions and indeed I am still a RSPBA registered member of the band. I do not claim to have been a serving member of the Regiment, only that I have been a civilian guest piper with the Pipes & Drums of the Regiment – which is incontrovertible and easily verified. I have been proud to be such and the ‘Colonel’s Fund’ has benefited to the tune of several hundred pounds through my auspices and I have happily stepped in to pipe for the funerals of deceased Scots Guardsmen when other members of the band were on operational duties. 

Also, I paid my dues and became a member of the Scots Guards Association (Pipers Branch) a couple of years ago and even this has now been withdrawn. Notwithstanding that, I have recently accepted an invitation from Pipe Major Iain Lowther to become a member of the SGA Pipe Band (Edinburgh). With more than six decades of piping under my belt, I have had many friends who were in the Regiment and my support as such is not a case of ‘Waltermittitis’ but an admiration of the traditions and excellence that the Regiment embodies.The military was never my path as I chose to opt for the medical profession and, as an orthopaedic surgeon, my ‘service’ was in putting our injured, wounded and broken soldiers back together again. It saddens me that you should have received a letter from someone in the Regiment which embodies what I see as a shabby display of ingratitude and small-mindedness.

Highland Dress

First, cheers on the quality of your website that I find really valuable. Let me introduce myself, I’m Vincent, Breton great Highland bagpiper, involved in respecting the instrument as a Scottish one, and not a Breton one. I also practice in the Lorient Pipe Band Brittany.
The first question I have for you is about the color of the flashes, should it be the same color as the kilt? Second question. I’m Breton and so I would like to wear the Royal Stewart kilt (as I know that historically Bretons are allowed to wear it). Are the clear blue colors on the kilt reserved only for the military?
Third question, should the toorie be red or black for a soloist great Highlang bagpiper?
And last question, on my bagpipe I would like to play with a Royal Stewart cover, ribbons and cords. Could all these elements be present at once, as I play as a soloist? Are there some particular rules about this matter? Should some items be all tartan mixed with plain colour? Are some elements only reserved for the military?
I hope you will meet my questions with much needed answers, so that I can follow my path with full involvement for the rules,
Looking forward to hearing from you. It’s so important to respect a proper dress code!
Best regards,
Vincent Canault,

All Ireland Solos

Dear Sir,
I was wondering if you would have any information on 1964 All Ireland Solo Piping. The contest was held in the Floral Hall, Belfast. I played as a juvenile in the Royal Army Service Corp in this contest and wonder if I could see results.

Yours faithfully
Kenneth Goligher

John Stuart MacMurchie

Dear Sir,
I found your report about a piping concert that featured tunes from the First World War. In this report my great Uncle  John Stuart MacMurchie is mentioned and there is a very nice summary of his wartime bravery.
Apparently there was a piece of pipe music written to honour his life. Do you know where I can find details of this music or even find a recording please?
I would be very grateful for any help you could give me.

Many thanks.
Peter Jackson

Jan Smuts Tune

Chris Mulinder tells me P/M JB Robertson, Scots Guards, penned a tune and named it for Jan Smuts the great SA leader.
Any chance of a copy? Best

Nicholas Taitz, Johannesburg.

Can any reader help us with these three requests? Please email any response to pipingpress@gmail.com 

Donald MacPherson’s Pipes

Dear Editor
I have been involved with piping and Highland Scottish culture for almost all of my 54 years; piping is my religion. It was with much excitement that I recently found out an old friend was the purchaser of probably the most desirable bagpipe on the planet, the Donald MacPherson Bagpipe – more so when he offered to let me see them. The pipe had not been played since it was first purchased from the Donald MacPherson Estate in 2012.

They were shipped and stored in EXACTLY the same state as when their famous owner last played them. Same bag, same chanter reed, same drone reeds, etc. While the joints were understandably tight (and I have never witnessed a hemping job of such high quality), they were relatively easily taken apart for inspection. They tuned to perfection almost immediately and with incredible ease; the ‘sweet spot’ seemed extremely forgiving.

The current owner had also purchased a set of practically (and certainly ‘externally’) identical 1930 Lawrie’s (ivory/German silver) for comparison with the DM pipe in 2013: they had not been played; their history unknown. These were very difficult to get apart with ‘seized hemp’, but with some perseverance, AND NO damage, they were re-commissioned and played beautifully.

The harmonics produced by the Donald MacPherson Bagpipe, were astonishing. So far I have had the pleasure of playing some remarkable pipes and I have been fortunate (albeit briefly) to hear the incredible pipes of modern masters but experts with vast experience say Donald’s was/ is unrivalled.

Apart from being the greatest piper of his era, Donald MacPherson knew how the bagpipe produced sound and he customised this unique instrument. He was a genius of the bagpipe. The instrument produced a wall of sound far greater than the ‘sum of the parts’. There was almost no distinction between the chanter and the drones, changing notes after a held note seeming to ‘re-boot’ one’s concentration. It’s the most amazing experience I have had as a piper. No wonder their designer and player was somewhat secretive about what he had perfected. I am privileged by my experience.

The Donald MacPherson Bagpipe suffered NO damage. The recent misinformation was deeply distressing and needed correcting. Perhaps this will suffice but the TRUTH lies in their box, 14 hours South. The owner purchased The Donald MacPherson Bagpipe for £29.8k in 2012. The owner believed then, and still believes, the pipes should be kept exactly as Donald MacPherson last played them. This would preclude “lending them out”.

Alastair McInnes, Grafton, NSW, Australia

Black Watch Book Request for Info

Dear Rab,
Could you possibly pass on my e mail to Iain please as I have some questions about the tune about his father and his Black Watch connection. Also, I am writing a book on the Pipers of my old Regiment from 1725 till 2006 and was wondering if you could put a call out to anyone who had a relative or Black watch connection particularly in WW2 and the founders of the Red Hackle Pipe Band in Glasgow.

For the period 1938 till the late 1960s there is virtually no information available due to archives still being closed  so I am relying on people coming out of the “ wood work” so to speak to fill in the gaps. I am after Army number, date of birth , death , marriage, life story, medals , piping prowess, piping relatives, photographs of anything piping related connected with The Black Watch.

I am aiming to have every piper from the regiment at least named (which may be impossible) so that the history of piping is not forgotten or recorded incorrectly in the future.

Kind Regards,
Alistair Duthie, Pipe Major late The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)

John MacFadyen Double at the Northern Meeting

The article featuring the success of John MacFadyen does spark memories and maybe that is the purpose of publishing relatively recent historic accounts. That year the Northern Meeting Gold Medal was held in the Arts Centre, Farraline Park. I had been to the Meetings before in the under 18 competitions and the person who had the greatest success at that time in those competitions was Iain Murdo Morrison, a slight built figure from Back in Lewis. As a 15 year old, I had started serving my apprenticeship in an engineering shop with a firm called Logan, one of their biggest projects being the Tay Road Bridge.

I would have been quite a robust built 15 to 16 year old and in the company of older tradesmen and, among other things, learned how to swear! This was evident if the fingers got struck with a hammer or the fingers stuck to the frost covered bits of metal being taken in for machining or fabricating etc! Swearing does not cure such ills, but helps.
However, to the 1966 event. I had been doing some of the local games in the North and getting my fingers over the edge of the board occasionally. The late James Ross Matheson, who was a very good player but whose pipes unfortunately would let him down badly, would say to me, ‘Watson, your fingers are creeping over the edge of the board and I will tramp on top of them!’  This was all in good humour.
However with bits of games success it was suggested that I could try the Northern Meeting. I was at that time in the 11th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders Pipe Band and John W. Riach was the Pipe Major. He was known as ‘Carra’, a name given to him by Pipe Major Donald Maclean of the Seaforths. Carra was a piper in the regiment and was stationed for a period at Fort George. He become close friends with Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. As a result of this friendship Carra obtained set tune tape recordings from Donald.
These recordings pre-dated those featured on the Lismor CDs now commercially available. I found them a great inspiration. In truth I did not have a great number of tunes under my belt. Getting teachers even in that era was not easy but I did have lessons from Wiilliam M. MacDonald, known as ‘Watery Willie’ on account of his being employed by the water services of Inverness-shire.
Thinking back, I have to admit that going round the games and hearing those ‘old’ men was a great source of learning for me. They were not, in reality, old and indeed a lot younger than I am at the time of this writing. I had been to the likes of Invergordon Games and it would have been there probably that I saw John MacFadyen and Seamus MacNeil who were doing the games circuit. They were from Glasgow, which at that time could have been thousands of  miles away as far as I was concerned.
As I said, listening to them and others such as Calum Campbell, John MacDougall, RSM John MacLellan and William Macdonald (Benbecula) was a learning experience. Standing below trees and hearing stories from old pipers such as Willie MacDonald (Melness), known as Gruids, was in itself a great education and all of these men were very capable of ‘tramping on my fingers’ and keeping me in my place.
So to the Gold Medal competition. I would have been the youngest there. Iain Murdo Morrison had joined HM Forces I think. I did play Clan Campbell’s Gathering and I suppose it went well enough. The RSM, who was on the bench, later did comment to me that there was plenty of  fire in it. I was not aware of this, but now I hopefully know what he meant and indeed look for that sort of thing when I listen to piobaireachd – depending on of  tune of course. To a young person such comments can be inspiring and memorable.

I heard John MacFadyen and a few others including Seamus MacNeill. I cannot recall if he had that damned pipe bag cover in the pattern of a leopard skin on or not, but such a sight is etched on my mind. I recall the man who was the reporter on piping  for the Oban Times, but do not remember his name. Older readers would know who I refer to. He was a big fellow and I recall walked with a limp.   He cornered me at the Cummings Hotel later and had pleasant things to say. From memory, and reading his re-produced comments, I rather think he was generally too kind to pipers, but maybe I am wrong.

I cannot put my finger on it but for some reason there was more fun to competing and going to the games at that time. A lot of the older  guys had come through the Second World War and had vast life experiences to share. When I emigrated to Aberdeenshire, I found the same atmosphere there. It would be impossible to capture that old atmosphere today.

Now I read of the suggestion of exams for judges! Well meaning it may be, but goodness, where will this end? More formal codes of conduct and rules which already are divisive and damaging to relationships without evidence of positive results and indeed producing negativity. For the vast majority this is a passionate hobby; the playing and study of the music has been a great release from the vicissitudes of work-related pressures and, in the recent past, war experiences.

Duncan Watson, Aberdeen.

Charles MacLeod Williamson

Re the Charles McLeod Williamson As I Knew Him article, here are details of his compositons that were played on the Scottish Gas Caledonian Pipe Band ‘Out of the Blue’ album. Charlie’s Dance (a 12/8 jig, that was part of the medley, and two reels, the Gonna Reel and The Yodler. All classic Charlie compositions!

Sally McFarland

Hi there,
The tunes written by Charlie which were recorded on ‘Out of the Blue’ by Scottish Gas were the Gonna Reel (this would have been a Gordon Campbell suggestion for a previously nameless tune) and The Yodler. They’re played on the last track on the album along with the Little Cascade – another tune that was probably considered outlandish when it was written.

Keep up the good work. Cheers,

Steven McDonaugh

Silver Chanter
Hello Robert,

It is a pity the Silver Chanter competition is to cease. I must say I have never been there as an audience member; the nearest I got was listening on the wireless. The invited players were, for obvious reasons, chosen for their successes at competitions and understandably much the same people were playing there year after year, or until one or two dropped off in retirement.

With the same people and largely the same tunes interest was bound to wane. There is almost a club of the recitalists/competitors and to some extent judges at these elite contests. Whether that has a positive or negative effect on performance, and therefore maybe attendance, is debatable. In any case the organisers are having to face reality and it appears too late in the day to reverse the problem. Some of the playing, and indeed the judging, has come in for criticism at times.

Maybe such things just run their course. It may reveal how resilient the likes of Highland games are in are maintaining solo piping competitions as part of their activities. We know that the games are  run on a different basis to the likes of the Silver  Chanter and I maybe wrong to compare them. However given the difficulties of attending and playing at the games, inclement weather etc., there should be greater value placed on them. Perhaps the ‘governing’ bodies in  solo piping who seek to govern in an ever greater extent should take appropriate interest in this.

Hopefully it won’t happen, but if a significant number of the games competitions were to cease because of lack of interest it would have an adverse impact on the whole scene and the competitions considered as major would feel the draught in various adverse ways.

Duncan Watson,

World War 1 Tunes

Hello there,

I have just recorded an album of music related to the First World War. I know that that vast majority of it is out of copyright and in the public domain. However there are some of the tunes that I cannot tell, as there is so little information out there about the composer(s). I wonder if you could help me with this? They are all pipers, hence me contacting you. In particular, Iain McPherson seems to have a very strong connection with the Scottish Pipers’ Association.
The tunes and pipers are: The Shell that Shook the Billet – Pipe Major John S Mouat, The Battle of the Somme – William Lawrie (he died in 1916 so I presume it is public domain), Sad Am I – Iain Hunter McPherson (he died in 1963), A Lament – Captain G C Fleetwood. I can’t find any information on him at all other than he was in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

All four of these tunes are from The Pipes of War, a book published in 1920 by Sir Bruce Seton and John Grant. There were only two hundred copies of this book printed, and all of the settings are original tunes composed during World War One. If you could help me out that would be amazing as the album needs to go to print in a few weeks and if I need to contact somebody’s estate, that could take a while.

Many thanks!
Sam Sweeney samsweeney123@mac.comhttp://www.samsweeneymusic.com

The Battle of the Somme will certainly be in the public domain Sam and I believe the others can be similarly categorised with the possible exception of the Iain MacPherson tune. Good luck with the album. Ed.

Charles MacLeod Williamson
To whom it may concern.  Do you have any information (including photos) of ‘Charlie’ Williamson who served with Donald MacLeod in the Seaforth Highlanders during WW II and was later from the Edinburgh area? He composed several very ‘intricate’ jigs, some printed in the Gordon Highlander’s Vol. II.  I’ve long been an admirer of his unique approach and reputed ‘wizardly’ fingering in his day.  Anything you might have access to would be greatly appreciated.  Best regards,Kenneth MacDonald Moorhouse.

I was doing a gig with the Whistlebinkies at the Kelvingrove bandstand in Glasgow in the early 80s Mr Moorhouse when I was approached by a small gentleman who introduced himself as Charles MacLeod Williamson. He’d heard us playing his tune Granny MacLeod and came forward to thank us for doing so. He gave me permission to include the tune in my Glasgow Collection tune book where it sits with another of his jigs, Myra Hatton. There is a short story associated with Granny MacLeod. Charles was visiting her on leave from the Highland Depot at Fort George on a Sunday morning in 1945 when the tune came to him. RW

Pipe Band LPs

Hello,I am writing your organization after researching bagpipe music museums etc.  My father was a piper and board member for the Yonkers Kilty Pipe Band (Yonkers, NY) in the late 1950s through the 1970s.  Before it was disbanded, it was one of the oldest pipe bands in the United States.

My father was an avid pipe band enthusiast during his life, even after he retired from playing and managing the bands. He collected probably over a hundred pipe band records spanning bands from around the world including the US.

Sadly, my father passed away several years ago and his collection has sat in boxes gathering dust. My mother and I have decided to try and find a home for some or all of his pipe band records. Obviously, we could either just discard them or donate them to a charity shop but this collection is pretty big and my father loved his pipe music, so we are looking for an organization, museum or society who would appreciate the collection and add it to their archives.

If you think your organization might be interested in the donation of the collection, please let me know, or if someone in your organization may know of a bagpipe music museum or society that would welcome the collection, please forward me their contact details. Thank you

Patricia Atkins

• Those interested can contact Mrs Atkins here.

Bagpipe Sound

Hi Rob,
Once again your article got my attention.  In the piping world you have to know your place.  There are those who compete for the big prizes at Oban and Inverness.  There are others that compete the ‘big’ prizes elsewhere. I was away from piping for many years and when I returned the winning combination was an R.G. Hardie chanter and Henderson drones.I play a set of Peter Henderson drones with a Naill Chanter. I play a Troy chanter reed (the original version), two Ezee tenor drones. Over the last 10 years the constant was my sound.  I am now 73 and while I was not in the medals this past Saturday the judges gave me solid marks on my overall tone and chanter clarity.  While I was playing against much younger competitiors it was still great to get on the field with them.  Their focus is the present not the past.  You can’t beat the Stradavarius of bagpipes which for me are those that I purchased in 1968 for the extravagant fee of $285.00 Cdn.  It should be noted that Peter Henderson is imprinted in the wood.  

Ken Rogers, Calgary

Cortachy Games

Hello Robert, Only two of us and a local boy. The picture shows me and Craig Martin who was the overall champion. I would like to do a shoutout to the small games held in Cortachy if you don’t mind. Is it even appropriate? If you’d be so kind you could post it and also correct my English.

These games were quite small but so lovely. Very well organised and cosy and I was sad to see just so few of us. Yes, the prize money is not the best (£12 for the first), but is that what we come for? I doubt it and for you Scotties it would even pay some petrol? Yes, it is not a graded competition but had there been more of us, we would have made a great competition that would be equally as worthy for your grading application! I am aware that yesterday were the Worlds but still so many people had entered for Perth, which was unfortunately cancelled, so why didn’t you make your way to beautiful Cortachy? And if it had been just for a day out, which I think this tradition one should appreciate, they had a dog show, flower and vegetable exhibition, homemade scones and pancakes and even the burgers
were sold for a reasonable price! We had a lovely day which even was very sunny after a rainy start and all of you missed something!

Anna Kummerlöw

• Very appropriate Anna and such a shame more pipers didn’t make the effort, especially as you say, with Perth being cancelled. Ed.

New Pipes v Old


Regular correspondent Duncan Watson, Aberdeen,  writes: I find that interesting and there are pros and cons as far as I can see.  As regards seasoned wood, there seems to be may be problems.  As I understand in some situations with makers, from the time the wood arrives in the workshop until it leaves can be as little as eight weeks.   Prior to the purchase of the wood it may be lying long enough in store  for the process of seasoning  to take place which can in fact be years.

It is common for new made bagpipes to have some of the mountings become loose and this may result in cracking.  There  are times that the  upper sections of the drones become restricted  at the lower ends and the bores become uneven and when down below the level of the hemped area, the drone tops/ slide  become loose  and the drone tops can fall. I have caught my fingers in this and I know of others who have also been thus caught. From some of the older pipe makers, the suggestion is that the wood in fact is not seasoned  properly to dry out.

As regards the top players as you mention, a lot of those guys could get their pipes going well in any event. A pipe maker told me some years ago that he believed that in actual fact only about 75 per cent of pipers who are purchasing new made bagpipes have the ability of tuning their pipes.  They depend on instructors and their pipe majors and tuning aids and never really learn to tune their own bagpipes.  An indictment on the teaching of the instrument. The top  or good players are beyond that problem and sometimes that is what defines them?

Colin Thomson: Responses to letter (below)
From Duncan Watson, Aberdeen….My recall is that James Ross Matheson spoke of being taught by Colin Thomson and I think at that time Thomson resided in Golspie, Sutherland. James Ross Matheson had a brother who was a well-known player and I think he resided about Bathgate. If I am correct he was called John Matheson and turned out some very good players. It might be that John Matheson also had tuition from Colin Thomson and the surviving pupils of John Matheson, of whom there are a few as I understand, may have some information regarding Colin Thomson. I may be wrong, but I think I learned somewhere that Colin Thomson was originally from Resolis in the Black Isle nearabouts to Cromarty. When James Matheson would speak of Colin Thomson his accent, which was  north Scotland/Sutherland, the Colin sounded  ‘Col –een’

From Dale Brown, Troy, Michigan….Piping Press has become my every morning read.  Enjoyed the historical snippet on Colin Thomson.  We often know tune names but not necessarily the background and achievements of the individuals.  Colin Thomson is honoured with a second 2/4 six-part march in John Wilson’s second book. John Wilson maintained this was the true march named for Colin Thomson and Willie Ross was mistaken in naming the march Colin Thomson in his book 3.  I have no idea what title should have been used. Considering the close association that John Wilson had with Roderick Campbell this opinion has to be given some credibility.

• Thanks for the information gentlemen. Very interesting. Hopefully we will get some response from other readers. RW.

Colin Thomson

28/4/17Dear Mr Wallace,
I just want to let you know (if no one else has already done so) about an error I detected in the recently posted list of Northern Meeting prize winners.  The error concerns the photograph of the Pipe Major and the caption immediately below it which states: ‘1891 Piper Colin Thomson, 3rd Bn Seaforth Highlanders (above)’.  Closer examination of the photograph will reveal that the collar dogs are definitely those of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, whereas an additional clue is the Argyll’s boar’s head badge on the cross (or sword) belt, just above the buckle.
Kindest regards,

Mitchell McDowell,
Ontario, Canada

• There was an Argyll connection with Colin Thomson right enough Mitch. Interested in information from anyone.

Uist & Barra 1991

Dear Mr. Wallace,
My name is Whitney Reader. We met some years ago at the reception at Donald MacPherson’s funeral, discussing music for bagpipes and orchestra (am a classical musician living in Germany). It’s been some time, so I doubt that rings a bell.  Anyhow, I was just listening to you playing pibroch via YouTube at the Uist and Barra competition in 1991, and was most impressed with the sound of your pipe; absolutely stunning. Was wondering if you could tell me a little about your pipe and set up from back then!
Many thanks and best wishes,

Whitney Reader

Thanks for the kind words Whitney and I do remember our conversation. My pipes back then were a set of Henderson drones with Naill chanter. Eezidrone tenors and cane bass reeds on a Canmore bag. From memory I think the reed was from Donald MacPhee but would succumb to torture on that one.

P/M Robert Pinkman

I read the letter dated 26/9/16 from Melody Jane Pinkman regarding her father, P/M Robert Pinkman of the K.O.S.B.
I am compiling a list of Pipe Majors of military Pipes & Drums worldwide and have at the moment details of over 2500 P/Ms.
Some of the service details of P/M Pinkman are still missing on my list and I would like to get in contact with her to see if she can help me.
Would appreciate if you could forward this message to her.
Thanks and regards
Aad Boode

Livingston, West Lothian

Donald MacLeod in Canada

Hi Rob,  I really like the articles on Donald MacLeod. The programme that my school has used [The Scottish Tradition School of Piping] was that designed originally by Donald and his friend, Willie [MacLeod].  In fact, once I played for Willie in my piobaireachd and he said ‘finally, I will get some real music’. He gave me a mark of 90% and a silver medal.  The fellow that beat me played the Lament for the Old Sword with an  a mach.

One of my regrets was not attending the school in Fort Qu’Appelle when Jim invite me to attend. By the way, both Jim and I came through the St. Andrew’s Boys’ Pipe Band  in Moose Jaw. He was four or five years ahead of me. However, I have my own mentor and it has always done me well. One story that you told was getting three pence to get a chanter reed from Donald and he gave you one and your money back and you used it to buy sweets. Yes, there is a bond with the past.  Keep  up your good work – because I said so!

Ken Rogers, Calgary

Switching Bag Arms
Hello Robert, I hope this finds you well. I wonder if I could ask a daft question which has a very serious reason behind (for a piper anyway).  Do you know/or have heard of any pipers who have reverted from holding the bag under the left arm with the normal left/upper and right/lower hand configuration, to that where the bag is held under their right arm but still playing with the same hand placement on the chanter?

Best wishes. George Taylor
• I haven’t heard of anyone switching like that George but have seen a few who were taught that way. It looks pretty awkward and posture suffers. However, if the arms are long enough it should be possible. The most famous piper who played like that was ‘big’ Donald MacLean but he had been taught that way so found it perfectly natural. 

President Kennedy’s Funeral

Have you got any information on my late tutor Jim ‘Snowball’ Anderson from Methil [Fife]? He played in the Black Watch and I’m sure he played at President Kennedy’s Funeral. Just think he deserves a mention as he was a great man and a great tutor.

Robert C. Jones, Cowdenbeath, Fife.

• Please click here for details of the funeral Mr Jones.

Glasgow Highland Club

Dear Robert

Thanks for giving the Glasgow Highland Club a good write up on pipingpress.com. Just a small correction – I am the Pipe Major of the Club – John Wilson is the Club Piper, and indeed, is in succession to John MacDougall Gillies, who was the second club piper, having been preceded by Farquhar MacRae. Just to bring the list up to date, John MacDougall Gillies was succeeded by Robert Reid, who was succeeded by Donald MacLeod, and John is, in fact, the fifth club piper in its 135 year history.

As far as the minutes of the early days of the Club tell us, the adoption of the ‘Glendaruel Highlanders’ predated the appointment of John MacDougall Gillies by some 12 years, this former event taking place at the Annual Meeting of 1886, whereas, JMG was not appointed Club Piper until 1898.

Best wishes

James [Beaton]

Piobaireachd Composition

I wanted to make you aware that Janette Montague has composed another pibroch, this one a trio, and has enlisted the talents of Willie McCallum, James McGillvray and Craig Muirhead to record it. She has set up an Indigogo page, to help her defray recording and performer costs:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lacrimae#/
Here is a link to her promotional video: https://youtu.be/UCPLhD2gJsQ. I do hope you would join me in supporting her, and would pass this information along to the readers of your website.

Thank you!

-J David Hester, PhD
Alt Pibroch Club


Hello Rab,
Great work following the progress of the CITES rules concerning African blackwood. Your readers might be interested in a lengthy article I wrote for The Voice back in 2007 regarding the very topic of why the wood is endangered in certain parts of Africa and why it faces continued difficulty. (The link to the article is at the base of the post at this link: http://pipehacker.com/2016/12/03/new-cites-certifications-for-african-blackwood-its-been-leading-to-this/) It’s really no surprise that dalburgia would have eventually faced restrictions in order to keep it commercially viable. The tree is already extinct in western Africa and back in ’07, up to 90% of all blackwood on the market was a result of illegal harvesting. Broad farming programs for legitimate and sustainable harvest began in the early 2000s in Tanzania and elsewhere and are now starting to pay off. The market for the tree provides an injection of legitimate economic stability in a region of the world where most of the population lives in poverty. Protecting it is a needed step for the growers as well as us, the musicians who benefit directly.

Thanks much.
Vince Janoski
Hopewell, NJ

Robert Turner

Great wee piece in this morning’s blog about Bob Turner. Never a truer word said about a very unsung hero of pipe band drumming in my opinion.
I played alongside Bob while I was in Tam Murray’s corps at my dad’s BP Grangemouth. I’ve never seen anyone that could play single strokes as fast as Bob and his scores would definitely be relevant today.

Andy [Donaldson]

Thow Pipemakers

Hi Rob,
Thank you for showing the material on Thow of Dundee.  I remember well the place in the Wellgate and used to go there for a practice chanter reed. We paid three pence for one. I could also. at times get them in our local newsagent. It came in a small box and you didn’t get to try it before you bought it. There was also another small business around the corner from Thow, a saddlers that made pipe bags and did a wee bit of other stuff for piping.
Regarding Thow, I remember the last owner very well and was contacted by his widow about all the material you have and I also bought all his hand tools and used them in Pittsburgh when I was refurbishing bits of pipes.  I think Bert Gillanders worked for a while with Thow before staring his business. Thow drones were very similar to McDougalls and I had many requests for them when I was dealing in old pipes.

I also found your article a few days ago that had the results for Inverness. My first real student was mentioned as winning the Under-16 MSR, Ian Larg.  The same day the 13 and Under MSR winner was another of my kids. When Ian Larg turned 16 I took him through to Oban and he was third in the Gold Medal. He was a very good young Student.

Keep refreshing our memory on some the past history. It is very interesting.

Happy New Year Rob.

Jimmy [McIntosh]

Judging Debacle

Brian Mulhearn makes the point that since Nick Taitz has never played here his comments are irrelevant. I disagree. Nick’s points, though long, are thoughtful and eloquently made. I agree wholeheartedly with what he says. Be aware, I have no connection with him whatsoever and have never met the guy, lest accusations of conflicts of interest rear their head.We need the best judges available for the big events, whether or not they have taught some of the participants. It is a poor reflection on some of our community that they distrust the integrity of masters of the art who are giving of their knowledge and experience to benefit the next generation. Makes me angry and sad. Regards
Iain Marshall

Judging Debacle

Hello Rob,
Having been following the recent judging developments, I think you are looking at the situation from only one side. You seem to have taken the view of a few judges who were not at the meeting that the decision was taken at, as the only view. My view as to the turnout at the AGM is that it was a good turnout. Turnouts at piping AGMs are usually very poor.Judging must appear to be fair to the other competitors, and if a judge is judging his pupil it does not look fair. If he plays a good tune, it’s the way his tutor wants to hear it. Another judge might think it was a bit slow or the Es in the cadences were rushed even though it’s what he was taught.You printed a long letter from Nicholas Taitz from South Africa who, being a lawyer, can write a good letter but he has never played in this country so his opinions on the matter in this country are irrelevant.
The big three competitions could quite easily rearrange the judges on the day. If a judge has two pupils playing in his competition he would know before the day he was judging his own and should ask for a move or pay his own expences and just go to listen.

Brian Mulhearn, Ayrshire

Tattoo Piper

Hello Rab,
About two days ago I was on TV for the BBC world news when an item came up about the female Lone Piper for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2017. The scene was from a Royal Artillery parade waiting for the piper to strike up with the Flowers of the Forest. As soon as the pipes sounded I could tell that the drones were well out of tune and not even in unison, and the chanter was thin sounding with F and D far too sharp. I could see that the piper had the appointment of Pipe Major but the fingering was rather ordinary, lightweight and the tune did not ‘have a show’. I wonder how such a pipe major could qualify as a Duty Piper? In the brief interview there was no apology that I could hear. I pitied the poor soldiers on parade having to suffer the ‘Amazing Disgrace’. There are many well qualified female pipers, as you know,  from which to find a good female piper for the Lone Piper if the Tattoo promoters must have one. I wonder if you or your readers happened to hear and see that interview, and what you/readers might have thought of it. All the best for the coming festive season.

William A. Robertson (Bill), New Zealand

Judging Debacle

Dear Rob
It seems to me very unfortunate that a group of persons has pushed an agenda predicated essentially on inherent mistrust of all judges’ integrity. Without this element, there is simply no reason for this rule, given the very bad consequences it will have. The aim of judging is to choose as winner the piper who delivers the best tune on the day. However, given that the top pipers are all so good, and play so well, it is a task requiring great skill on the part of a judge to get the right result. Moreover, the final decision may be one not only of technical merits (which are more easily identifiable and judged – such as tone, fingerwork, note errors, general presentation of the tune), but also artistic merits (such as flow, beauty, poignancy), and these are even harder to judge amongst fine performances. One needs, in short, the best judges to get the right result, or a justifiable result, every time.

Now, the problem is, the best judges are also the finest former players, and are in demand as teachers. It is only natural for a pro level piper to wish to go to a master piper for final polishing, and indeed this is the great tradition of our art. Those who have the high skills required to judge at the highest level (and there are not many of them) are always in demand as teachers, for obvious reasons. The new rule will prevent the best pipers from teaching, or it will prevent them from judging.  Either way, the loss is great to piping.

In the days when Robert Reid (for one) used to criticise the judges bitterly, and the medals awarded (‘not worth more than brass buttons’) it was precisely because he felt the judges were not true experts that he said this, not because he thought they were biased (although he may also have held such a view in some cases, knowing Reid). We need the finest players, once retired from competing, to be free to teach and to judge, and we need to trust their integrity and love for the art as a safeguard against unfair favouring of pupils.   The finest pipers will tend to have this love for the art, and its highest accolades, deeply imbued in them, and are likely in 99 out of 100 instances to be fair and objective.

They also know full well that an award of a prize to a pupil will be scrutinised, and so they will be extra careful to be sure he or she played the best tune of the day. The finest pipers, after a lifetime of competing and listening and honing their own artistry with the prior generation of masters, also uniquely possess the skill to judge whether a man or woman should win, despite a note error, over another who played note-perfect but without perhaps artistic attributes possessed by the error-maker. These are difficult choices, and still more difficult is the awarding of places where 10 or more tunes are tonally and note-perfect.  In such a case, only true elite expertise can guide a judge to a justifiable result.

Ultimately, this new rule is bad for piping. It elevates rumours and grumbles of partiality to the be-all and end-all of the matter – the tiny tail is wagging the big dog here. I would personally be happy to play in any piping competition where a judge adjudicates a pupil of his against me – and I am sure most competing pipers feel the same.  We all trust the integrity and love for the music of the finest players, and they neither desire nor conspire to give favoured pipers the medals. Chris Terry often judges here in SA, and has taught most of the players in the contest.  Yet none of us would ever question his integrity or his placings.

Of course, the truly elite pipers know that the top judges will always strive to be fair, and it is unsurprising to find Bill Livingstone and others against this unnecessary and harmful rule. The rule also fosters an inherent distrust of the judges, which is not conducive to the art or its furtherance.  Inherent trust is needed, and any cases showing bias must be looked into.

Top judges in most legal systems around the world come from the ranks of top professional lawyers, usually retired ones. These judges will commonly have worked with, and effectively been teachers of over many years, younger lawyers who then appear in their Courts.  Again, there is trust in the integrity of the judges, and the fact that they are judging a case involving an ex-close associate of theirs as counsel for one or other side is irrelevant.  By choosing junior to work with them in their practice days on a big case, a lawyer who later is made a judge will have effectively sent huge legal fees into the pocket of the younger lawyer – serious money – yet no one says that lawyer may in the future not appear before that judge.

For any judging activity, the two requirements most needed are expertise, and integrity.  If we adhere to this unnecessary rule, we will inevitably drive out the best expertise from the judging, and there is not even any guarantee that we will get any less bias (assuming there has been some bias on occasions in history, which is inevitable) as a result! The loss of expertise and prestige of judges is inevitable, whilst the gain in perceived or real integrity is at best negligible and really quite doubtful.

I am sure any of us who competes would rather have the most expert judge on the bench, with his pupils in the mix, rather than a mediocre judge who might try his best, but doesn’t appreciate the finer points necessary to give a fair result when the standard is so high and the pipers are all playing superbly well.  I really hope this rule, which you have aptly described as draconian, and which I would describe as a huge loss with no clear gains, is swiftly jettisoned and saner minds prevail.

All the best

Nick Taitz, South Africa

Taking of Beaumont Hamel
30/11/16Good morning Robert,
I read your piece today with interest (re the 51st) and ‘The Taking of Beaumont Hamel’. It triggered reading of the tune in a report from the annual Dollar Academy Battlefield trip – reported in the link below.  You’ll read that Piper Finlay Cameron, Sandy’s young brother, played the tune in front of the 51st Memorial in France very recently. It will have been made even more poignant by his personal connection to one of the 500, which you’ll see.
The memorial at the school has the names of the men who fell, and was recently the centrepiece of two Remembrance parades on Friday 11th and Sunday 13th November. The honour guard then played its part in the town commemorations.

Yours aye

Bill McCall

McCall & Partners

Willie Lawrie

Dear Robert, You will be fully aware that tomorrow, November 28th, is the 100th anniversary of the death of Willie Lawrie. Your recent item on The Taking of Beaumont Hamel by his colleague John McLellan, Dunoon, is especially poignant. As his 51st Highland Division colleagues helped to take Beaumont Hamel, he was back in Oxford where he was to die in the Military Hospital.

It may even have been part of Trinity College as that august institution was taken over as part of the hospital. It proves, however sadly, that talented boys from Ballachulish can sometimes get near to Oxford University. Willie, rest in peace, you will never be forgotten.

Eric Macintyre

 Very worthy sentiments Eric and thanks for the timely reminder. Ed.

Nick the Breton

Dear Rab,

Following your article dated 21st Oct. about Nick Hudson and Bagad Brieg, here is the answer: https://www.facebook.com/136977663033597/photos/a.136982736366423.27684.136977663033597/1230681990329820/?type=3&theaterNick had played with Bagad Kevrenn Alre (Auray) before, namely at the 2011 Lorient Championships.

Best  regards,  Patrick de Renéville

PP Results Service

Rob, It occurs to me that people from all over send you competitions results. I wonder if you have been keeping a spreadsheet or some such thing for posterity’s sake, or even for the purposes of running interesting queries against it?
-J David Hester, PhD
Alt Pibroch Club 

• Thanks for the note David. We categorise every year’s results and keep them available for everyone on that basis; they should be easily accessible via the search facility. RW.

Tune Difficulty

Interesting discussion on tune difficulty for competition. I wonder – how would one view a tune like Major David Manson – the reel? It’s not technically demanding like John Morrison or Charlie’s Welcome, but then again it’s a subtle tune and very hard to play just right.

For example, the way Hugh MacCallum plays Willie Murray into Major Manson on his Worlds Greatest Pipers record is so fine, so well phrased and handled that I might venture to say it could win a big MSR contest even though the tunes aren’t the hardest. I think he also plays the Grey Bob in that set and it’s another fairly easy reel but the way he plays it – again it could, and likely would, win many a top contest!

One is also put in mind of Willie Ross who was known to play the simple strathspey in competition – I forget which? The one that only GS and Willie Ross were said to be able to play ‘correctly’ whatever that may mean.

Donald MacLean’s farewell to Oban? Easy or not? Easy technique, but not easy to play perfectly at all! I always thought that many of the big reels were very easy – Sheepwife and the Smith – hardly a tough bit of technique to be seen! Come to think of it, Mrs MacPherson is not very technically hard at all either. Not like the heavy technique ones like Charlie’s Welcome, or even the Man from Glengarry with some of those demanding F doublings.

Nicholas Taitz, South Africa

City of Whitehorse Pipe Band

I would be interested to hear in full the views of the City of Whitehorse Pipe Band suspended from Pipe Bands Australia. Some of us here in Australia, have, for a while been calling for the removal of the executive of the PBA. When the real story comes out it may be another story indeed. I hope it will warrant an apology and full coverage too. It was indeed a very sad day at the Australian Pipe Band Championships 2016 when only two bands competed for the quickstep, and most bands didn’t have a drum major. The winning band in G1 – the WAPOL – needed another band to compete to ‘win’ the title. What about the 25 members of the CoW band and their families who went to compete? I did not attend the champsionships. I watched on livestream. Perhaps you should read the rules we have to abide by in playing pipes and drums in Australia – not really fun anymore, and then we wonder why people aren’t wanting to play. There will be a lot more said on this matter.

Robert Baker

Hong Kong Visit
Hello Rob,

Here we are in Hong Kong with a group of Chris Lee’s students and their families and friends. Even halfway around the world, Jimmy continues to be an ambassador for ceol mor, finishing off the Peking duck dinner by singing tunes from his book!! No matter one’s language or culture, piobaireachd and piping in general, create an immediate fraternal bond. We are so grateful for their kind hospitality and to Chris who, from his place in Scotland, organized them to be our ‘private tour guides’.

Yours, Joyce McIntosh

Uist & Barra 1971

Dear Mr Wallace,
Regarding your article on the Uist and Barra contest in 1971, you mentioned Jean-Francois Allain and that he may have had a brother
who was also a piper. In the late 1960s I was with my father in Achany House on one of his visits to Angus MacPherson. There were two French brothers there, I don’t remember their names from that occasion but later I came to the conclusion that they must have been the Allain brothers. My impression was that one of them was there for piping lessons and the other was being given dancing lessons, although he also played the pipes.

Earlier that morning Angus had heard one of them playing a piobaireachd in the grounds of Achany House. He asked which of them it was and on being told it was the dancer he asked him to play again. He went into the hallway and played the piobaireachd once more. But he wasn’t, I believe, as accomplished as his brother, and on this occasion his brother also went into the hallway to hold the music book for him just in case it was required. This resulted in a mild rebuke from Angus who pointed to his head and said ‘It should all be up here!’


Norman MacKinnon


Visiting the company’s lovely website you can see they are very proud of the ‘independent’ moniker.  Each evening I sit down and relax with my favorite Scotch and I really never think that this fantastic distilled spirit from Springburn I have come to rely on and enjoy so much, is owned by a company from Osaka, Japan.  I doubt they would ever patronize the Scottish arts if they were.  So maybe those of us who partake in a dram on a daily basis should do our share and support the Grant family of products.  Their continued support goes beyond the norm.

Matthew M Farrigan,
Saratoga Springs NY

Jean-François Allain

Hello Robert,
I was reading your interesting article this morning about the Uist and Barra contest in 1971, and I was happy to see the name of Jean-François Allain who was the first Breton piper to win prizes in Scottish competitions – as far back as the end of the sixties. I remember reading a report of the Glenfinnan Highland Games in an old issue of the Breton review ‘Ar Soner’ with a picture of Jean-François who had won the Piobaireachd contest in company of DR MacLennan and Angus MacPherson who were adjudicating that day, and I think it was in 1968 or 1969.
Jean-François had two brothers, Yves-Marie and Tanguy, both pipers, and his father Emile published the first bagpipe tutor (Traité élémentaire de biniou) in Brittany in 1956.
I was happy to meet Jean-François again two weeks ago at the Cancale Pibroch by the sea organized by Jakez Pincet. Back to the Uist and Barra contest, could you do some research in the archives for the year 1972, as I remember I competed that year, playing My King Has Landed in Moidart, and among the judges was Alfred Morrison, Fred’s father ? Thank you .
Yours aye
Patrick [Molard]

• Can any of you piping historians out there remember the 1972 U&B? Please send on a copy of that picture of Jean-François if you can Patrick.

Duncan MacDougall

Duncan MacDougall is pictured far right in this shot of the Breadalbane Pipe Band in 1870

By browsing the web about piping history I recently found two pictures of the famous Duncan MacDougall. So I wonder if any other publications or pictures have been published? Thanks to the internet! By the way I am sure that Alexander Glen and his sons have left behind some pictures of their lifetime don’t you think?

Duncan, John and Gavin MacDougall

Yves Tison

• Thanks for that Yves and yes I am sure there are pictures of the Glen dynasty. We’ll happily publish if someone sends them on. You can read a good article on the Breadalbane Pipers (if you’ve not already done so) here….Ed.

P/M Robert Pinkman

Sorry to bother you, I want to see if you can help me. My dad passed away in 2012. He was P/M Robert Pinkman of the K.O.S.B. He composed the tune Itchy Fingers. I am wondering if you or if anyone you know has done a story or something about my dad. I have been trying to get a hold of a copy of such an article ever since he died. If you could help me or point me in the right direction I would be very grateful. Thank you for taking time to read this message.

Melody Jane Pinkman
• Would anyone with information please contact us at pipingpress@gmail.com and we’ll pass it on to Melody Jane….Ed.

Boys Brigade and Jimmy McIntosh

Thank you for the quick delivery of the books. There are a lot of us who gained our early introduction to piping through the BB. I was taught by an ex-Black Watch regular Harry Watson in my old 7th Dundee Company and continued the tradition by forming a pipe band in the 1980s, the 44th Dundee in Broughty Ferry. This compnay was a successor to the 41st Dundee which I believe was Jimmy McIntosh’s own BB company. They were attached to Broughty YMCA. My skipper, Jim Craig, was a contemporary of Mr McIntosh’s growing up in the same street. It was speaking to Mr McIntosh’s younger brother Alex recently that I first heard of his big brother’s new book ‘Ceol Mor’.

A fellow BB officer and work colleague in Dundee’s Roads Department, Dave Alexander, was for a time Drum Major in the NCR Pipe Band with Jimmy. Dave learned his drumming in the BB. I had a friend whose dad, Mr McKelvie, was the quartermaster for the NCR band during Mr McIntosh’ssuccessful time as their pipe major. It is indeed a small world.

Yours sincerely,
Roddy Taylor, Battalion Secretary

Cowal Championships

I would like to say that having been born and brought up in Dunoon and been to many a Cowal Games, I was disgusted that the Grade 1 status was removed. Cowal is one off the oldest and most famous of all the gatherings and I remember as a child scrambling to get a name banner to march up and down the town with a band. The hairs on the back of the neck stood up and nothing but pride was felt. One can only imagine the same pride all those band members felt with the roars and cheers going on through the town. It’s a great pity and a loss especially to the junior bands that will never march with the Grade 1 bands in this parade. What a boost it was to those smaller bands. I look back to the days of Rose Fletcher, Glasgow City Police and hundreds more. Indeed a very sad day and I hope you with your poll can salvage something.


Robert Hartley

World Pipe Band Championships


First of all, I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your round-up of the World Pipe Band Championships. You did an excellent job of suggesting significant improvements whilst congratulating those involved on producing a superb two days of piping and drumming. I do agree on so many points especially the long break between the Grade 1 MSR and Medley competition and also the idea that Grade 2 bands could have better filled the gap. The open circle formation is long overdue as is your ‘best of the rest’ idea, both can’t come soon enough.

One question/comcern I do have regards Grade 1 players being able to play in lower graded bands. I know this has been an issue for a number of years but does the RSPBA have adequate checks in place to stop bands from loading the ranks with ‘ring-ins’?
I know this has happened in recent years with a Grade 4 band marching out with a large number of well known higher-grade players only to go on to win the World Championship in that grade. The same thing appears to have happened this year in Grade 3B with an international band playing with at least seven players that also play with a Grade 1 band from the same city. How is this fair to the other bands competing in that grade? Victory is almost a certainty, and in this case it was. This is not a case of sour-grapes, I don’t play in those grades and am not affected by it but my question is in regard to the legality of it. How is this able to happen? Can a band grab a handful of Grade 1 players, add a few grade four players and compete in any grade they like? Could you give some explanation of the rules here and suggest ways for the RSPBA to stamp this out?
Your input on this issue would be much appreciated.

Jim Johnson

Piping Press

Dear Robert,

As I dip my toes back into the world of piping after a long hiatus, I just wanted to thank you for your fine work on the Piping Press.  Too often we take the work of others for granted without appropriate acknowledgement. I produced a cycling podcast for years and despite thousands of listeners it was relatively rare but very welcome when I received thanks or encouragement, hence I always try to make a point of thanking others for their efforts.
So thanks for your hard work, it is very much appreciated from this reader. I also just watched your interview on Piper’s Persuasion and very much enjoyed sharing in your knowledge and your refreshingly frank opinions.

Thanks again,

Graham Farr

Minor Contests


Just a quick note regarding the poor or non PB entries at your smaller contests.  It is really great that your having this very important discussion. Much better than the drama playing out over a picture on an Australian PB members only page. Means a lot to readers like me.  I hope it brings more awareness.
The Northeast US Games circuit continues to struggle as well but for different reasons. We have off years depending on the amount of US bands traveling to the Worlds.  The Worlds has hurt us.  We have some bands that do one local minor in June, one in July, the Worlds and then the season’s over. I never understood that. There are other reasons as well. Lack of multiple Grade 2 bands etc.
I started the Scotia Glenville Pipe Band many years ago. Obviously they won the Worlds several years back. But when I started the band, it was a high school science project. Maureen Conner and others took it to another level after I left. I remember them just mowing down adult bands. And as P/M Donaldson writes, it can be difficult pill to swallow.

Matt Farrigan, NY

Bass Drumming


I would like to offer an observation. Being retired from the pipe band scene has allowed me to take a step back and really take a hard look and listen to other musical cultures and how they could be beneficial to the present day pipe band. I have had my head stuck in that MSR/Medley sand for more than 30 years.
I have always been intrigued with electronic dance music and hip hop. I started my research at the beginning with the famous drum beat machines of yesteryear that helped create those unmistakable beats and hits. So it got me thinking about some of the top pipe bands and some of the medleys over the years that could of benefited with even more bass.
One example that came to mind would be the 78th Frasers  1998 ‘Walking the Plank’.  I remember a clip from ‘The Scottish Drumming Blog’ January 13, 2014, ‘A blast from the past’. See if you don’t agree they were at a crossroads of how much bass was enough. I just don’t think the instrument setup had any more to give. Looking back, I think it needed more. Just a thought.

Matthew M Farrigan
Saratoga Springs, NY

Chatsworth Request


Dear Mr Wallace,
I am trying to contact Jimmy Stewart about Andrew Cuthbert’s 80th birthday celebration. He also should know that Christopher Lloyd Owen no longer has anything to do with Chatsworth Country Fair, which is now run by Sarah Green and me (who he will know as one of the Redsocks ). I am on 07966 450353 if he would like to get in touch. Thanks for your help,


Tim Acheson

Piper Tom’s Birl Finger

Hello Mr. Wallace:


That’s a sad tale indeed, and one I always hope to avoid ever having to tell of myself. However, as you stated in the article, there are a number of options to making a birl, and I’ve witnessed two of them in person.

One piper whom I’ve known for forty years has always played what outwardly appears to be a very cumbersome birl, but he (even into his 70s) still does a marvelous job of it.  His birl finger remains rigid (or straight, at least) and he executes the movement with his entire forearm.  I mean literally from the elbow down, the entire arm is involved and with no negative effects on the rest of the bottom hand on the chanter.  If one closes one’s eyes, there is no way to audibly determine whether the birl in question is in any way different from more common execution styles.  I’ve never inquired of this gentleman why he adopted this style as opposed to the standard types; whether or not an injury was the root cause or this is simply the easiest method for him…..I have no idea.

The second piper I know who uses the straight finger approach to birl playing is a lady friend who came to me as an adult to learn piping.  When it came to teaching her the birl she confessed that she had badly broken her little finger in her younger years, and the two standard styles of birl playing were simply a physical impossibility for her.  Undeterred, she said ‘Why don’t I just do this?’, and, keeping her pinkie straight, promptly executed two very precise taps in quick and distinct succession on her practice chanter.  Again, from an audibility standpoint, there was no difference whatsoever in the sound of her birl to either of the two common methods.  She did not find it necessary to involve her entire right forearm in the process as does the piper mentioned previously, so the movement itself seems far less cumbersome.



So there you have it……there is birl life after pinkie death!

Mitchell McDowell,
Ontario, Canada

Menzies’ March

Hello Robert,
I am trying to find the ceol beag tune Menzies March. I’ve checked all the internet sites and found nothing. The clan web site just lists The Menzies March and The Menzies Salute. There are lots of sites with The Menzies Salute. I emailed Clan Menzies a couple of years ago and they said they have no written record for the tune. Do you know the tune or know where to look, and if not , would any of your readers be able to help ?
Bruce Mein,


I have no knowledge of such a tune Bruce but it may just be another name for Menzies’ Salute. Piobaireachd were all described as ‘marches’ in Joseph MacDonald’s 18th century ‘Compleat Theory’. However, someone out there may know of such a piece of ceol beag. Can anyone assist?

Greenville Games James McIntosh Contest



It sounded like an excellent contest, what you described taking place at the Greenville Highland Games last week. In particular, I wish we all could have heard Nick Hudson, Dan Lyden and Andrew Carlisle’s performances.  I hope that organizers will learn to appreciate the value that video recordings and YouTube represent to the edification of our treasured musical heritage.
One interesting note: you stated that ‘I was a bit disconcerted by the rundown he added to Var 3 and this is something I think he needs to review’. I wonder a couple of things:
First, a bit of clarification – in Lament of Laird of Anarboll (PS 197) MacArthur, Gesto and MacKay have a 3rd variation, but in MacArthur and MacKay it’s a taorluath, in Gesto it’s identified as a crunluath.  I don’t think that’s what you meant?
Second, if you mean perhaps what MacArthur identifies as Var 2, there are plenty of lovely rundowns indicated.  So I’m not sure why he should review them or reconsider them? http://www.altpibroch.com/PrimarySources/197-K1_79-Lament_for_the_Laird_of_Arnaboll.pdf
Third, clearly MacKay never has rundowns, but that’s a stylistic choice of his family in particular.  Do you think his setting should be the determinative?  Certainly in many respect Archibald Campbell thought so, but now that we have these manuscripts, perhaps we should reconsider? Or, at least, be open minded to the earlier primary sources, I think.
In any case, I know you are a strong advocate for the continued exploration and performance of piobaireachd.  I hope you agree that we want it not only to survive, but to thrive.  And that such a future should also include the wonderful and exciting variations in style and expression that the primary sources represent.
I also hope that together we might strongly advocate that organizers find ways to record these events and publish them.  That way, more people can hear and understand not just the judge’s decisions, but your comments as well.  Wouldn’t that be exciting?
-J David Hester, PhD
Alt Pibroch Club 

Bag Covers

Hi Robert,
Just a wee note to your great article on pipe bags and covers. An aspect that is almost forgotten nowadays, that when making a bag cover the knap or grain of the material MUST run down from the under piper’s armpit creating resistance against the body and arm whilst playing. If the cover is made vice versa slippage will occur.
To find the direction of the knap one needs to run your finger over the material in one direction then the other, one way will be smooth the other rough, it is that rough aspect of the material that must run down from the piper’s armpit. Hard to explain but trust you will make sense of it.Many a great bag cover has been made by many a great seamstress with little to no regard of this wee aspect.All the very best, Lez MountfordCeol Mhor, NZ    


Piping in Breeks



The article you posted including a story from Duncan Watson caught my interest. I don’t think it is actually that unusual to see pipers playing in breeks, flat caps or in tweed suits – especially if they are part of the shooting/gamekeeping fraternity. I have seen a number of pipers playing in tweeds and have done so myself on many occasions. I have not seen it in competition I must admit, but I would be more than happy to compete in tweeds especially if it were an estate tweed. I am sure ‘tweeds’ could easily be seen as a form of ‘Highland dress’ as it is possibly a more common form of everyday ‘dress’ for many than is perhaps the kilt! I have included a photo of me playing in tweeds at the Duke of Buccleuch’s Estate at Drumlanrig (Queensberry).

loganI just thought this might be of interest to you.  I would be keen to contact a solo competition (with photographs) to see if I would be considered to be wearing ‘Highland dress’ as I think it looks smart and represents Scotland. Interestingly, that tweed cloth [in the photograph] is woven in Aberfeldy and the suit was made in Glasgow so as Scottish as it gets! (Even the leather for the shoulder and elbow patches is from Perthshire, and the hose are from Robin Deas in Hawick); as opposed to tartan woven in Hungary, a kilt machine-stitched in England, Barathea cloth woven in India and the jacket made in Morocco. Sorry, just a hobby horse for made in Scotland products!! Oh, and you can guess where the 1895 Hendersons were made …

Kind regards,

Logan Smith, piping on a hill somewhere, happy amang the heather

WW1 Tunes

Hello Rab,

Saw the letter from Mrs Elaine Smith on your blog. I have attached a list of WW1 tunes most of which I played back in July and October 2014 for the National Trust, supported  with the stories of the tunes and the famous pipers who served and which I will be repeating at this November’s Blackthorn Pipers Society meeting in Belfast, with the addition of the ground of wee Donald’s Lament for the Iolaire.
If you think this would be of interest to Mrs Smith I would let her have copies of the tunes and also the story behind each tune.

My home address is 31 Sunningdale Park North, Belfast BT14 6RZ, N.I. Phone 02890 715787.


All the best for now,

Harry StevensonWW1 Tunes

Ancestor Search

Sir, I have Murray ancestry and am working with the Murray DNA Project to trace back my ancestor John Murray 1737-1790.  He had a brother Francis Murray 1731 – 1816 who served as Captain and Major during the American Revolution and served as a General in a militia during the ‘Whiskey Rebellion’.  I find reference to another General Francis Murray in 1759 in a book online with much pertinent text deleted. Here is the link.
I wonder if anyone knows anything about this British General Francis Murray. I’ve not uncovered an hint of piping in this family.

Robert Burns, Attorney & Counselor at Law
Ocean Beach (San Diego)

Pipe Music of WW1

I am attempting to locate contact info for an author named Colin Campbell who wrote a piece on the history behind Pipe Tunes of WWI.  My daughter is piping at a WW1 memorial event and we found your site, which provided the names of some tunes.  Since this event is put on by the regional school board, she’d like to have some info on the tunes she is playing and how they are associated with that war.  In order to do this, we would like to ask permission from the author to print information from his article.
Would you be able to forward this on to Mr. Campbell?  Or, provide an email address where we can contact him directly?

Elaine Smith

Have forwarded your letter Mrs Smith…Ed.

Bridge Search

Aloha! The Bishop Museum has asked me if I can solve one of their mysteries…. if I knew or could find out where the scene was that Hawai`i’s Princess, Princess Ka`iulani, painted when she visited Scotland in the 1890s (see picture below). The Princess’s father was Scottish, Archibald Cleghorn, from Edinburgh. He moved with his parents to Hawai`i at the age of 15 but many of his family remained in Scotland. The Princess was sent to school in England by her father and she talks about visiting her father’s family in Scotland on a number of occasions. ..so perhaps this scene is in or near Edinburgh?
For any thoughts on this I’d be greatly indebted…best wishes and aloha to you all..
Hardy Spoehr

Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawai`iScan0159

• I think it could well be the old bridge over the River Fyne on the road to Inveraray Hardy. Locals will know it from its proximity to the Oyster Bar eaterie currently nearby. That said it could be any of a dozen locations but not near Edinburgh – unless the painter’s artistic licence has encouraged him to add a Highland backdrop to a lowland crossing….Ed.

Robert Mathieson Articles

Thank you for running this article again.  I did not read it the first time.  Some really great tips that I am sure will always stand the test of time from one of the best ever.
Keep doing more of this.  As always, I really enjoy your magazine/blog etc.

Matt Farrigan
Saratoga Springs

Scott Methven, Queen’s Piper

Mr. Wallace,
Any chance of PP doing a short bio on the current piper to HM The Queen, Scott Methven, to introduce him to your readers on this side of the big puddle?  Thanks.

George Barlow

If Scott reads this could he please get in touch?

Pipe Majors’ Course Article

Dear Robert,
There was a full page article about our course in a publication called ‘The London Illustrated News, The Sphere’. I have a photo copy of the page, but you can hardly make out the pictures. The article was entitled ’The world school for bagpipers – Pipe Major Ross and his pupils  in Crown Wing at Edinburgh Castle’. It was on page 208, The Sphere, February  10, 1951.

I have tried googling it from over here with no success. I was wondering if you could find it  from over there. Thank you.

Sandy Hain, Ohio

No luck yet Sandy I am hoping a reader can help. If so please email us.

P/M David Black MBE, BEM

Dear Sir or Madam,
Pipe Major David Black MBE, B.E.M was Pipe Major with the Royal Artillery at Woolwich. I am sure he was also with the Liverpool Scottish and P/M with the Lowland Light Air Defence Battery, Dalmeny Street, Leith. As to judging, I think his last stint was the Falkirk Tryst. David is now P/M to the Trinity Pipers in Edinburgh. Still a legend and a gentleman. Blue McMurchie may have some more info.

Iain Grant.

President Kennedy and the Black Watch

Dear Mr. Wallace:
I wanted to drop you a note and say how much I enjoyed the articles by Lt. Col. Gunther about President Kennedy’s association with the Black Watch and the USAF Pipes and Drums. They were outstanding, and I have shared them will fellow aficionados of Scottish culture.

A number of years ago I wrote a short article about the tartans of the USAF & USAFR Pipes and Drums for the web site of the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin, North Carolina, for a friend of mine who was then the museum’s director, noted tartan scholar Matthew Newsome. The article was also used on a web site by former members of the USAF Pipes and Drums.


After reading these articles, I wanted to go back and totally re-write mine. I would love to pass on my ‘Bravo Zulu’ to Lt. Col. Gunther for his excellent research and writing abilities.

Yours, Todd J. Wilkinson
Vice Flotilla Commander/Public Affairs Officer
Flotilla 5-2, 8th Western Rivers
US Coast Guard Auxiliary

P/M Davie Black MBE BEM


Dear Madam/Sir,
I saw several places where P/M Davie Black MBE BEM was mentioned as a judge. Could you tell me in which band he was Pipe Major?

Thanks and regards

Aad Boode,
West Lothian

• Can anyone help Mr Boode?

6/8 March Playing


Mr. Wallace,
Thanks for the great article on 6/8 marches.  I agree with you that the 6/8 is an unjustly neglected and mishandled piece of our music.

I went on a bit of a 6/8 tear six months ago.  Hungry to learn more about the Strathclyde Police PB during their glory years, I found mention on one of the forum sites of the “Five 6/8s” played by the Polis.

I could not find mention of them all, but Captain CR Lumsden, Sweet Maid of Mull, and the Heights of Cassino were named as a part.  I found some sheet music for Captain Lumsden, and it is one of my favorite 6/8s to play. Other favorites include: Captain Craig Brown
Kirkhill. Best Regards,

Vincent M. Moore
Saint Louis, Missouri

Hello Robert,
I have to agree with here. If a 6/8s are rushed or not pointed properly they don’t sound right . When done properly they have a ‘swing’, some 9/8s as well, Heather Grant a good example. All of the 6/8s played today are good tunes, but in my opinion Echoes from Caithness is the best I have heard and nobody plays it. It’s on the Scots Guards ‘Spirit of the Highlands’ CD.
Check it out.

Bruce Mein from Mississauga, Canada

* The CD is available from Oban-based Music Scotland.com the leading outlet for Scottish music, written and recorded. Click here.

Dear Press
I think back many years ago when the Capital District Scottish games in Altamont, New York, (still going strong) used to hold the Open 6/8 and Piobaireachd on the Friday night.  These games are held on a beautiful picturesque fairground normally the first weekend in September/last weekend in August.  Its starts to get very cool at night in upstate New York that time of year and the ‘open’ contest was held in one of the outbuildings or barns if you will.

Colin MacLellan had come down from Canada that weekend to compete with his band (not sure if it was Glengarry PB or the legendary but short lived Dunvegan PB).  He played the most brilliant 6/8 P/M Sam Scott I had ever heard.  He really set the bar that cold night for how a 6/8 was supposed to be played and phrased. Absolutely magical; most memorable 6/8 performance ever.

Matthew M Farrigan
Saratoga Springs, NY

Piobaireachd Society Conference Report

Dear Rob,
Let me suggest something.  Just so I can do my best to not muddle things up. I’m not really a ‘revisionist’. That suggests I want to ‘revise’ or ‘improve’ or ‘alter’ something. And that, in turn, suggests I find something ‘wrong’ with pibroch or the way it is performed today.

Ultimately, that’s not my focus. I don’t want to condemn or reject a certain style. There’s always a potential, given the reverberations of the not-so-distant past, to misspeak and come across that way. But really, I just don’t  have any agenda like that.
What I want to do, instead, is find a way to make room in our performative contexts (competitions, premier events, recitals, etc) for other styles and settings of pibroch. I am an ‘expansionist’ (re-expansionist?) hoping to see more of the precious inheritance of these manuscripts make its way into performance and instruction.
I also applaud the effort to bring more of the modem compositions and composers to the fore, as well. I want to see pibroch grow and thrive, and think there is plenty room for us all. I hope that makes sense.
You know what started it all, really?  Playing from Hannay-MacAuslan and being told, ‘You can’t do that! You’re playing it all wrong!’  Well, I certainly didn’t think so. I mean, I guess I made a hash of things (I’m always second-guessing myself – keeps me honest)). But nothing that particularly stood out. Different, yes. But wrong? It just came across as hurtful and not very well informed.
I think today we are in a very strong position in pibroch. Lots of interest, lots of exposure, international appeal. I think we have lots more room to explore, musically grow, encourage new pieces, things like that. So, ‘expansionist’, really. Does that make things clearer or muddier? Anyway – love the site. Enjoyed meeting you. And hope to be back again!
PS. Don’t change anything you’ve written. I just wanted to hopefully clarify some things.
-J David Hester, PhD
Alt Pibroch Club 

Black Watch Promo Tour Picture

feat-im Racoons-1 Self-PortraitHi Robert,

I see you had a good time down in Florida. Please find attached a few pictures. The first two pics were publicity shots for the North American Tour in 1957. The racoons are something I did in my art class. Likewise the self portrait. That was in the eighties. Thank you for keeping us up to date in the Piping Press.

Sandy Hain, Ohio

You are one talented man Sandy. Any other piper or drummer artists out there? If so please let us have your pictiures and we’ll happily feature them on Piping Press. Ed.

William Ross

Dear Press

As a young adult I was very confused 34 years ago when I first started lessons.  My teacher talked about Willie Ross and William Ross.  This confused me for sometime.  Can you blog in future about ‘The Queens Piper’  William Ross. Still very curious.
Thank you,

Matthew Farrigan
Saratoga Springs, NYwilliam-ross,-queen's-piper

• You’re not alone Michael. William Ross (above) was Queen Victoria’s piper and replaced Angus MacKay in 1854 after the latter’s mental illness meant he could no longer continue in post. Ross, formerly of the Black Watch, served until 1891 and in that time became a very influential figure in piping, not least through the publication of his collection of music – a collection which ran to several editions and which was widely used by pipers of the time. Ross was also heavily involved in the bagpipe-making trade and secured lucrative contracts from the War Office and Scottish Regiments. At one time he was so busy was he that he sub-contracted business to the German flute maker Henry Starck. William Ross is buried at Windsor, Berks., near the royal castle. 
Willie Ross, – the diminutive is always used by pipers to distinguish him from his illustrious forebear – has been the subject of many articles on Piping Press which can be accessed here.

Wheel of Fortune

Dear Robert
This is just a short and slightly belated note to thank you on behalf of the City of Edinburgh Pipe Band for your excellent pre and post event coverage of the Pipe Majors’ Wheel of Fortune  competition.  We were really pleased with the level and quality of content on pipingpress.com and hope we can work closely with you again in the coming years.

When the time is right, I will send you a couple of stories about the winners of the Sinclair pipes and the Allan MacDonald tune.  The winner of the pipes is himself a Sinclair, while the person Allan’s tune will be named after is from Canada and sounds like a real character.

Last but not least, we would welcome any thoughts you have on how we could improve the Wheel of Fortune.  We think it has a lot of strengths, but we’re always looking to improve it for our audience, pipers and sponsors. With thanks and best wishes

Paul White, City of Edinburgh Pipe Band

Loch Ness Monster

I work as a tour guide and often recommend the Whistlebinkies to passengers looking for music CDs. I had a query about ‘The Loch Ness Monster’ which appears to be the inspiration for one of Bear McCreary’s tracks on the new Outlander CD but can’t find any references. Is it a traditional tune he just used, or was it truly based on the Whistlebinkies tune?

Rose Scotlaw

The Loch Ness Monster is a fine jig written by that prolific composer Peter MacLeod, Partick, Glasgow. It can be found in John Wilson’s Book 1.

Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band

Dear Piping Press,
As an American I would never offer any insight into historical piping matters in the UK.  I believe one should not comment on matters  you had no history or involvement in.   However, back in the mid 90s I left the Schenectady Pipe Band to join the Worcester Kilties in Worcester, Mass.  Many of the retired players of their heyday (1960s) returned to give it a go one more time. The Pipe Major was Bob Burnett.  Burnett was a really interesting guy and I really enjoyed getting to know him. He got me lessons with another player in the Worcester band, George McKendrick.  McKendrick had played with the Glasgow Police.  Burnett told me he had played at age 17 with the ‘MacRae’ when they won the Worlds in the early fifties or their last time.  He had a lot of really great stories about that time in his life and taught me ‘The Clan MacRae society’ the way they played it.  I believe Bob still lives in Worcester and winters in Florida.  Last I knew his son Robbie was in the Stewart Highlanders Grade 4 mid section. If someone could contact Bob, I am sure he could shed some light on the band’s later years. I haven’t seen him in some time. Thanks for such a great blog everyday. I’m hooked.

Matthew M Farrigan

• Glad you enjoy the site Michael and thanks for the info. Would be interested in a copy of Clan MacRae as you were taught it. Ed.

Old Pipes

Hi Rob,
I came across a person who says they have a set of bagpipes from 1800 or pre-1800. He re-iterated that they had been in North America since that time. My question is, what is the likelihood the there was a pipe maker at that time? When  the owner is well enough I will go and take some good pictures.

Gareth Houston-MacMillan, Utah

• I have no knowledge of any pipe maker in North America at that time (there were only a few in Scotland then!). This set must have been brought over by an immigrant Scot or Irishman. Be very interested in the pix when you have them. RW

Norrie Gillies

Just while I remember as you come to the end of your Alasdair Gillies serialised article see the attached image. Our pipe major, Alex MacIver, is far left, belt askew. In the centre standing centre in front of the ‘Paras’ P/M is Norrie Gillies, Alasdair’s father. You have covered this photo in the past.

Hector Russell, Helensburgh

Willie Ross

One of my former instructors was P/M Angus MacDonald, Calgary Highlanders, and a boyhood friend of Donald MacLeod.  Angus was taught by Willie Ross and when I went to my lessons he put Willie Ross’s picture in front of me to say that he was the best of the best.  Reading your article brought to mind another time and another place. You are doing your best to keep the tradition alive and well.

Ken Rogers, Calgary

Guide to the Games/ Alasdair Gillies

Hi Rob,
Hope your new year is off to a great start. Thanks for the Guide to the Games – great to have all that info in one place this early in the season. One question: is the Lochaber Gathering still on this year? Perhaps there hasn’t been a date set yet, but I didn’t see it on your list. It’s one of the highlights of the circuit for me so I do hope it still is a go.

On another note, I really loved the Alasdair Gillies series you published. It brought back many warm memories. His personality shines through brilliantly. I remember Alasdair complaining a couple times that he was so well known for his MSR playing that his piobaireachd results sometimes got overlooked. He would joke how he often wasn’t ask to teach piobaireachd at workshops (always MSRs). However, it’s clear to see through this series, in his own words, that his heart and pride was more tied to the light music.
Great photos as well. Thanks, again!
Nick Hudson, USA

P/M Donald MacLeod

Dear Rob,
Attached is the recording of Donald’s tune ‘A Son’s Salute to His Parents’. I hope and feel sure Donald would approve of my timing of his tune. I just applied the normal scansion of 3/4 to it.

I first met Donald McLeod, I think, in 1941/42 when the two regiments, the Camerons and the Seaforths, were amalgamated for training purposes. We each retained our Regimental Dress and I went from Inverness to Fort George.  Donald had returned from France and was the Pipe Major when I arrived there.

I was only 14/15 years old and in Boy’s service, I was quite a good player and Donald seemed to take an interest in me.  At this time Donald was going on the bus from Ardersier through to John MacDonald in Inverness on a Wednesday and Saturday afternoons for lessons. I recall one of the tunes he was working on was Lament for the Earl of Antrim.  His routine in the morning was this: he came into the Band Room to get a cup of tea with his cigarette. Then most often he picked his pipes up and played for an hour. Many times we heard tunes he had composed the night before in his bunk, mostly jigs and hornpipes. Quite often he would sit at the table and scribble bits into my MSS book. Another thing I recall when he came over in the morning is his sending me to mail his letters.

While Donald was there a group of conscripts came from the police, three were from Glasgow:  Alex MacDonald (P/M Angus’s father), Tommy Grant and Archie MacNab. Archie was a great player. I recall hearing him play an MSR and it was excellent.  Donald composed a hornpipe and named it ‘Archie McNab’. I still have it in my MSS book; it is now known as Crossing the Minch.

Jigs became my favourite music at that time and when I went to Edinburgh Castle to Willie Ross he would ask me to play jigs to his daughter Cecily. She loved them.

Jimmy McIntosh MBE

Owen MacNiven

Dear Rab,
I was re-reading one of your articles today and came across the name Owen MacNiven. I understand he won the Silver Star at the Northern Meeting pre war and was a pupil of Robert Reid. Apart for that I don’t know anything about this gentleman. Do you have any information about him. Kind regards and a Happy New Year.

Roddy  S. MacDonald, Australia

• Good to hear from you Roddy and all the best to you too. Other than confirming that MacNiven was a pupil of Reid’s, I don’t have a lot I’m afraid. I believe he was born in Paisley in 1916 and was more noted as a light music player than of piobaireachd. He had family connections with Islay and South Uist. He was a headmaster in Nottingham after WW2 and he was a member of the Scottish Piping Society of London I think. He won the ‘big’ MSR at London in 1935 when he would have been competing against his old teacher. Reid was the winner of the Gillies Cup for Open Piobaireachd that year…Ed. 

Queen’s Own P/Ms

The article [Alasdair Gillies] mentions: ‘By the time I had done my basic training and moved to the Band Company based at Dreghorn Barracks, Edinburgh, the pipe majors there were about to change. P/M Jimmy Hood of the Argylls was due to leave and P/M Iain Morrison was to take over the position.’ I thought that Iain Morrison was P/M 1st Bn QOH 1975-1980 and then Scottish Division Depot Aberdeen 1980-1985. Is this correct and where does P/M Jimmy Hood fit in?
Aad Boode
Anyone help?

Falklands Memories

Dear Rab,
I’ve just read your article concerning Peter [MacInnes] and myself.  I must congratulate you; the piece captures the seriousness of the situation without glamorising or celebrating the craft of war. They were life-defining moments for both Peter and myself, who have remained firm friends for over 30 years. I look back on those days often thinking about the quality of military pipe bands and particularly the effort it took to maintain a place in the competition band whilst juggling the demands of demanding military commitments.  My youngest son Robert is a piper with 1SG and there  is a very different approach to the music/army balance.

All the best wishes of the season,

Kind Regards,

Steven Duffy

Willie Paterson and the Rutherglen Pipe Band


The bespectacled man in civvies on the right of the back row as we look is drummer Willie Paterson. This was the very fellow who taught Alex Connell and Stirling McMurchie [Glasgow Police/ Strathclyde Police] and we know what happened with them! Willie was highly regarded, and of his time was an important influence on the huge changes to pipe band drumming which were evolving post WWII. He taught many 214BB drummers (and some pipers, including John Finlay) and laid the foundation of the 214 drumming dynasty which we are only now beginning to chronicle. Our Pipe Major in the 214, Alex MacIver, again as you know, played with the Rutherglen for many years and can be seen sitting far left in the front row.

You also will be aware that Rutherglen P/M, Jimmy Baxter [standing, far left in the picture above] was the uncle of Donald Campbell who is well known to you and is/was piper to the Vice Chancellor of Glasgow University and brother of politico Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s right hand man during his Downing Street years. Donald’s father, also Donald, is shown in the photo below with Alex MacIver leading the Grand March at the annual Keighley & District Caledonian Society Ball in Yorkshire: tartan-ball

The Rutherglen Pipe Band enjoyed considerable popular notoriety with their own annual Tartan Ball which took place in the Trades House, Glassford Street, Glasgow, where the RSPBA have been holding their AGMs recently. In this image from the Ru’glen Ball [below], Alex MacIver is in the back row and centre front is Nessie McFarlane, centre front, who was P/M Jimmy Baxter’s sister:r'glen-ball

To freely access the music and some associated tales of P/M Alex MacIver’s compositions please visit www.214BB.com.

Sure and stedfast,

Hector Russell, Helensburgh

John McLellan DCM, Dunoon

Hi Rab,
Ian McLellan here.   Just a quick message regarding your article about John McLellan’s  tune South Hall. An excellent observation on your part regarding the gracing of the tune.  P/M John Mackenzie of the Queen Victoria school pointed this out to me many moons ago after I had heard him playing it at the Argyllshire Gathering in the late sixties. In case you didn’t know John McLellan is a distant relation of mine.  He was my grandfather’s cousin.
One other thing Robert, his surname is spelt McLellan, not Maclellan.  Keep up the good work.

Ian McLellan, Bearsden

South West Piping & Drumming Academy

Dear Mr Wallace,
Just a note to thank you for your recent blog about piping in the South West. I have just been showing my in-laws, Sandy and Linda Gordon, and they were delighted.

The activities of the SWSPDA are developing very satisfactorily – well attended workshops across the region and increasing involvement in schools. By popular acclaim, the two Summer Schools have been hugely successful. We are very lucky to have the enthusiasm of all our Trustees and especially the piping and drumming tutors you mention in your blog. I hope to see Callum Moffat at the Glenfiddich one day!
We expect it to take years of perseverance to see a difference in the region’s pipe bands – but we are enjoying the whole process. Our youngsters are improving their skills with all the personal benefits that brings, and who knows, perhaps some of them will find that their playing provides an important part of the direction for their life. Thanks again for a very positive and helpful blog.
Kind regards,

Bob Lee, Dumfries-shire

John Burgess

Dear Rob,
Thank you for the nice article on John D.  When I first went to Edinburgh Castle in January 1944 a few of us went down to a Piping Society meeting run by I think a P/M J.O. Duff and one night this wee boy in shorts trousers and the regular school stockings got up had his pipes tuned and played, Abercairney Highlanders: a young nine or ten year old JD. He did play an MSR too but I do not recollect the strathspey/reel; an eye opener.  In Willie’s Room he had a picture of him on the mantlepiece.

Your reference to his performance in the Clasp is something I remember as yesterday. The standing ovation was not for John’s attire but for his portrayal of the ground, variation one and doubling of Ronald MacDonald. I had seldom heard anything like it then or since. He portrayed intense sadness where as today it is devoid of this.  In my book I tried to convey John’s timing where he did not play conventional echo movements but softened them to a soft glide to the last note in the phrase; an amazing musical performance.  I recall your old teacher Bob Hardie remarking there and then, that it was the best music he had ever heard.  If anyone has a recording of that performance it should be on all the websites.
Thanks again for the memories.

Yours aye,

Jimmy McIntosh

The Birl

Have you ever had success teaching an established player a different way to play a birl? A band mate of mine has been playing for over 25 years, and always loved playing tunes with lots of birls in them. Over the past few years he’s developed a problem with the bottom two fingers on his right hand starting to move in unison when playing a birl. He has always played a double tap or tap-drag, if you will, style of birl. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Robert McCarthy

The best way to form the birl is that used by most of today’s top professionals: the ‘seven’ – down over the hole and then a tuck in after the second stroke. I was origianlly taught the up and down, straight finger way and then when I was about 15 moved to the tap and drag you mention. When I joined Muirheads band, RG Hardie, the Pipe Major, insisted on my changing to the ‘seven’ and I worked hard at it until I had it the way he wanted it. So it is possible to change. However the symptoms you describe sound to me like a dystonia (not that I know much about these things). I would suggest recourse to a doctor and thence to a specialist to see if there is anything that can be done. In the meantime, your friend might find the ‘up and down’ straight finger version easier to form (the problem might be the tucking in after the tap). He should not stop playing and if the birl problem becaome insurmountable he can substiture doublings on low A for the birl where appropriate. Better that than giving up. Hope this is of some use. There is a comprehensive chapter on the birl with appropriate exercises in my tutor book. RW.

London Clasp Competition

Hi Rab,
I read your article this morning. Yes, London has always had an attraction for me too. I first went down with Hughie about 1968/9 and in those days it was in Buckingham Gate – the headquarters of The London Scottish – what a great atmosphere – then on to the RAF Club whose caretaker was Gordon Spiers for a great time in the evening! I judged the ‘Clasp’ Piobaireachd Grades 1 and 2 but I was pleasantly surprised with the standard of most but also with the enthusiasm of all the competitors.
The results were as follows :
Grade 1  (7 played)
1. Gordon Hislop
2. Sean Maloney
3. Enora Morice
4. Brieuc Bozec
5. Ian Graham
6. Andrew Park
Grade 2  (10 played)
1. John Campbell
2. Tom Broderick
3. Gill Cairns
4. Andrea Zingg
5. James Carnegie
6. George Gordon
Unfortunately, I didn’t bring away a list of the tunes played, but I do remember that Enora Morice played a fair rendering of Melbank’s Salute (book version). Both she and Brieuc are from Brittany and are students of Herve le Floch and played good tunes on very good instruments. Gordon Hislop’s performance was excellent and would not have been out of place in a Grade 2 Professional contest. It transpires that he is a student of Tom Spiers. His technique, phrasing and instrument were to be commended. The other notable and very robust performance was from Sean Maloney from Ireland
Good time had by all!
Tom Johnstone

Westinghouse Bagpipe Band

Just a wee remark on today’s Pittsburgh news on the Piping Press.  I remember the Westinghouse band when I was growing up.  Since both of my parents were from Motherwell, we of course attended any Scottish events we could in the area.  We actually lived very close to the Westinghouse plant in East Pittsburgh – in fact, in Turtle Creek, where the Secy. Sam Brown lived.  I took my first dancing lessons in Wilkinsburg, where the President Jim Harris lived, and where the band practiced!  In addition, the Pipe Major you mentioned, James Dryburgh, was the first and only owner of my now-treasured silver and ivory Lawrie pipes, which have, as you can imagine, a very sweet and mellow tone.  After his wife passed away, he no longer had any interest in playing them, and since I was the first choice for the next owner, they were ‘gifted’ to me for the unbelievable sum of $100!!

So the article brought back many memories of my childhood, and it is nice to know that Mr. Dryburgh’s wonderful set of pipes is still being played these many, many years later!

Joyce McIntosh, South Carolina

Many thanks for sharing that Joyce. RW

Highland Games League

Good Afternoon All
I attach herewith the SHGA League as far as I can.  I am looking for results for Aberfeldy, Strathardle and Inverkeithing if anyone can help.  I know that the Roseneath Competition will be on 17th October and the results then will determine who wins the League.  Could the Secretary of the CPA send this out to members and ask then to check their placings?  I am sorry that it is on a spread sheet but it is the only way I can do a big number.  Thanks for yoru help.

Patricia Grant.
SHGA Piping League 2015

Run Rig Tune

Hi Robert,
Have had a request from an old fisherman to play a tune when he goes called ‘Chi Mi N Tir’. Runrig’s Donnie Munro used to sing it. I have tried to get it written for pipes without success, would it be possible for you to do it? Don’t need anything complicated just so long as it sounds like the song. Will be more than happy to pay for however much time it takes you. Have been trying for a year to get this for pipes and think I am going to run short of time if I don’t get it soon. If you can’t find it will send you disc with song on it.

Ron Aitkenhead, Caithness.

• No bother Ron; please send the disc on. Will get tune to you ASAP. Good to talk to you at Inverness…RW

Piobaireachd Discussion

Mr Wallace,
I am the publisher and director of the Alt Pibroch Club. I will be publishing a proposal for consideration of the broader piping public at learning.altpibroch.com. It has to do with sensitising both judges and competitors to the available options and choices as evidenced in the primary source material of earliest pibroch notations (staff and canntaireachd). This is one of two proposal I will be making publicly for discussion.

I would appreciate your feedback. I would appreciate even more a chance to converse (Skype or email) when your schedule allows (I’ve done many such ‘interviews’ on the site – you can find them under the ‘Interviews’ category link on the right side of the page).
I am reaching out to you, because I will also be presenting my work, my roadmap and my suggestions, at next March’s Piobaireachd Society meeting, and it would be (I think) a nice thing if members got a glimpse of what I’m doing beforehand, so the ensuing discussion would be fluent and dynamic.
Finally, I am going to be making a comment in your Comments section regarding an interesting statement you made about a particular competitors performance at last year’s Oban.  It may come across as confrontation or disrespectful.  It is not intended as such.  It is, however, intended to lay out for consideration the kinds of issues that competitors who are interested in presenting different interpretations may confront.
It is of great interest to me and my project that we open up options at competitions in such a way as to ally concerns typically expressed by competitors when asked why they do not explore alternative interpretations. Perhaps I’m reading your comment wrongly.  Even so, it is an interesting ‘aside’ that allow for the possibility of discussion, I think.  So, I am hoping you will receive in the light of an invitation to dialogue. Thanks!  I look forward to hearing from you, and eventually meeting you in person, perhaps in Glasgow!

J David Hester, PhD
Alt Pibroch Club
• Happy to help in any way I can Mr Hester. Nothing wrong with a bit of confrontation, at least with civilised individuals like yourself, so please fire away and I’ll do what I can to repel all boarders!……Ed.

Competition Notes

Mr. Wallace,
Can I say, having access to these notes is simply wonderful. If only we can convince the conveners that live streaming shouldn’t threaten attendance or income!

J David Hester, PhD
Alt Pibroch Club 

• Yes, the reaction to the competition reports on Piping Press is extremely positive Mr Hester. They attract thousands of readers and prove that there is a thirst for knowledge out there. I believe it important that if pipers want parity of esteem with other artists then their public performances should be reviewed as would those of any other musician. Anyone not happy with this should not play in public, certainly not professionally. Our solo judges association has welcomed such reports and I wish more of their members would contribute to our fund of knowledge in this way…..Ed.

Monktonhall Pipe Band

Monktonhall Colliery Pipe Band at Cowal
Monktonhall Colliery Pipe Band at Cowal

Yes, that’s Les [Hutt] in the back. P/M was Hugh Muir. When we first rolled into the Pans, as the locals call it [Prestonpans], the band didn’t compete apart from the Miners’ Gala every year. (Shotts used to compete there as  well). The original name of the band was Preston Links Colliery, which I believe was where Cockenzie Power Station got built. Les could give you better info. When the Links pit shut, sponsorship was transferred to Monktonhall.

I used to ponder why so many pits had pipe and brass bands, and the only thing I can come up with was if you’re lying on your side in a puddle a few thousand feet beneath the earth’s surface howkin’ away at a coal seam the music was probably the only thing keeping you sane. And I remember trotting behind my old man at practices watching him fix pipes. Every piper who worked down the pit had drone reeds that were black from exhaled coal dust. I used to scrape the stuff off. Kinda like resin. Then again most folk smoked in those days too. 

Looking forward to the next SFP&DA at Boca Raton; it means ‘rat’s mouth’ and was used as a base for pirates at one time.

Donald McBride, Kansas

Hi there Rab. Its Dougie McBride here. I was recently asked if I knew the name of the album the Monktonhall Colliery band made many years ago. I think it was yourself that played a track on the radio just after my father died. Any chance you can remember what it was called. The album that is. The track was King George Vs Army. Hopefully you can help . Much appreciated. I`ve just remembered I was in Italy with you and think it was yourself that got a tour round the Vatican with myself and Ian McGeehie.

Cheers, Dougie

I remember playing a track for your dad Dougie but don’t think it was from an album. Would it have been his tune ‘Dunaskin Glen’ that he gave me for the Glasgow Collection?

Piper Laidlaw

I see you have Laidlaw on your site today. To hear more about Laidlaw from Colin Campbell and to hear the tune dedicated to Laidlaw played by John Patrick watch our 5th concert in the series Pipers and Pipe Music of the Great War available now on livestream.

Jeannie Campbell, Glasgow

Book Search

I am searching for Donald MacLeod’s Piobaireachd Book without any success as it appears to be out of print now. Just wondering if you may possibly know where I might find one in new, or indeed in any, reasonable second hand condition? Many thanks.

Kind regards,

Charles McGoldrick

Can any reader help Charles? 

Tune Search

I am looking for sheet music to the tune ‘When the World Turns Upside Down’. Is it also known as ‘When the King Receives His Own Again’. I got asked to play this particular tune at a dining in.
Thank you,

Robert Gunther, Germany

The ‘King Shall Enjoy His Own Again’ is a Jacobite tune Robert. If you search Hogg’s ‘Jacobite Relics’ you may turn it up. You should find it online…..Ed.

Tune for Gordon

I have just composed a 6/8 ‘The Piper of Edradour’ honouring Gordon Duncan, one of the best pipers and composers ever.. It is a difficult one with a very tense melodic line. I have improved the last bars so these are a bit different as played on the video. Hope you enjoy it.  http://youtu.be/H5bJlZTD6O4

Salvi Caracuel Rubio, Andalucia, Spain

Bulgarian ‘Gajda’

Don’t know if you have seen this video, but it’s pretty cool to see so many young ones playing the gajda.

Robert Wylie, Texas

Donald Sutherland’s Book

I got a copy of Donald Sutherlands Bagpipe Music from the Piping Press shop a few days ago and wanted first off to thank you for making it available to anyone for free.  As soon as I received it, I started looking through the music wishing I could hear what some of the tunes sounded like.  I am pretty good at sight reading but a lot of the music was really detailed and difficult for me to really get a feel for the tune.
I started looking around in Google for a few of these tunes to see if they might be available in Bagpipe Player format and was not successful in finding any of them.  I really like Bagpipe Player as it allows me to hear what a tune sounds like and if I want to learn it, I can slow the speed down.  I find Bagpipe Player to be a great learning tool.  I decided that I would take on the task of transcribing all of the tunes in the collection to bagpipe player format and then make it available to anyone who might want it.  My question is whether this is okay for me to do and that I am not infringing on any copyright laws?
I have about six tunes transcribed so far.  It is tedious work but I am really enjoying doing it.  When I am done I will try to figure out how to make it available to anyone on the internet for their files.
Thanks so much

Steve Adams, Florida.

• No problem at all with what you’re doing Steve; please forward a copy when it is finished. RW.

Donald MacPherson Medals

This is quite amazing, such a collection.  Probably the only way I could get a Silver Star – to buy one! I remember Gordon Walker showing me his ‘wee’ collection of four Silver Stars.
A Gold Clasp would also be nice, but I think those will go for a lot of money, being gold and all.


Nick Taitz, South Africa.

• As far as I am aware Nicholas the collection is not being split and will only be sold as one lot. RW.

WW1 Cameronians Tune

Rob and Douglas,

Thanks so much for the tune.  My great-grandfather, Donald Stuart MacPhee, returned to Scotland from the Falkland Islands in 1915 to re-enlist and I think was on the Somme in 1916 with the 5th Cameronians.  He was wounded and released in late 1916.  Family lore has it that he was a piper but I don’t have much more than that. Thanks so much.

Bruce L. Beavis, Chicago

CNE Tattoo and the Intercontinental Pipe Band Championships
I recently read in the letters sector, a reference to the Scottish World Festival, held for 10 years at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, during the 70s and into the early 80s.  This was a big event during the CNE in August, and attracted large crowds to the Tattoo each night for a week.  It also evolved into an international pipe band competition as can be seen by the Grade 1 band roster attached [below].

But like all good things, costs of any ilk can, and will, dictate the demise of something successful.  In fact the CNE today is still run in August, but the total exhibition is a mere shadow of what it was in the days gone by.  Incidentally, I just returned from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and attended the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.  This tattoo is world class and ranks as great a show as the Edinburgh Tattoo—if not better.

Always enjoy the news and articles in the Piping Press—keep up the great work.
Peter K. MacLeod, Thornhill, Ontario

(and 48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums Association)

Grade 1 bands who took part in the 1973 championship
The Toronto Star reports a downturn in the Tattoo’s fortunes
Those of us who went on these trips to Toronto in the ealry 70s found the experience unforgettable. For me it was the first time on an aeroplane, the first time in North America. The cars and Coke were huge, the ex-pat Scots with their coolers of beer stashed in enormous trunks (car boots), couldn’t do enough for you. Just looking down the list of pipe majors we see some of the great names of the past: from the Irish bands Tommy Geddes and Tom Anderson; from Scotland RG Hardie, Tom McAllister, Iain McLeod, John Weatherston, Johnny Barnes, Eddie McAteer, Davie Duncan, Jimmy Jackson, Archie Pinkman, Bob Shepherd, Willie Connell; from North American Gordy Tuck, Ken Eller, Ed Neigh, Jim Kerr and Reay MacKay. What a collection of talent, knowledge and ability. I hope your letter jars some memories Peter and we will get more on the CNE and the Intercontinental Pipe Band Championship. And thanks for the kind words and clippings…RW.

John MacDougall Gilies MS

Dear Rab,

I read with interest the latest instalment on Piping Press regarding the John MacDougall Gilies MS.  The comment regarding Archibald Campbell’s similarity of publishing style to the Gillies MS  can in my view be further extrapolated.

Archibald Campbell commenced receiving tuition from Gillies around 1900, so some twenty eight years prior to his name appearing as editor of the Piobaireachd Society’s second collection (second series). It is recorded that the notes which formed the basis of ‘Sidelights on The Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor’ were drawn together by Campbell around 1916/17 and the manuscript notation reproduced in the two ‘Sidelights’ volumes (facsimiles of the 1917 MS) again bears more than a passing resemblance to the Gillies MS.  Given the copious notes taken by Archibald Campbell throughout his piping life it is unlikely, and more probably inconceivable, that the 1917 collation was not based upon earlier contemporaneous material recorded by him – the likelihood being that this process commenced in 1900 a mere sixteen years after the date Gillies completed his MS.

Archibald Campbell clearly states in the ‘Introduction’ to the Kilberry Book that the attempt to represent piobaireachd, as he was taught, in staff notation is not scientifically accurate and refers to it as ‘Pipers Jargon’. It is also interesting to note that he was in the habit of using symbols from the Greek alphabet (a throwback no doubt to his studies as a classicist at Cambridge) to annotate scores and provide further narrative on the nuance and subtlety of note lengths, especially when evidencing the differences between his recording of the interpretations of Gillies, John MacDonald and Alex. Cameron. Had the printing technology to add these above the stave been available in 1948, they may have replaced the over generous use of the fermata.  This was a view held by James Campbell and shared with me a number of times during my twenty five year association with him as my tutor, mentor and friend.

Given the limited evidence of any extensive manuscript from the hand of Alexander Cameron (Kilberry’s ‘one true God’ in piping terms) it is distinctly possible that he used the Gilies MS as the foundation upon which he based much, if not all, of his future published settings.

To finish I come back to James’ comment that the Gillies MS was believed to be an ‘aide memoire’. When taken alongside the comments of his father in the Introduction to The Kilberry Book (paragraph ‘Scope of the Present Work’) the context of James comment may be better understood.

Yours aye

Roddy Livingstone

Piping Comedian

Dear Robert Wallace,
Maybe this has your interest to put on piping press. We met when I was just started playing the bagpipe in 1999 at the Scandinavian Summer School. I’ve been playing the pipes for 17 years and done comedy for 11 years. I combine these two art forms and been doing it for a living since 2007.

I’m also the only bagpipe playing comedian in Europe. With that ‘prestigious’ title in my bag, I’m doing the Edinburgh Fringe again with my second show, ‘Return of the Danish Bagpipe Comedian’.
What is bagpipe comedy? Here’s a short appetizer (1:35 Min): https://vimeo.com/108441342. You are very welcome to write about the show and come see it (if you are in Edinburgh in August). I’m of course available for an interview with piping press.
Claud Reiss

Roderick Cannon

Thanks for this very interesting Radio Pipeline programme. And I am grateful  to Gary West to have mentioned Roderick Cannon’s death; we already miss this fantastic and easy going connoisseur of Ceol Mor. And I did appreciate the choice of the piobaireachd played , Rory Macleod’s Lament ; it is one of my  favourite ones. I always found it quite poignant and  it happens to be the very first  I heard in Scotland at the beginning of the nineties played by William McCallum; it still remains engraved in my heart. When listening to it, my thoughts were going to Roderick, family and friends .

Thanks again , and all the very best,

Louis Marie Mondeguer

John MacDougall Gillies Letter


With regard to the Gillies letter on your site, I read it as low G which makes more sense when discussing taorluath and crunluath movements. If you look at the words ‘got, glad and good’ elsewhere in the letter you will see what I mean.

Also you might mention that Gillies was born in Aberdeen in 1855, after his father moved there from Cowal, not 1854 in Cowal as stated by Kilberry.

Jeannie Campbell, Glasgow

* I thought of the low G solution too Jeannie (it certainly looks like one when compared with the rest of the text as you say), but dismissed it. Robert Reid failing to close the chanter to such an extent that Campbell of Kilberry sees fit to write to his tutor about it? This sort of error is really outwith the ambit of every professional piper, never mind one as technically brilliant as Reid. No, perhaps Gillies meant to write low A but wrote low G by mistake – we’ve all done it. Or is it an ‘8’ right enough, by which he meant the low end of the octave? The letter was written only a couple of years before Gillies died so he may not have been totally on top of his game at the time of writing…Ed.

City of Edinburgh Police PB

Hi Rab,
Regarding the comments on the photo from the band dinner by Tommy [Johnstone] and Alistair Aitken (see letters below), I must confess to never having met Tom Ritchie or Roy Millar, although I do remember Roy’s brother Donald Millar who had also been a drummer in the police band and was a Chief Superintendent at Gayfield Square police station when I joined the band in 1985.

The only people in the old photo who were still there when I joined, and I actually played with, were George Lumsden, Martin Wilson and John Mackintosh. John joined Edinburgh City Police in 1967 and I’m 100% certain he is the player between Harry and Bob.

Edin City Police PB c.1969He definitely was in the band when Alex Duthart played there and I’ve attached a photo (above) taken in the gym at Gayfield which shows Alex in the rear rank next to Davie Boyle and John on the extreme right of the same rank, next to Tom Ritchie.

letters-page-pic-1I’ve also attached a crop of  the previously printed photo (above) which reveals Jock Percival to be the man in the shadows next to P/M McLeod. Laurie Gillespie is on the extreme right of my copy of the photo and was not shown on the previously printed version.

letters-page-pic-3-george-brownAs for George Brown (left), he played in the band in the 50s prior to McLeod taking over as P/M. He was a member of the police drum corps which won the World Drumming prize in 1964 and while the connection between Catherwood and Dr Berger are indeed well documented, George told me he was the person who drove Berger to a Shotts practice to meet Alex Duthart, which I have no reason to disbelieve. George still has the sticks Dr Berger gave him along with a signed photo of him, thanking him for his assistance while he was in Scotland, which I believe hasn’t previously been documented.

Apologies for misspelling Iain McLeod’s name. All the best.

Stewart Gardiner.


* Great info and pictures once more Stewart; thanks for sharing…..Ed.

City of Edinburgh Police Pipe Band


Reference the earlier article, the first face on the left is Tam Richie who later became the bass drummer. The guy with a question mark is Lawrie Gillespie.  It was not George Brown that was the connection between Dr Berger, it was Jimmy Catherwood which is well documented; not only that, Jimmy told me himself. I can back this up as went to Jimmy for theory lesson and spent many overnights with him. Also, he put the big man Alex [Duthart] on the road to stardom.

Tommy Johnston, Glasgow

Hi Robert,

Re the photograph of Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band, the person immediately right of Davie Boyle [second from left] is not Alan Ronaldson.  He is Roy Millar, who was one of the snare drummers.  Alan was only in the band after it became Lothian & Borders Police under Harry McNulty and then Colin Forbes.  You had also better correct the spelling of Iain McLeod!!
The chap on the left of the photograph beside Davie Boyle is Tom Ritchie.  Tom was a tenor drummer, who later became the Bass Drummer after Gordon McArthur retired.  He was also a maker of pipe bags and drum sticks (a great friend of Jimmy Catherwood as they both worked in Leith).
I am also not sure that the person beside Harry McNulty is John Mackintosh.  I think the picture was taken in the early 70s when John joined the police and he was not in the pipe corps when I joined the band in 1973.  Missing from the photo (or in the shadows) are people like John Percival, Bob Gibson, Lawrie Gillespie, Davie Laird and possibly George Hardy.  George Brown from the CID also played in the drum corps when Alex Duthart was there, as did Jim Hutton after he recovered from his car accident at Invergordon.

Alistair Aitken, Kirknewton

Roderick Cannon

It is with full of tears that I am writting these few words after receiving the sad message from Patrick Molard about the passing of Roderick Cannon. His death will be a very, very big lost for the piping world and especially for the pibroc’h world. We enjoyed so much together, sharing the same table for the dinner or breakfast at the week-end of the Piobaireachd Society Conference, and he had always nice or funny stories to tell about piping or other subjects.

I had met him for the first time in 2003 at Inverness at the Northern Meeting, and since then we always enjoyed meeting up again and talking about piping, almost always pibroc’h of course. He invited me to Oxford but I never found the opportunity to visit him. I wish I had as he would have been very happy to let me meet  his wife and see the place he lived. I loved his enthusiastic temperament and I was sad last March at Birnam as he seemed so tired and walked so slowly. He loved so much The Old Woman Lullaby I played two years ago (I am not sure of the year), at the ceilidh after the dinner, and I’ll play it again and again to keep stronger the souvenir in my heart of a so nice and gentle man. Condolences to his wife and all his family.

Anne Lore,

2/4 Competition Marches

Hi, Rob,
Enjoying your pipingpress content – keep it coming! I had a couple questions about the John MacFadyen of Melfort embellishment conundrum.
It seems the earliest two published settings of this the are by Glen and Robert M’Kinnon. Glen’s setting has the aforementioned birl but all manner of other differences to the version that has ended up in the standard competition canon, such as half C doublings throughout, timing alterations, half doublings on E played with a ‘G’ instead of ‘F’ gracenote, etc. Robert M’Kinnon on the other hand does indeed omit the birl in question.

It seems easy enough to play someone like Donald MacLeod straight from his book ‘as he intended’ because our style of piping has not really changed since his day. But John MacColl, who had his competitive heydey in the 19th century into the turn-of-the-century composed under a different style of playing, ornamenting, etc. We see light music ornamentation become much more standardized after WWI. If someone were to play John MacColl, Willie Lawrie, Angus MacKay, Roddy Campbell as they were originally published, the resultant performance would sound highly idiosyncratic and probably be jumped all over by judges.

The older the tune, the more the idea of a ‘correct’ setting seems fuzzy to me. What are your thoughts on this? Also, what of composer idiosyncrasies? Such as G.S. McLennan’s high G gracenote birls at the end of 2/4 marches. He played these in tunes he composed and those he didn’t. Does this mean one should always play a gracenote birl when playing one of his 2/4s?

Most players player either a light D strike OR a heavy strike, regardless of how the tune is notated (along with a D throw, one of the only options of embellishment personalization in our system.) Peter MacLeod Jr. wrote and played heavy strikes on ‘F.’ Should the player have to play heavy strikes when playing Peter MacLeod tunes? It seems to me more of a personal style, not integral to the tune. The only players I can think of (from my place of limited experience) who consistently play(ed) heavy strikes on ‘F’ are Dr. Angus and the kiwi William Boyle, though a few players put them in when playing Peter MacLeod tunes. Others don’t.

Yes, I wholeheartedly believe we should follow the composers’ intention. But where does composition end and style begin? Whether it be the style of an entire generation (early pre-Willie Ross publications from turn-of-the-century composers) or the style of a unique individual (birls, strike stylings, etc.). Where two or three pipers are gathered together, therein will be gracenoting quibbles…

Just curious of your thoughts, because I respect your opinion. Thanks for reading!

Respectfully yours,
Nick Hudson, Pittsburgh, USA

Lt. G. Morrison, Black Watch

Dear Mr Wallace
Thank you for your enquiry. I have attached a photograph of the Memorial Hall listing of Lt. Morrison’s name and will pass your request for further information to our archive group in the hope that they might have more details.


The school’s Roll of Honour

A U Beaton, Bursar, Morrison’s Academy

Dear Mr Wallace,

Our Bursar has asked me to send you the information that we have for Lt. George F. Morrison from the BBC VE Day Concert televised on BBC1, when actress Jane Horrocks read out a ‘last letter’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32679995…). The letter was written by Lieutenant George F. Morrison, of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Highlanders, to his mother in Crieff. George was a former pupil of our school and his name is commemorated in the Roll of Honour in Memorial Hall, alongside all former pupils and teachers who fell during the Second World War. We think his mother lived on the Perth Road in a house called Kintore, which is still there. He was killed during the battle of El Alamein and was mentioned in an article in the Daily Telegraph from 2012: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/Last-Post-for-El-Alamein-veter… George went on to study at Aberdeen University and was a student there when he enlisted.

Kind regards,

Caroline Dingwall,
Morrison’s Academy,
Ferntower Road, Crieff PH7 3AN,
Scotland, UK

Dear Mr Wallace,

Further to the information supplied by Caroline Dingwall, the Archives Group have identified two mentions of George in The Morrisonian magazines of 1937 and 1943. I have attached copies of the relevant pages. The only other information we have is:

Year of joining Morrison’s: 1929
DoB: 7 March, 1921
Address in Crieff:  Kilbeg, Nellfield Road.

Hope this helps.

A U Beaton, Bursar

The death notice in the school magazine

• Thanks to the school for all the above information and photograph. The school magazine, ‘The Morrisonian’, of June 1943, has also this little tidbit of information: ‘… Alan C. Wright is Pipe Major. Most of the Senior Cadets are in the Home Guard. The Pipe Band, after suffering its usual heavy losses due to boys leaving the school, is again at full strength and promises well. Several members are also in the Crieff Home Guard [band] which gave a very successful performance on the wireless at Easter….’ One presumes that Lt. Morrison, who went into battle with his chanter in his knapsack, learned and played the pipes in the school band.

Muirheads Tunes

Hi Rab,
Firstly I hope you’re well. I enjoy the articles and keeping up to date with your new venture. I was at the funeral of former Highland House owner, Roweena Campbell and spent a bit of time talking to Gordon Ferguson. Gordon mentioned to me about an idea he has for the pipers club here in Brisbane. It’s been some time since I’ve attended due to my working away from home for the last three years. Gordon would like to have a Muirheads celebration for some anniversary. Perhaps it’s winning the Worlds some time ago. Anyway the idea would mean pipers playing sets from the era such as Jeannie Carruthers. He invited me to put together some tunes but I thought it might be an idea to ask you for advice on some of the sets I might perform. I suppose it’s a good excuse to keep me playing. I’ve decided to get the pipes out again and will compete in the Patron’s Trophy this Saturday evening. Malcolm MacRae, Andrew Roache and Mathew Rigby are the panel and it looks like being the best attended solo competition in Queensland for some time. The Muirheads idea would give me something to work towards and hopefully be informative for the listeners. Anyway all the best for now and I hope to hear from you when you get a chance.

Yours, Tommy Campbell,

Hi Tommy, good to hear from you and please pass on my regards to Gordon. Muirheads tunes? Well, off the top of my head: Jeannie Carruthers, Dr MacLeod of Alnwick, Pretty Marion, Charlie’s Welcome, Blair Drummond, Lochcarron (six parts), Bogan Lochan, Susan Macleod, Mrs John MacColl, Muir of Ord, Bonny Woods of Stirkoke, Fiddler’s Joy, Lady MacKenzie of Fairbairn, Lord Alexander Kennedy (R Reid setting), Highland Wedding, Brigadier Cheape, Tulloch Castle, John MacKechnie, McAllister’s Dirk, Struan Robertson, Caledonian Society of London, Hugh Kennedy, Col. HH Burney, Little Cascade and many more Tommy. Perhaps my old muckers Les Hutt and Donald McBride can weigh in with more, especially the small two-parters of which there were dozens – we did a lot of Gala Day work!

Donald MacPherson and ‘Soft Hemp’

Dear Robert,
What does Donald MacPherson mean by the ‘soft hemp’? He writes: ‘On the drone slides I just used soft hemp, not the hard stuff. I used that all my competing days. I never played long enough for the pipes to get wet.’ Does he mean, unwaxed, yellow hemp on the drone slides? Someone else recently suggested this too, said it helps the tone.  What do you think?  It was said to use unwaxed yellow hemp, in a sort of latticework fashion, and it was said that this helps tone. Do you think there is any merit in this?


Nick Taitz, South Africa

I think he just means the dry yellow stuff. What you use will have no affect on tone at all and I know of no other piper who uses dry yellow hemp on their drone pins nowadays. I use waxed hemp for the base with teflon tape as the final couple of layers. This gives a good seal and a very precise thread for fine tuning. The important point with Donald is that he never played long enough for the pipe to get wet. I do think pipers these days play far too long in one burst. When practising, a spell of 40 minutes twice a day or an evening is far better than a continuous hour and twenty. With an hour or so between sessions, the pipe has a chance to dry out after the first session….Ed.

Lt. George Morrison, WW2 Hero

Dear Sir,
George Morrison attended Morrison’s Academy in Crieff and his name is on the School’s Roll of Honour.  The school should be able to give you some further information about him.  I suggest that you contact the Bursar at the school. His name is Alistair Beaton and he is currently responsible for the pipe band.  His email address is Bursar@morrisonsacademy.org. I hope that may be helpful


Flora Sharp (former pupil)

Thank you very much for that Mrs Sharp; I will certainly contact the school. Ed.

WW1 Family History

I was doing a bit of family history research online yesterday and ran across the write-up in Piping Press on this series of concerts [the SPA’s ‘Pipers and Pipe Music of WW1’].

One of tunes played by Douglas Murray was the 5th Cameronians Welcome Home by T PollockMy great-great grandfather, #497 Pte Donald Stuart McPhee was in the battalion over most of 1916 when he was wounded (most likely on the Somme) and was released.  Family lore indicates he was also a piper. I’ve done a quick search on the tune but can’t turn it up on the web.  Unfortunately, all of the livestream events also seem to have disappeared.  How I could find the tune?  Do you know Douglas? All the best and looking forward to June!

Bruce Beavis, Michigan.

• I know Douglas very well Bruce and will ask him to forward a copy of the tune, though if Jeannie Campbell of the SPA reads this perhaps she will have it more readily to hand. We are all looking forward to the New England camp too. Will be a great week. RW

Jimmy McIntosh Piobaireachd Book

The Jimmy McIntosh book arrived safely. Nice surprise that it was signed. On top of that it’s a very informative book. Had that level of information been available to me some 30 – 40 years ago I probabaly would have had a more successful piobaireachd career to look back on.

Stig bang-Mortensen, Denmark

CPA 1993 Boycott

Mr Wallace,
I’ve been following your blog since its previous iteration and have to say that I’m a big fan of the website.

I have a suggestion for a post though, as it is something that I read about a number of years ago and after years of occasionally searching, I still have been able to find next to no information on this, short of it happening at all.  The subject is the boycott year.  It is something that I know very little about and imagine that a number of people, at least on this side of the water, are probably in a similar position about, but I figure would probably make for a very interesting read.

I apologize if I am out of place by making this request, but I am pretty certain that I have read on your site that requests are welcome.  Further, I am sorry if there is already something on your site on this subject.  I did perform a search but could not find anything. All the best, Mr. Wallace, and I look forward to your reply.

Kyle Heaney, Canada.

This was, and is, a senstive subject Kyle, and one on which it is perhaps best not to dwell overlong. The Competing Pipers Association took the decision to boycott the 1993 competitions at Oban and Inverness because of a refusal by the promoters to accept judges from the newly formed Association of Piping Adjudicators. There had been a string of controversial results around this time and the APA offered some form of regulation on the bench and a complaints system, hence the support from the CPA. However there were aspects of the APA organisation (fees, who their members would sit with etc.) which the promoters could not agree to.
The 1993 competitions went ahead with much reduced entries and few of the leading players took part. In the end the CPA’s support for the APA was misplaced as they ultimately refused to accept a very reasonable compromise thrashed out by the CPA and the promoters which led to the Joint Committee on Judging. This committee, which regulated things pretty successfully for a number of years, was disbanded recently on the formation of a new Judges Committee. In my view the whole issue could have been avoided had the Piobaireachd Society maintained and regulated its list of judges, as provided for in its rules – a list previously used and accepted by competitors and promoters alike. RW

Lady P/M

I thoroughly enjoy the SPA WW1 concert and lecture and have a question that I hope you or one of the knowledgeable readers of PP can answer. Years ago I met a gentleman who became a good friend who served with the HLI in WW2. We got on the subject of woman pipers and he told me in the military there are no such thing as mixed bands – it’s all  men. I noticed that at the concert the cadet P/M was a woman. Has the military done away with the ‘no mixed bands’ rule. Does she get to continue piping in a regular regiment?


George M. Barlow, Binghamton, NY, USA.

I am sure that gender plays no part in qualification for military or pipe band service in the UK nowadays. Indeed one frequently sees ladies in military bands. P/M Stout will be where she is on merit. RW.

Inveran and Muirheads Pic

Following on from Neil’s [Mulvie – see below] comments [on the tune Inveran], I looked again at the manuscript – rather than crossing out the F doubling, was GS writing the F doubling with a high A grace-note in line with high As elsewhere?Inveran-MS

Incidentally I liked the photo of Bob Hardie and Robert Turner’s retiral. I’m always aware that I wasn’t with the band for long and that my biggest contribution was missing the stop at the end of the reel at Bathgate!, but proud to have worn the kilt and learned so much.

When I moved to Fort William and started getting lessons from John MacAskill, he felt he didn’t need to teach me about light music because I’d played with Bob and Muirheads (although credit due to Willie McBride too). I was never sure if he (John) was 100% in that, or that he realised there was a bigger task ahead with piobaireachd.

Les Hutt,
I am sure you are right re the F doubling with the high A gracenote, which, as you know, maestro Hardie directed had to be played. RW

Donald MacLeod Livestreaming

Dear Robert,
I tuned in livestream to watch the Lewis and Harris Piping Society competition honouring the late Donald MacLeod. I enjoyed the piping despite one or two small glitches in the live stream of the contest. What I found obnoxious was the end at the rewarding of prizes. While Dr. Smith made numerous apologies for the shortened schedule there was no excuse for the sniping at Gordon Walker that took place. The line ‘it was made from the blood of Gordon Walker’ is a total disrespect for not only a gentleman but one of the true giants of the piping world.  I know neither Walker nor yourself but you both strike me as someone who would bend over backwards to help a struggling piper no matter what his or her level is.
The judges John Wilson, Iain MacFadyen and Willie Morrison seemed taken aback by the comment. I understand why the competition want all the competitors to appear, but illness does happen. Granted this comment came from the audience, but Dr. Smith should never had repeated it as it makes the L&H Piping Society look very small. It may have been in good fun, but to me at least, it didn’t come off as that. I think an apology is in order from Dr. Smith on these pages or elsewhere to a true gentleman in the musical art of piping.
Yours truly,

George M. Barlow
Binghamton, NY  USA

Inveran Setting

I enjoyed the article and music of Inveran and the original is far better than the versions published currently.
One other point not covered in your notes is the crossing out of the doubling of F from High G in the first bar et seq of the 4th part so that the F is played plain – much easier and more musical in my view.

All the best.

Neill Mulvie, Dunblane

Missing Trophies

Please pass on my thanks to Graeme Gibson [see below] for getting in touch about the SPA trophies. I would like to see his photograph of the Chisholm Cup for confirmation of whether it still had the lid, but I would guess that by 1983 it was already in its present lidless state. I was on the committee by then and I think I would remember if the lid had been lost after that.

I was interested to see the picture of Jim Wark in the latest Pipe Band Magazine. This would be in 1967 as he has the Farquhar MacRae trophy (for SPA Piobaireachd) and the Chisholm Cup (SPA S&R), both of which he won in that year. The cup is pictured complete with the magnificent lid so this helps to narrow down the time of its loss.

Jeannie Campbell,

Improving Sound

I read this article with great interest as I have been involved with teaching several lower grade bands and, although I agree that the sound of the lower grade bands has improved, we are still far from getting the best sound possible from them. The author did an excellent job to enlighten the student piper as to how to improve the sound of the instrument and I applaud his effort.

What I find missing in the basic education of the budding piper is how to blend his/her instrument with others once in the circle. Those who teach often feel their job complete when the student assumes a position in the band and gives little or no further thought to what happens next. It would be great to see an article from one of your experts on what to expect and how to blow tone in the circle. Many young P/Ms in lower grade bands have no clue how to teach this skill to their new recruits.  Also, I have noticed that new pipers often do not understand there is an etiquette involved in taking ones place in the circle as well and so, a set of do’s and don’t’s for the new band piper might be very well received by all.

All the Best,

Jim Davidson

• You raise several good points Mr Davidson and I’ll try have them answered in the near future. RW

Chanter Donation

Hi Rab,
You would recall that you donated your wooden Naill pipe chanter to the Society with instructions to give it to the leading junior piper who was in need of a solo chanter.  It was placed in my custody for that purpose.

Young Franz Coetzee won the junior overall prize last year (taken over the contests as an average) and is a very keen player with a lot of potential. He also couldn’t easily afford a Naill with the cost of import and the weak rand and had no solo chanter.  However merit was the overriding factor in my decision in that he won as I say the overall junior award for 2014.

I therefore have given him your chanter and told him it was from you.   He is extremely grateful and excited and I told him he must carry on with his piping as a condition of the award.

I just wanted to thank you again for your kind gift, and to convey Franz’s thanks to you as well.  I am sure he will have many good tunes on it.  Your generous support for our piping and pipers is as always highly valued!

All the best,

Nicholas Taitz,
Scottish Piping Society of the Witwatersrand

Cambridge University Pipe Band

Hi Rab,
Regarding your recent article on the passing of Jock Scott-Park.
Pipe Major JB Robertson was certainly involved in the Cambridge University Pipe Band in some capacity during the 1950s and 60s, and was a regular visitor to Cambridge teaching a number of students at various Cambridge Colleges. Someone like David Hannay would probably have much more information on the subject but I do recall Robbie speaking about this when I was receiving lessons from him in the 1980s.

My other main tutor, James Campbell, never showed any great interest in pipe bands but I believe from conversations over the years may have been a ‘reluctant participant’ to help this band out on the odd occasion!   Otherwise I think the only ‘band playing’ James would have undertaken during seventy years of active piping would have been during his visits to Dr MacPhail during the war years, in which playing with the ‘Frimley Pipe Band’ was compulsory – there is even photographic evidence of Archibald Campbell of Kilberry and John MacDonald of Inverness on parade with this group!

All the best,


Piobaireachd Embellishments

Hi Rob,
Just read the review [of my book] by Duncan and would like to thank him. On the question of embellishments, I should tell you that over here they are taught incorrectly; this was something that happened in the 60s early 70s. You may remember the ‘Three Wise Men’, Seumas MacNeill, Capt. John MacLellan and John McFadyen. When they got together and formed the Institute of Piping they taught the dre as an E gracenote on low A and the dare as an F gracenote on E, this is in J McGillivary’s book and Worrall repeats this in his lecture on the PD web.
The first year I was at the school in Timmins I saw two boys doing this, asked them who was teaching them – Seumas. I went and spoke to him and told him it was wrong, demonstrated how John MacDonald [Inverness] taught it, and I have to give him credit, he said, ‘Jimmy you are correct, we have made a mistake with that’. John MacFadyen taught here and gave it to Ed Neigh in Canada and John MacLellan gave it to Archie Cairns.
In the fosgailte instead of sounding B, C or D to the E, they are going to low A with an E gracenote. Most of the poor crunluaths comes from accenting the low A with the E gracenote.
I see so much of this when judging over here.  If you look at the old books the E and F are clearly shown.

Another point of interest: in the middle of line 3 in the Park Piobaireachd, going from the D up to the high G, they are playing a low A.Jimmy McIntosh, South Carolina.

Crieff Highland Games

You hit the nail on the head with your pipingpress.com article about Crieff.  ‘Family Day Out Syndrome’ is the perfect description for the trap into which so many games on both sides of the pond fall.  Over here, too many games committees see piping as a money pit, but fail to realize the money and visitors that these events bring into the games.  Here in the Midwest, we have had several games drop piping altogether because it’s too expensive.  How shortsighted!
What happened with the Lochaber Gathering date?  I saw it’s been moved to later in August.
All the best,
Matt Pantaleoni, St Louis, Missouri

• There’s been a double booking at Lochaber Matt, hence the re-scheduling to August 22. Be a good one to prepare for Oban. RW

Denver Cardwell

Hi Robert,
I appreciate your personal appreciation of my late father. I have
viewed the letters page  and I notice I omitted the year 1985 the
occasion the All Ireland triumph which was all the more special as the band was only able to compete at the contest every other year owing to the political situation which existed at the time.

Alan Cardwell

SPA Trophies

With regard to the article of17 February about lost SPA trophies, I had a look at some old photographs. I found one which was part of several my uncle, a keen photographer, took of me on the day of the 1983 Uist and Barra competition, which I was going to play in. (As an aside, I won the Class B Piobaireachd that day, aged 17, in my first professional competition. (What happened thereafter?!!lol). The photograph has a number of trophies which I had won in the preceding year (1982). One appears to be the Chisholm Cup. I would have handed that back to Angus J. McLellan who was my tutor. Perhaps it will help pinpoint time frames? Some of the other trophies in the picture I can’t remember, but Jeannie [Campbell] is welcome to view it, if of help. I don’t think there are any of those listed/pictured in the article.

Best regards,
Graeme Gibson, ex-Strathclyde Police Pipe Band

Muirhead’s Drummers

Good morning Rab. Firstly I would I like to say how much I enjoyed the concert last night in Dollar Academy. I worked occasionally in Shetland and there is a joke in Lerwick about the Swan fishing vessel. It is widely advertised as being a restored fishing boat when in fact it is really a replica. As I understand there was only about 10 feet of the original boat left when work commenced on the ‘rebuild’. (Another story!)

Muirheads drummers Jim Crawford and Jock Waddell. Derek is third from the left
Muirheads drummers Jim Crawford and Jock Waddell. Derek is third from the left

I have attached a scanned copy of the photograph taken with the bass and tenor drummer from Muirheads in about 1967 at North Berwick Highland Games. Please thank Peter [Anderson] again for supplying the names.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Dunn.

• Thanks for that Derek and great to hear from Peter that Jim and Jock are still going strong. A couple of real characters…Ed.

P/M Denver Cardwell

Hi Robert,
I have recently read a number of articles in relation to our late
father Denver, and appreciate the kind comments and acknowledgement of  his valued and lenghty service to the piping world.
The reason I am forwarding this email is to clarify a few points for
future references. There have been a few articles where Denver has been  placed in his early 70s, and whilst he would have had a chuckle about  this if he was still here, he was in fact 78 on his passing.
Dad played  in the early days in the Grade 1 RUC Pipes and Drums and I am now the  holder of his All-Ireland medal from that year. I believe it is the one  and only time the band won the trophy at that level. In relation to his  funeral service, although he lived most of his early life in the  Portadown area, his funeral service took place in Holywood Methodist Church, County Down. There was a huge turnout at the service and the  family really appreciated the level of support then and still today.
Thank you for your continued contribution through your articles and on the TV and I wish you well for 2015 and on. Please feel free to contact me regarding any factual matter re our late dad.

Kind regards,

Alan Cardwell, on behalf of the family circle.

SPA Amateur Winners

Did you notice that Hector’s list [below] was in my handwriting? To be accurate, it was not a list of just the MacDougall Gillies winners as the April and October winners alternated. The April winners got the Gillies Trophy and the October winners got (and still get) the Farquhar MacRae trophy which dates back to 1918. I’ll attach a list of the MacDougall Gillies winners.
Jeannie Campbell
• Thanks for keeping the record straight Jeannie…Ed.
Amateur Competition winners Spring competition 1931-1982_Page_1Amateur Competition winners Spring competition 1931-1982_Page_2Amateur Competition winners Spring competition 1931-1982_Page_3

MacDougall Gillies Medal and Trophy

Mr Russell pictured with the MacDoigall Gillies Trophy and Medal
Mr Russell pictured with the MacDougall Gillies Trophy and Medal

Your allusion to Grain in Hides and Corn in Sacks [in the second instalment of our article looking back at piping in the 1930s], and also to the missing MacDougall Gilies Medal, reminded me of some related points which may amuse.

The last year the late Ronnie Lawrie judged the Open Piobaireachd at Oban, I was sitting in the back row in the Corran Halls with May McLellan, Ian’s wife. Between the end of the ceol mor and the march strathspey and reel event, Ronnie wandered up to where we were sitting to speak with May. She introduced me to him. As he looked down at me from a great height he gave me one of his looks which confirmed years of experience in ‘Glasgow’s Finest’.
‘Tell me your name again?,’ he said.
‘Hector Russell,’ I replied.
‘I remember you. I judged you as a boy in the MacDougall Gillies Piobaireachd competition in the old Highlanders [Institute].’
And he continued, ‘I will tell you something else. You played ‘Grain in Hides and Corn in Sacks’! You may not know this, but Robert Reid was sitting in the audience that day. At the end, when everyone had played, Reid got a hold of me and told me to make sure you got first place or else!’

And so it turned out. I was announced as first with Dr. John MacAskill second. What Ronnie was recounting had taken place more than fifty years before. As you know Robert, like you, I was taught by Alex Ibell who in turn sent me to John Finlay for tuition. With John I learned both light music and particularly piobaireachd. ‘Grain in Hides’ was one of my first tunes and John had himself been tutored in that tune by Reid and had confirmed his interpretation with Bob Hardie. I think Bob had played the tune with some success which perhaps your records will confirm. [I believe Hardie won the Senior Piobaireachd at Oban with it. RW]

At the competition the trophy, as you know, was presented and immediately removed back for safekeeping.  Winners were given the McDougall Gillies Medal to hold for the year and a Peter Henderson medal to retain. The Medal, as may be seen from the images, I have sent had an added flap where all the names of past winners were inscribed. This record mirrors the names shown on the trophy.                Unfortunately the medal appears to have been lost as have so many famous piping trophies. The winners from 1960 to 1971 are as per the following list which features such notables as Tom Speirs, Anne Sinclair, John Wilson, John MacAskill, Donald Lindsay, USA, Jim Wark, James Hardie and Derek Boyd and Douglas Elmslie (both ex-Muirheads).

An old list of MacDougall Gillies winners
An old list of MacDougall Gillies winners

To finish, Ian McLellan has spoken of Ronnie’s remarkable memory for names, dates, events to which the above would attest.


Hector Russell, Helensburgh

P/M Alex MacIver

Thanks for posting the P/M MacIver article and for the adjustments you made which improve my efforts. Forgive me in the interests of accuracy in confirming a couple of points:

• Danes Drive, according to Ishbel’s eulogy, was the MacIver home from 1935 so it was a little piece of Lewis for nearly eighty years. It has not yet been sold but it appears it is now being prepared in readiness for this to happen.
• The article relating to Donald MacLeod’s tune is not included on www.214bb.com web site but it will be added shortly. The draft has the information about the Donald MacLeod Tassie and this seems an appropriate place to record this information.
• You mention, and I have seen this elsewhere, that Alex Ibell learned his piping and played with the Whiteinch band? Is this where his connection with Willie Francie comes from? Willie, our folklore has it, was with the Clan MacRae band and was a well known personality working in Yarrows. 214BB with Alex Ibell far left
This photo [above] from the website album is labelled as 1934. It is unique in showing Alex Ibell (far left) as Pipe Major. Just behind Alex’s left shoulder may be Alex MacIver. He was born on 23-06-1918 so time line would work. The attachment is a better version of the image than this one.

Sure and Stedfast,
Hector Russell

• Alex occasionally talked about the ‘old Whiteinch band’ where he had played. I seem to remember a noted piper John Wallace as being from Whiteinch in years gone past so I wonder if there was some connection there. Perhaps a reader can help….Ed.

P/M Ian McLellan

I am enjoying the interview with Iain McLellan. We taught at many schools together; a very good teacher.  I liked Tom McAllister and Alex Duthart. I thought more of Tom than John.   In 1976 the RSPBA ran a quartet competition in Edinburgh ( judges undercover). I took a couple of quartets through for the new NCR band, no kilts yet. The result: 1st Edinburgh Police 2nd NCR 3rd Shotts. John came up to me and said, ‘that’s the last bloody time you’ll beat us’.  Next year the 2nd and 3rd were reversed so I guess he was happy.
Jimmy McIntosh, South Carolina

Pipe Band Magazine Back Nos.

Mr Wallace,
Thank you – the magazines arrived today (the surface mail must have been on a hovercraft!). Issue 11 of the Piper Press had Donald Bain on the cover – it was a coincidence as  I’m currently learning Donald Bain’s Bairns.

Chris MacKnight, Halifax, NS

• Glad they arrived safely Chris. Donald is fondly remembered by all who knew him and Jim Barrie’s tune (John MacFadyen Book 2) a fine memorial.

Sean McGuire Tune (see original letter below)

Thanks Robert. I did get the title.
Sean McGuire called it Lord Pottingers. However it turned out to be John Pottingers compliments to Ronnie Cooper.

Thank you for your kind assistance.

Paul MacDonald,
Cape Breton

El Alamein

Hello Robert,
Having read that there is some interest in  wartime tunes, and that you are involved to some extent, I have sent a copy of an old advertisement from R.G.Lawrie Ltd.  mentioning the 6/8 tune ‘El Alamein’ composed by P/M Wm Denholm K.O.S.B. [see letter from Peter MacLeod, Ontario, below for a picture of P/M Denholm and see the poster here], two parts of which are in the Scots Guards Book 2 as a two-part air. Hope it reaches you and naturally you can use it as you like.

Maurie De Hayr, Queensland, Australia


Favourite 2/4 Marches

My all time favourites on 2/4 marches and all light music were/are P/M Angus MacDonald and P/M Iain Morrison as both played from the heart. There are a few pipers that come close today, however in the bands I feel that the round style of playing is taking the music away with medleys overdone with harmony/counterpoint. Everyone in my opinion should get back to learning March, Strathspey and Reels properly again and in all bands as Muirhead and Sons and Shotts and Dykehead used to play them.
Another sore point I have had for many years are competent judges taking points off a competitor’s score for a slight slip and therefore letting the not so musical player beat them. I am mentioning this fact because I would like to hear music played from the heart by more pipers, rather than safe playing designed to win competitions.
Drew Aitken

Great players and great bands Drew. Here is P/M Angus in full flight: 

It’s from his ‘Worlds Greatest Pipers’ CD and it can be bought here. As regards judging, I think there is a more enlightened view abroad today with minor slips being considered just that.

Douglas Elmslie

Was saddened to hear that Dougie Elmslie had passed away. When we won the Juvenile Worlds in 1964 (Dam Park, Ayr, – that first nerve-racking outing for you and I!) you’ll remember Dougie was one of the 214BB ‘old hands’. It was his last year playing with the band, before going on to help win more prizes for the senior bands in which he played. Will always remember his cheerful grin and good-natured demeanour.

Archie [Maclean], Inverness

Sean McGuire Tune

I’m wondering if you could help me find the name of this tune as played by the great Sean McGuire. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_FqVk8RN3c second reel starting at 1:20. I heard it may have an association  Whistlebinkies.
Thanking you in advance.
Paul MacDonald, Cape Breton
• Sorry Paul, can’t place it at all and I don’t think we could match the brilliant Sean! Perhaps another reader can help….Ed.

Willie Bryson Tune

fifeshire-piping-society---william-brysonMr Wallace,
Attached is  a photo of a tune by P/M William Bryson which I believe to be unpublished.  I found it in a hand written manuscript by an Andrew Donaldson from the Kinglassie Colliery Prize Pipe Band, dated 1952.
Chris MacKnight,
Halifax, NS,
• Thanks for that Mr McKnight. Andy made a significant contribution to piping and pipe bands over many, many years as everyone knows. He is being well looked after in a local care home and this might be a good opportunity to send him our best wishes. I am sure many of Andy’s former bandmates and pupils will recognise the script. He must have transcribed dozens of tunes in his time. Does anyone know anything about the ‘Fifeshire Piping Society’? If so please pass on any info….Ed.

Tunes from WW1

I would very much like a copy of the music for Kemmel Hill, if you have it.  Any format would be great, pictures, pdfs, Bagpipe Music Writer, or if you have them assembled in a book, I will purchase it from you, cheerfully.


James MacNaughton MSc RPA
PhD Candidate
Historic Archaeology
University of Idaho

• I’ve emailed Donald MacPhee who played it on the night of the WW1 Pipes Tunes concert and asked him to forward a copy to you Mr MacNaughton…Ed.

Pipe Major Peter Bain

Hi Rab,
Festive greetings and all the best for 2015. Enjoyed the article on my old piobaireachd teacher Peter Bain written by my old boss (head of art department) Angus MacPhee. Two Glasgow-born, Gaelic-speaking, bagpipe-playing art teachers (both with the initials AM) in the same school was bit of a rarity!

Please find attached a rather faded photo of the 1st Bn. Scots Guards pipers circa 1927. The boy piper seated in the foreground is Peter Bain. The Pipe-Corporal seated 2nd from right is my father John Maclean (North Uist) – he looked after Peter, both of them being Gaelic-speakers helped. The Pipe-Major (seated centre) John Donald MacDonald (‘John the Bap’) from Sutherland was also a Gaelic-speaker. Seated 3rd from the right is Malcolm ‘Baggy’ MacMillan (Perthshire), Hugh’s father. [See detail below].


My father and Peter judged together for years in the 1950s and 60s as RSPBA judges. After I left the 214 BB, my father sent me to Peter for piobaireachd lessons at Bellahouston Academy where he held evening classes. Peter was a lovely man, calm and laid-back. John Burgess told me a wonderful story (in his own inimitable fashion) about Peter’s ‘laid-back’ approach at one outdoor competition.

John was a young competitor at the time, and saw a tall, smartly dressed Peter Bain arriving to compete.  John watched as Peter opened his pipe-box – and a chaotic tangle of drones, trailing hemp, drone reeds, chanter reeds etc. was extracted.

(Not quite what John expected of a double gold medal-winner and player of Peter’s stature). John continued to watch as Peter sorted out the bits and pieces, and after a while eventually assembled his bagpipe.  When Peter struck up, John said, ‘It was wonderful – what an instrument. And a prize-winning instrument on the day.’

Fond memories. Yes, many of us owe a lot to Peter Bain.
Kindest regards to you and your family,


Archie [MacLean, Inverness]

*The same to you and yours Archie and thanks for that fascinating piece of piping history. RW.

Gold Medal Winners

Dear Robert,
Many thanks for your wonderful website stuffed with plenty of news and topics about the noble instrument and its best masters.
I read the list of winners of gold medal; do you have any information about the prize pipes , when they started and names of famous makers like Duncan MacDougall or Alexander Glen. Thanking you

Sincerely yours,
Yves Tyson

• We hope cover these sorts of topics in the fullness of time Yves and would ask contributors on these subjects to forward any articles to us. Piping history is one of the most popular topics on the site particularly at this time of year when there is not much happening on the contest field in Scotland….RW

Missing Trophy

Dear Mr Wallace,
I refer to our telephone conversation of today.  I also refer to the PP Editor’s Blog of 12/12/14.
Regarding the Braemar trophy you referred to, my daughter has this trophy and we are wholly apologetic for our failure to return it within time. She went off to university, I went on a lengthy training course offshore, and matters fell into abeyance.
We have had contact from the current holder of the title, and as I understand it, I am to deliver the trophy to one of his practice venues at the earliest. I will most certainly undertake to resolve this without delay. I will also seek to contact Mrs. P Grant to keep her informed and to apologise personally to her. Please be advised that we regret this matter totally and any difficulties this has caused. The matter will be rectified directly. Can you please send me contact details for Mrs. P Grant. With thanks to pipingpress.com  and regards,

David Jack


Hi Robert,
I saw the item regarding the missing trophy in your blog. Christie is a former pupil of mine at George Heriot’s. She’s moved over to Belfast and studies at Queens. I will pass on the request for the return of the missing trophy.

Kind regards,
Willie McIntyre

• Thanks to Willie and to Mr Jack for their quick response. Mrs Grant’s email is p.grant18@btinternet.com

Donald Maclean and Piobaireachd Article

Your article about P/M Donald Maclean of Lewis was of interest.  Here is a recording from the Piobaireachd Society website of him playing My King has Landed in Moidart at the 1952 London competition.

Also, James Campbell’s balanced comments caught the eye and I look forward to seeing more of what he says.  Paul Ross’s article of 4th November ‘The Search for Everyman’s Piobaireachd’ would probably put him in what James might call the ‘revisionist’ camp.  This is also being explored on www.altpibroch.com.

Everybody seems agreed that the ‘bones’ are the same; it’s just how much you make the flesh wobble that’s different.   And the common factor surely is connecting. That comes from the heart, and is as apparent in the playing of Bob Brown, Robert Reid or Stuart Liddell as it is in that of Allan MacDonald.  The copyist will never be the master.

Best Regards

Jack [Dr Jack Taylor, President of the Piobaireachd Society]

Bratach and Glenfiddich

Dear Rab,
I have a student looking for a list of winners of the Bratach Gorm, Gillies Cup, and Glenfiddich Piobaireachd and their tunes. Someone mentioned you might have compiled such a list?

Thanks for you assistance.
Best regards,
Jori Chisholm

• Here’s something from the recent programmes from London and Blair Jori. Click on the links to read reports on this year’s contests. Trust the tunes are going well for next year. RW.And now Glenfiddich – we take it the first 1987 should read 1985:

Gfidd list

The Winnipeg Project

Hi Rob,
Winnipeg Collection - coverI was in touch with Yvonne over Facebook, and she recommended I get in contact with you at these email addresses. I recently released a music book project for the great Highland bagpipe called ‘The Winnipeg Project’. Attached is a cover photo and press release. I was wondering if you could put something in the Piping Press. All proceeds from this project are going towards the Canadian Mental Health Association – Winnipeg Branch. Thank you for your time, and on a personal note, I was a piping student of yours at the Regina School of Highland Arts many years ago.

All the best,
Nathan Mitchell
(204) 470-6063
* Has been done Nathan and your mention of the Regina school brings back fond memories of my time running the class there. I don’t know if it is still going but I know that Rob Kinnear has a very successful camp at Lake Diefenbaker. Good to see the teaching continuing. All success with the book and please pass on my regards to Robert and Graham (Schmidt) and other former members of the school…….RW.

Major Manson at Clachantrushal

On my trip to Lewis in 2013, I went to the west side of the island and took the photos below.  Clachantrushal is the largest Truiseil Standing Stone in Scotland standing six metres high.



Major Manson AT Clachantrushal was composed by P/M Donald MacLean who was born in Balantrushal, a village on the west side of Lewis, and where the stone resides.  He composed the tune during his time as prisoner of war, after being captured at St. Valery.  Major Manson was a retired Canadian Army Officer who worked in Glasgow as a silversmith.  He visited the MacLean home in Balantrushal during the 1930s and gave Donald a set of engraved silver pipes and at the same time paid a visit down the road to the Standing Stone.  (This was also the site of the last battle between the Macaulays and Morrisons a few hundred years ago—oh those Lewismen!) There’s a few Truchals for you.  There are other famous tunes with the name Major Manson in the title.

Enjoy the Pipingpress.com and all the news—and have spread the web site in the Fall 2014, 48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums Newsletter.


Peter K. MacLeod
48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums Association
(Thornhill, Ontario)

• Thanks for that Peter; very interesting. For more on P/M Donald Maclean see our Famous Pipers pages.

James Robertson, Piper to Breadalbane

Hi Rab,
I have a client in her seventies who was talking to me about her grandfather James Robertson. He was a regular solo piping winner at various contests in the 19th century.  She has attached a photo of him and I took some photos of two of his medals and his 2nd at the Northern meeting in 1875. She sent me the following to go with the picture:

James Robertson, Edinburgh, piper to Breadalbane

‘This is James Robertson born 6th July 1845 at Archell/Blair AthollPerthshire. He was Piper to the Earl of Breadalbane. He married in
Edinburgh on June 7th, 1875 and was living at 49 Brunswick Street. By 1881 he had moved to 9 Leslie Place/Street by which time on the census he was a wine and spirit merchant. My mother said that it was in Rose Street, Edinburgh, but I don’t know where about on the street. According to my mother a large copy of this photo was on show when she was a schoolgirl,  in a photographic shop at the top of Leith Walk. The same family still owns the [photo] business though no longer in Leith walk. He [Robertson] apparently had a display cabinet  full of piping medals.  In the 1990s my mother gave his pibroch music to the piping museum opposite Theatre Royal, Glasgow.’

medal 1

He seemingly won loads of contests and there were loads of other medals etc that got split between the family (she can’t get them). She was trying to piece together any info she could on him. We thought you could research him and may want to use the info in an article for your website. She’s happy for you to do this if you want.

Let me know if it’s of any use and if you learn anything about him.

Alan MacColl,
Secretary of the 214 Boys Brigade Ex-Members Association

• Mr Robertson’s collection is clearly with the National Piping Centre and perhaps someone there can have a look at it for us now that provenance has been established. This Robertson was clearly a piper of some note though we can find scant reference to him in any of our sources. He should not be confused with James Robertson, Banff, Gordon Highlanders, nor with James Robertson the Edinburgh based pipe maker who took over James Center’s premises in 1908, though they all may be related in some way. I have trawled through the British Newspaper Archive and have come up with some info re Breadalbane pipers which is now on the History pages….Ed.

Cultybraggan Camp

The writer and the Edinburgh Universirty OTC pipe band at Cultybraggan

Dear Editor,

My annals of Edinburgh University OTC Pipe Band would be incomplete without mentioning our periodic training at Cultybraggan Camp. Set in West Perthshire, it was a POW camp during World War 2, and in 1960 became a training camp for army cadets and Territorials. It had a pleasant ambiance which seemed to foster pranks and mischief often aimed at military dictates and often fuelled by visits to the hostelries in nearby Comrie. Our pipe band was no exception and we entered into the spirit with enthusiasm.

It so happened that our Nissan Hut was near that of Glasgow University’s Pipe Band who were rather staid and military –  which simply invited out attentions. There had been heavy snow, and on our return from a ‘run ashore’ in Comrie, we quietly piled up snow at their door and windows.  At Reveille they thought they were snowed in and could avoid parading. Their RSM could not be fooled, and after a terrific commotion they sheepishly emerged giving hostile looks in our direction. Retribution followed the next morning. We had an elderly corporal called Stevenson attached to us, and for comfort we moved his bed nearer the stove which was next to the door. Early in the morning the door flew open and a barrage of snowballs hit the awakening corporal. ‘Stevie’ had a stammer which somewhat inhibited the use of certain swearwords – as did the sheer volume of snow hitting him. He did not take kindly to subsequently being referred to as ‘Snow White’.

It has been said that one of the horrors of WW2 were the other ranks’ ‘latrines at Shorncliff’ – and those at Cultybraggan were equally unpleasant. Known as the ‘Magic Flute’ they consisted of a large diameter pipe with holes cut at intervals in the top and partitioned off with a hessian screen at the front to afford some privacy. A constant stream of water flowed through, followed by large flushes. The trick was to set fire to some newspapers and allow them to float through the pipe. This promptly ejected any occupants, their business unfinished. At night we carried this further by blocking the pipe with turf at its exit – flooding the parade ground by morning.

On a professional basis we practised hard as a band and received an invitation to beat retreat at Gleneagles Hotel. This went very well, so much so that one of the guests provided refreshments for the band for quite a while afterwards. When we returned to the Officer’s Mess a party was in full swing, and, not to be outdone, we joined in, feeling we had to make up for lost time. This took the form of communally imbibing beer from shell case ‘ornaments’. Unfortunately the mixture of beer, cigarette ash and residual cordite had a disastrous effect, and no piping could be attempted until later the following morning.

EUOTC pipers at a recent reunion

In spite of the various escapades of the EUOTC Pipe Band, we took our playing seriously and the annual University Pipe Band Competition was keenly contested. We also beat Retreat at Edinburgh Castle and played abroad at some Scottish events. The top photograph shows us at Cultybraggan and below that at our Reunion in 2010 forty-five years later. We enjoyed wonderful camaraderie and friendship. Ours was a large band which sadly is very difficult to raise nowadays. I enjoyed being a piper, but an Army career was not for me and I subsequently joined the ‘senior service’.


Kenneth Macdonald, Pitlochry

PP Readership


dave barrett letterI have been hesitant to email you because I figured that you were swamped with whatever transition you were making. I want to thank you for really being a beacon of knowledge for me personally, and in turn all the people that I try to pass the information (correctly) down to. I hope you realize that while you may not hear from so many of the people that you have helped with piping, you remain a pillar to look up to in these regards.

I found the Piping Press quite by accident the other day. I use the Bob Dunsire forums to keep in touch with other pipers and saw the reaction to the article referring to Gordon Walker’s clothing. Perhaps you can use the Bob Dunsire to grow your readership?
I wish you and your family the best during your time of change. With my job, I am quite experienced at change and know that it can be stressful.
As far as my piping is going, I have gone a bit to the dark side and have been playing the Scottish smallpipes quite a bit! I have also transferred to the Washington, D.C. area and no longer play with my pipe band from Vermont (Catamount). That is where I most recently saw you at the World’s weeks of 2011 and 2013. My work band is still going (US Customs and Border Protection Field Operations) While we do not get the funding that the US Border Patrol gets, we get by with a short and simple tune list, and steady blowing on well-maintained pipes. Here is a nice picture from National Police Week 2014. Please put my email on your mailing list. I want to support you in any way, so please let me know.

Your friend,

Dave Barrett, Washington DC


Dear Sir,
I wanted to send a small note just to express my thanks for the superb job you do on the website.
Best Regards,

Vincent M. Moore, Missouri, USA

London 2014

Hi Rab
Good to see you on Saturday and glad to see from your article on Piping Press that you seemed to enjoy the day.  As always a couple of things we can improve on and we do try to do better year on year.

Given the number of events we run in one day (and I’m aware there are varying views on this but as you have said yourself in the past ‘where else can the juveniles ‘rub shoulders’ with the premier players’), the KCEC [Kensington Conference Centre] is the only venue which can accommodate us in terms of rooms, tuning etc.  A couple of years back we could not get the venue on the first Saturday of November and sought out an alternative. After spending lots of time and wearing out a lot of shoe leather, we concluded there was nowhere else suitable in central London and had to put the date back a week (causing all sorts of complications due to clashes with Remembrance Sunday, the London Lord Mayor’s Show and other events).  Also KCEC is such a popular venue that it is always booked on the preceding Friday years in advance making it difficult for us to even get in and prepare let alone running some events on the Friday evening! No magical solutions I’m afraid but rest assured every year we look at all the options.
A minor point in your article. The JB Robertson Premier March event was this year run separately following feedback from those eligible to compete, and not at the behest of Robbie’s family.

Best regards

Roddy Livingstone, Vice-President SPSL

* Thanks for that Roddy and for clearing up the issue of the JB Robertson March. It is always laudable when promoters listen to competitors, but experience has shown that it is not always wise to accept their recommendations. Witness the tuning situation at the Glenfiddich, also driven by competitor desire, where it results in an over-extended event with the paying public’s interest, at least in this regard, rather neglected. The Uist and Barra competition on the other hand is a model of efficiency with a guaranteed finish of 5pm at the latest, though they have nothing like the number of performances you have at London. I think it a credit to the SPSL that they try to give an opportunity to play to as many pipers as possible (and I would agree with Andrew Wright’s comments in his review yesterday),  but there are limits to what can comfortably be achieved in a day as your president indicated in his closing remarks. RW

Home Guard Pipe Bands

Further to recent correspondence in the piping press, The Glasgow Battalion of The Home Guard had a pipe band, and when the Btn marched through Glasgow  in 1940 they were led by a band resplendent in No 1s and feather bonnets; possibly The Glasgow City Police Pipe band. ( British Pathe 1940) on YouTube. The Liverpool Battalion of The Home Guard  also had a pipe band which was largely formed by The Bootle Village Pipe Band. This band is still in existence and they wear the MacKenzie
(Seaforth) tartan; no doubt because the town of Bootle is adjacent to the town of Seaforth ( Merseyside). This town was so named following a marriage of a local family, the Blundells to a wealthy family from Loch Seaforth. I believe the band wore the old Seaforth cap badge but now wear the Queens Own Highlanders/ The Highlanders cap badge. The great Alex Duthart is also known to have served with a Home Guard Pipe Band.Highland Dress.

Colin Hughes, ex Pipes and Drums 1st Bn Queens Own Highlanders, Liverpool.

Dear Sir,

For me, and most other competitors I suspect, the real bone of contention is the wearing of jackets. While I personally feel that a well-fitted jacket will not inhibit my playing under most circumstances, when it is too hot, the level of discomfort can certainly affect my performance. And surely no competitor, organiser, judge or member of the audience wants to hear a performance adversely affected by an item of clothing which, at least in theory, is worn primarily to keep the wearer comfortable when it is wet or cold!

At one major competition I performed at this year (where jackets are required), the room became so hot that the organisers contemplated allowing competitors the option of playing without jackets, however decided against it for fear of giving some players an advantage over others who were not allowed the same choice earlier on! Sadly for those competitors who played later (like yours truly, here), the room became hotter and hotter and it was they who suffered most.

Here is my view: at those particular competitions where competitors are required to wear jackets whilst performing, organisers and committees must equally be expected to provide an environment which maintains an acceptable temperature for the wearing of a wool jacket whilst performing. This would simply require the use of a thermometer. If, for whatever reason, the heating of the room became uncontrollable and exceeded the agreed temperature, then the steward would inform competitors that they would have the option of wearing a jacket or not.

I think that this issue comes down to understanding and respect which ought to flow both ways between competitors and competition organisers.

Decker Forrest

Good Luck From Canada

All the best to you and your Pipingpress. I have already gone into it on and found it very informative and interesting. Especially the article by Bill Blacklaw, D&P Gordon’s Association. I look after the 48th Highlanders of Canada Pipes and Drums Association and have contact with Bill on Association matters—and I’m always on the hunt for piping, and pipe band material for our Association Newsletter and your new site fits that venue.

I have passed on your Pipingpress website to some of our members and in our Fall Newsletter will make mention of it to all our members in the 48th P&D Association.

Again all the best and what I have seen so far in your pipingpress.com, it certainly will be a success.

Peter K. MacLeod
Thornhill, Ontario
48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums Association

P/M William Denholm

Swing of the Kilt LP Gordon Highlanders005Dear Sir,
When I saw the picture of William Denholm on the cover of ‘Holiday’ magazine it reminded me of the cover of a LP ‘Swing of the Kilt’ with the Gordon Highlanders Military band and a piper.  So I dove into my vinyl vault.  This LP came out sometime in the 50s and the piper that played on this recording was a very well known Pipe Major at the time (and I have his name somewhere and I’ll come across it another day).   Incidentally he was, from what I heard, a very underrated piper and certainly played superbly on this LP with the military band.
I didn’t  know the piper on this LP cover was William Denholm who composed the classic El Alamein.  Now I know.
Peter K. MacLeod
48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums Association

Thornhill, Ontario

Identifying Pipers

Dear Sir,
I came across this photograph recently of two distinguished looking pipers which may have been taken at Aboyne Games or the Braemar Gathering in Aberdeenshire.    Would any of your readers know who they are and when, approximately, this picture was taken.

William Robertson,
194 - two pipers
• Many thanks for the picture Mr Robertson. Would the piper on the right be Willie Ross? Answers please!

John Goodenow Tune

Mr. Wallace,
Hello from Oregon, USA. My name is Keir Todd. I started learning keir toddpipes at the St. Andrews Society of Detroit at age 11 in 1965. My first teacher ever was Mr. John Goodenow. He later went on to win the Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal (Canada) and his tune Salute to the Isle of Iona placed second in a composition contest sponsored by the Piob Society. P/M John MacLellan’s tune, The Phantom Piper, was first. Salute to the Isle of Iona is found in the Piob. Society collection of Modern Piob. I think 1980 is the publication date. There are two minor but obvious typos in the tune. I went through the tune with John himself. When I showed him the typos his response was, ‘I never looked at the printed score’. I asked him to correct them, date and sign the corrections. The first is in the last bar of the ground and the second in the toarluath.

Several years later, John’s tune was was selected for the Clasp. P/M John Allan judged the contest in Cambridge Ontario. When John came on, P/M Allan had the grace to ask John to play his own tune. I was there for John’s performance. It occurred to me that that contest might be the only time in which a composer played him own tune, published by the Piob Society in a contest for the Clasp.

I’ve attached a photo of the tune with John’s hand written corrections.

Cheers from ever sunny and rain drenched coastal Oregon, USA,


letters pic

8 thoughts on “Letters Archive

  1. Can anyone help with the following:
    I am trying to research pipers for both the Lovet Scouts and the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry (Scottish Horse) during the period WW1
    If I had their names we could then research the records. There does not seem to be any link on its own to pipers that were killed in action during that period or even survived
    I would be most grateful for any help

  2. Robert,
    Can you or any of your readers shed any light on the following:
    I have a copy of Glen’s Collection Part 3rd (J& R Glen 497 Lawnmarket late of 2 & 3 North Bank Street) price 1/6. On the top right corner of the front cover it says: “EIGHTH THOUSAND”. Does anyone know what this means?
    Stephen Beattie

    1. Perhaps that was the number of sales Stephen. Piping in the then British Empire would have been on the up and Glen’s were a major manufacturer and publisher. Any new book among the growing numbers of musically literate pipers would have been eagerly seized on. Other readers may have better suggestions.RW

  3. Robert,
    Could I ask if anyone knows of a pipe tune with the name “The Fifth Scottish”. It may have been the Regimental March for the 5th (Scottish) Battalion The Parachute Regiment which was in existence from 1942 to 1948.

    Stephen Beattie

  4. Re. John Stuart MacMurchie
    I am not sure if any of the following are relevant to Peter Jackson’s question (12/09/2018) but, if it helps, I know of three tunes:
    (1) Sergeant John Stuart MacMurchie DCM, MM. – a 4 part 2/4 march composed by Pipe Major David M MacMurchie. It’s on page 15 of The MacMurchie Collection Volume 1
    (2) Pipe Major John S. MacMurchie – a 4 p[art 2/4 march composed by Pipe Major D M MacMurchie. It’s on page 42 of The MacMurchie Collection Volume 1
    (3) John Stuart MacMurchie – a 4 part 2/4 march composed 26/05/1994 by Paul Spencer (a piper in the Western Australia police Pipe Band). It’s on page 59 of The MacMurchie Collection Volume 2

  5. Robert

    With reference to your recent mention of The Tannahill Weavers their original piper was indeed Alan Macleod who was taught for many years by my father Jimmy Macleod (Founding PM of Glasgow Skye Assoc).

    He was an accomplished player but never participated to any great degree in solo or band competition.


    Donald Macleod

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