Tag Archives: bagpipes

PP Ed’s Blog: Cailean’s Last Show/ Piob Soc Conf/ West Fife Band Plea/ New Music/ College Board

Cailean MacLean’s last broadcast as presenter of ‘Crunluath’ the Gaelic piping programme is on Thursday (Dec 14) at 4pm. Cailean is stepping down after 20 years at the mic.

I don’t know who the Beeb has lined up to follow him but his are a difficult set of brogues to fill. Cailean was also the piping convenor at the Skye Gathering for many years, a post now held by Cameron MacFadyen. Among other pursuits, Cailean now hopes to spend more time adding to his marvellous catalogue of photographs of his native isle.


Those already planning their diaries for 2018 might like to note that the Piobaireachd Society Conference will be held on the weekend of 23/24 March with an eclectic mix of interesting papers planned and mingled, as usual, with lots of good music and camaraderie. Everyone is welcome to attend for the full weekend or as a day visitor. Venue is as before, the Birnam Hotel in Highland Perthshire. More details as they become available.


I hope someone can step in and help this band. Alister Rae, Secretary, writes: ‘The committee of the West Fife Schools Pipe Band [pictured top] is pleading to the entire piping community for help as the band is struggling to find experienced piping tutors. The band was set up in 1994 with the specific objective of providing school-aged children with the chance to learn to play pipes and/or drums at an affordable cost. We currently have eight intermediate pipers, three chanter learners and six learner drummers, all of whom attend schools in the West Fife area and they range from 10 – 14 years old.

‘The band has produced a strong performance in competitions and local galas over the 2017 season, however our senior piping tutor has retired, leaving the band without a leader. We have had help from a parent, pipers from other bands and one particularly gifted young piper who have all kept the show on the road so far. We now need some individuals to take ownership of the band’s development and progression. Without experienced piping tutors taking charge, it will be difficult to compete in 2018. We do have a very proficient drumming tutor who is making huge strides in developing the drum corps. We recently launched a recruitment drive for new pipers and drummers, and we have had a very encouraging response.

‘If there are any experienced piping tutors out there that can commit to a couple of hours per week, we would love to hear from them. We competed at Novice Juvenile Grade this year (2017) at all the major competitions by teaming up with another band. Our ultimate goal would be to do the same again next year under our own steam. The guys are very enthusiastic and always keen to do their best. All we need is a leader and a couple of experienced tutors to take us there by developing our pipe corps and improving our skills.

We meet at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline, Fife, on Tuesdays and Thursday at 18:30. Contact the Band via the following: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WestFifeSchoolsPipeBand/
Email: WFSPB@GMX.COM Telephone: 07508 621148



Those interested in new music, and especially music which has been influenced by piobaireachd, may like to look out for ‘The Wisdom of the Reeds’ by William Sweeney and performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at a concert last Saturday. The composer’s note reads: ‘The title was suggested by the Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacall. The piece could be thought of as a dream in which one of the great piobaireachd players meets Johnny Hodges [Duke Ellington’s alto sax man]. There is also some material which grew out of my attempts to represent the sounds of elaborate bagpipe figuration….’ The performance will be broadcast at 10pm on BBC Radio 3 on Feb 10 on the ‘Hear and Now’ new music show.


Following the weekend’s apology from the College of Piping Board to P/M Barry Donaldson a few readers have asked who comprises the Board. They are: Colin MacNeill, Chairman, a successful Edinburgh lawyer who is a partner in one of the country’s biggest corporate legal firms, Dickson Minto. Mr MacNeill is a noted amateur piper and a member of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society. He succeeded his father Dugald MacNeill as Chairman.

Stuart Cassells (38) is the youngest member of the board. He is a founding member of the piping rock group, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, and was a successful junior piper. Personable, Stuart puts his easy way with people to good use as a promotions man with Edrington distillers.

Major Bruce Hitchings MBE BEM is a retired Army officer and former P/M of the Queens Own Highlanders. For many years he was assistant to Gavin Stoddart at the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle. Bruce runs his own bagpipe accessories business and is also a member of the Northern Meeting Piping Sub-Committee.

David Kerr (70) is a retired insurance broker, a member of the Glasgow Highland Club and has been a member of the CoP Board for 30 years. Mr Kerr has a holiday home on the island of Tiree where he is a director of the Tiree Maritime Trust.


College of Piping Apology to P/M Barry Donaldson

The College of Piping has issued the following apology to professional bagpipe instructor, senior solo piping adjudicator and former College director, Mr Barry Donaldson.

The apology reads: ‘Barry Donaldson; The College of Piping acknowledges the rumour and speculation which has recently surrounded the appointment of Barry Donaldson as a tutor at the Northern Piping School in Lohheide, Germany, in November 2017. This rumour and speculation clearly followed comments made in College emails to the School’s Principal. The College wishes to record that the decision taken by its Board to withdraw its support for the Northern Winter School had nothing to do with Mr Donaldson’s presence as a tutor and was primarily because of the College’s ongoing commitment to its own Winter School in Homburg, Germany, which takes place in February 2018. The Board would like to further emphasise that it has no concerns or reservations regarding Mr Donaldson’s personal profile nor his experiential background as a piping instructor and, therefore, the College regrets and unreservedly apologises for any damage which may have occurred to Mr Donaldson’s reputation as a result of the comments made.’


Mr Donaldson said: ‘This has been a very trying episode but I cannot comment fully on it at this time as the matter is the subject of an ongoing complaint to the Solo Piping Judges Association.’

This latest apology by the College of Piping follows several difficult months for the long-established institution founded by Seumas MacNeill and Thomas Pearston in 1944. On August 15th Piping Press reported on the replacement of General Manager Fraser MacInnes: ‘Just when things seemed to be settling down at the College of Piping we hear of another departure, that of General Manager Fraser MacInnes, writes the Editor. My information is that the parting was not as harmonious as it might have been. There must have been personality issues here for, according to the Office of Scottish Charities Register (OSCR), the College’s profit last year was £21,000. The old place seemed to be doing alright under Mr MacInnes’s guidance, however business will now be conducted jointly by Piping Times Editor Stuart Letford and Piping Director Colin MacLellan with the firm hand of Chairman Colin MacNeill conducting traffic from Edinburgh…..’



There then followed defamatory comments made on the College’s ‘Butterfingers Blog’ about Piping Press Editor Robert Wallace. This matter was settled out of court with costs paid in Mr Wallace’s favour. A published apology read: ‘Robert Wallace – an apology: In the Butterfingers Blog on 18 August 2017, we published a post relating to the withdrawal from the Argyllshire Gathering by one or two senior pipers, because of the presence of a particular judge. Although the judge was not named we accept that, to those familiar with the subject matter of the post, he would be identifiable as Robert Wallace. [Offensive language redacted]. We accept that such comments were rash and ill-judged and to make them in a setting which afforded Mr Wallace no simultaneous right to respond or comment was unfair. We also accept that such comments were not appropriate for a blog that is published by the College of Piping and we would like to unreservedly apologise to Mr Wallace for any professional or personal embarrassment and hurt caused to him and his family by the statement.’ Mr Wallace was College of Piping Principal and Editor of the Piping Times for 15 years from 1999 to 2014.

Following this, on November 20th, there was the surprise resignation after only 15 months in post of Colin MacLellan the then CoP Director of Piping. A statement from the College read: ‘The College of Piping announces that due to pressure of other commitments, Colin MacLellan has decided to step down from his position as Director of Piping with effect from the end of November 2017. The College is very grateful to Colin for his hard work in the short time he was in the role and is pleased that Colin will remain associated as an adviser and friend of the College.


‘Stuart Letford, editor of the Piping Times, will carry on as Interim Manager at the College until March 31, 2018, while the board continues its strategic review of the College’s vision and activities.’

Now, three weeks later, this latest apology to Mr Donaldson. Mr Donaldson is very active in piping and pipe bands. As well as duties as a solo piping judge and teacher, last month was accepted as a member of the RSPBA’s Adjudicator Panel and is also an RSPBA Assessor for the Piping & Drumming Qualifications Board.

Mr Donaldson is also in much demand as an overseas instructor and this year attended the Bagpipe Association of Germany’s summer school at Burg Breuberg, as well as the above mentioned Northern Winter School, also in Germany. He will be Senior Instructor of Piping at the South Florida Pipe and Drum Academy in February, a post he has held since the school inception almost three years ago.

Mr Donaldson is a former member of the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band under P/M Ian McLellan and won 11 World Grade 1 titles with the famous pipe major. He also led Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Pipe Band to major championship success in Grade 2 and was latterly pipe major of the City of Edinburgh Pipe Band.


New Film About the Boys Brigade and the 214 BB Pipe Band/ Troon Blackrock Recruiting

A new video about the Boys Brigade in general and the 214th Glasgow Company and its famous pipe band has been posted on the Pipers Persuasion website.

The video, by Pipers Persuasion editor and publisher Allan Hamilton,  features Piping Press editor Robert Wallace who was a member of the 214 ‘piping academy’ which also spawned P/M Ian McLellan of Strathclyde Police Pipe Band and many other top players.

The video also contains footage of an interview with an Australian woman, Irene McClue, originally from Glasgow, whose husband David was a member of the 214BB in the 1950s. The interview with Mrs McClue was a purely chance affair as viewers will see.Robert Wallace talks of his early days in the BB and the band, how it achieved success and how it was influenced by P/M Donald MacLeod. P/M MacLeod and 214 pipe major Alex MacIver were both Lewismen and close friends. The film was made in the Mitchell Library’s archive department. Throughout the month of November the library mounted a special display of documents and photographs connected with the Boys Brigade and its founder Sir William Smith.

Read more about the 214BB here. Check out the Pipers Persuasion website here. The picture at the top of this article is of Boys’ Brigade pipers playing at the 50th Jubilee gathering in 1933 organised to celebrate the BB’s founding in 1883.



Troon Blackrock Pipe Band are looking to recruit pipers and drummers, both snare and tenor, to play with the band in the 2018 season and beyond. A statement reads: ‘We are in grade 4A at the moment and are hoping to progress up through the grades over the coming years. As well as taking part in competitions we also participate in parades and gala days.

Troon Blackrock Pipe Band

‘Our members range from nine-year-old learners through to players in their 60s. We practice on a Monday night from 7.45pm until 9.45pm in St. Meddans Church Halls in Troon. Interested parties are more than welcome to drop in to our practice night or alternatively you can contact us via our Facebook page or by email at troonblackrock@yahoo.co.uk


PP Ed’s Blog: SPJA/ Iolaire Disaster/ Joe Wilson/ St Andrews PB, Brisbane

The latest post on the Eagle Pipers Society blog has been brought to my attention and it is good to see its writer, Euan Anderson, has retained his sense of humour. He was the judge selected by the Solo Piping Judges Association to investigate the risible ‘sore arm gate’ complaint against me.

These kangaroo court inquiries against fellow judges are reprehensible and my advice to anyone asked to undertake them would be to give them a wide berth. There’s always lasting collateral damage. If the association gets a complaint it should facilitate a meeting between the parties and leave it at that.

Euan talks of the fraternal meetings the Eagles have and it is good to see that they are going from strength to strength in such a vein. The SPJA could learn a thing or two from them.


Canadian poet Karen Clavelle has written a long poem on the Iolaire disaster, the subject of the fine piobaireachd by P/M Donald MacLeod (pictured top). The book was launched last month and the tune was played in the background during the event. Karen, of the University of Manitoba, had written: ‘Having listened to the Lament for the Iolaire on your site, I would respectfully ask if I might have permission to use it at the launch for the book. Malcolm MacDonald of the Stornoway Historical Society kindly referred me to you. I would inquire at this time also, whether the score for the Lament would be available, a question raised by the past-president of our local St. Andrew’s Society. I will forward your response to him.’ The ground of Donald’s tune Karen:

The blurb for her book: December 31, 1918. The war to end all wars was over and nearly three hundred men were returning home to their families, long left behind. When the HMS Iolaire left port on her fateful journey she was overflowing with joyful soldiers who had survived the gun but would not survive the sea. It was the Beast of Holm that sank her that night, plunging the men into the frigid waters no more than 20 feet from shore. 205 died, 82 survived. Iolaire, Karen Clavelle’s debut collection of poetry, takes letters, news clippings and her own unique voice to stitch together one of the most tragic tales in maritime history. Get the book here.

On the Piobaireachd Society website you can listen to the tune played beautifully by Iain Speirs.



Regular correspondent Ken Rogers of Calgary has written following my mention of Joe Wilson a couple of weeks back: ‘Hi Rob, I am happy that you included a piece on P/M Joe Wilson.  I was in his class at the College. I can remember coming upstairs to make a cup of tea and you asked me how I was enjoying the class. I can’t remember verbatim what I said to you in the Principal’s Office, but it was that Joe was the ‘real thing’.  The Friday morning when I came to perform my recital I was properly dressed in my kilt, Argyll jacket, and highly polished shoes and Joe gave me his nod of approval. I passed my recital and had Joe sign my certificate.  He wrote a response to an email I sent him before he passed away and I will always remember him in his blue suit and tie standing at the doorway of our classroom. In my mind he was a gentleman and that’s not overstated.’ Hear, hear to that Ken. Joe’s sadly missed.


The St Andrews Pipe Band, Brisbane, have sent this: ‘The band has recently announced a new lead side, Brady Swan. He will take this position after the Australian Championships in April 2018. Having recently been placed 9th in the juvenile world side solos in 2017, Brady at 19 years old, becomes arguably the youngest-ever lead side of an Australian Grade 2 band. Brady has been lead side of the St Andrews College Pipe Band in NZ, past winners of the World Juvenile Pipe Band title in 2013. He has also been playing in the Canterbury Caledonian NZ Grade 1 Band for a number of years under James Laughlan.

The current St Andrews Brisbane Lead Side, Simon Want, had developed the side corp over the last seven years into a significant force in Grade 2 drum corps, with a large focus on dynamics and expression. He has led the corps in the band’s first and second tours in Scotland where in their 2017 attendance saw the corps be placed over some first grade corps in open competitions. Due to his work commitments however, Simon has decided to step down from the lead position and will remain in the St Andrews corps as drum corporal assisting Brady into the future.

St Andrews pictured at the Worlds

The Pipe Major, Wayne Kennedy, is delighted with the situation: ‘In line with our focus on younger players, it is great to welcome Brady into this position. But it is important to recognise how Simon has been a backbone of our band and our many achievements.  The fact that Simon will stay on to assist is testament to the stability and dedication within the band.’

The band has recently returned from the Worlds and lead up contests.  To which Wayne further adds: ‘The last few years, especially the two Scotland tours, have been a learning and development process for our band. We also found that the standard in the contests attended in Scotland had increased in 2017 than what it had been in 2015. But the experience gained by our players was priceless and this will be built-on for our return to the world stage in another couple of years where we will be stronger than before and a force to be reckoned with.’


New Edinburgh Tattoo Youth Fund/ Vintage Pipe Chanters for Sale

Juvenile bands and organisations teaching children piping and drumming may like to take advantage of a new project (promo pic above) sponsored by the Scottish Government’s Creative Scotland arts funding body and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Think what £20,000 might do for your band!

The publicity reads: ‘2018 will be the Year of Young People (YoYP), the latest in the Scottish Government’s themed years, and one which aims to inspire Scotland through our young people. The year will celebrate their achievements and create new opportunities for young people to shine locally, nationally and internationally.

To celebrate the YoYP, Creative Scotland and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo are working in partnership to create a pilot fund aimed at nurturing the ambition, enthusiasm and talent of exceptional young artists engaged in traditional music and dance – with a priority focus on piping, drumming, Highland dance and traditional fiddle playing.

Through this fund, we will therefore be looking to support a small but ambitious programme of inspiring projects with exceptional young traditional music and dance artists from across Scotland.

We will accept applications from any arts or cultural organisations, based in Scotland, with a proven track record in delivering high quality youth arts programmes, and who can provide an effective proposal to meet the criteria of the fund.

Major Steven Small MBE, Pipers Trail Project Officer at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, said: ‘We are working with Creative Scotland within this Government Year of Young People project offering funds to support projects which encourage and nurture youngsters to develop an interest in traditional music and dance. This is an amazing opportunity to gather scarce funding for a good cause.’