Kilberry Book: The Society takes the plunge


• From the January 2001 Piping Times.

The first excerpt of the story of the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor told how the idea for the book germinated in the mind of the author Archibald Campbell and of his early concerns over the cost of publication and content. The story continues from July, 1944, to final publication in 1948

By James Campbell

The matter [of publication] rested for the best part of two years. The war ended, the printers got slowly back into production, and the first priority, so far as the Piobaireachd Society was concerned, was to replenish the severely depleted stocks of the Society’s books. So far as the Kilberry Book was concerned the suspicion is that the project had now gained support from individual members of the Music Committee and that a proposal that the society should fund the enterprise was in the pipeline. Unfortunately, there is no surviving correspondence until 5th October, 1946. On that day my father wrote to Alistair Anderson on a number of matters, one of which was this: “Can you get in touch with Harper [a representative of the Society’s publishers Aird and Coghill] before the New Year holidays? There are three matters. (1) His promise to let us have Books 3 and 7 by the end of the year. (2) His semi-promise (if not a promise) to quote us for two of the remaining four books and to put them in hand early next year. (3) My book, but this is perhaps not so important. I sent him a copy and this he has retained, saying that when he can do so he will give me an estimate of the cost and, roughly, the time for completion.”

The next letter is dated 2nd January, 1947.

“Mr Harper has now sent me an estimate of £580 for my book. The one he gave in November 1944, and which you thought was excessive, was £471. I am asking George [Sir George Campbell of Succoth, Honorary Secretary of the Society] to put the question to the General Committee whether the Society will put down the price of printing and have sent him the estimate. I feel that if the thing is not printed now, it will never be printed. I shall be 70 the day after the meeting, and disinclination towards enterprise decreases every month.

“I think that the work is not likely to do harm, and might be stimulating. It may not be the exact thing that the situation requires, but it seems to be the only thing either ready or contemplated. Therefore, striving for a detached opinion, I should say go ahead unless the project is not thought to be worth the money. .. .| am afraid that I shall not be able to be at the meeting. This particular matter is perhaps best discussed in my absence. I have sent the book to Douglas Ramsay and asked him to bring it to the meeting, so I hope that all the cards will be on the table.”

The meeting referred to was the meeting of the General Committee scheduled for 17 January, 1947, and the relevant minute of the meeting reads as follows: “The Hon. Secretary submitted a statement regarding the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor which had been compiled by Archibald Campbell. The committee unanimously agreed to bear the cost of printing estimated at £584-5/- [$934US]. Sir Douglas Ramsay produced the book. This was handed to Mr Anderson who undertook to see the printers and arrange for the work to be put in hand.”

It would be tedious to refer to the remainder of the pre-publication correspondence other than in outline. Various matters called for discussion pending eventual publication two years later; the slow work of the printers, the choice of distributor, the fixing of the price, they worries over increasing costs, the question of whether review copies should be sent out, the correction of proofs. The correction of proofs was a major headache. Thus in February, 1948, you find this to Seton Gordon:

“The Kilberry Book is all engraved but the proof correction is the very mischief. Mistakes are far more rife than they were before the War, and they get overlooked in the first reading in a most exasperating way. I despair of attaining ultimate accuracy, and it is so important to secure it.”

And later in May, 1948, there is this to Alistair Anderson:

“It will be annoying if we are charged extra for proofs, because the manuscript, which was done with great care, was deliberately altered by the engraver to such an extent, in some cases, that the whole page was a mass of quite unnecessary corrections. Unless the music is printed with reasonable accuracy it is no use having the thing done at all.”

In the same letter there is a more interesting passage: “I sent Reid [Robert Reid] a proof of the index and preface to see. He says that he thinks there will be a big demand from abroad for it. He also says that at present day rates 45/- [£2.25/$3.6US] 1s a ridiculous price, and £5 [$8US] would be nearer the mark.”

Then on 11th July:

“It would seem desirous that we should have a selling agent or distributor, someone to whom Mr Aitken [Mr William Aitken, Sir George Campbell’s factor] can just pass on enquiries. I think that Smith [John Smith, Glasgow, Booksellers] would be a very good man to have, failing a pipe maker of the requisite stamp and standard to whom, if he existed (as I think he does not) the publication might be handed over for sale.”

The same letter contains the hopeful bleat:

“I do hope that the blooming thing will be ready in time to be a Christmas present. Every little thing like that helps.” And this expression’ of exasperation: “The proof reading has been and is a proper nightmare. The engraving, compared with that of the PS books before the war, leaves much to be desired. Again and again, in a second or third proof, one finds something that has been undetected before and this in spite of the MS being more carefully done and more legible than any of the previous ones.”

At long last the day arrived in December, 1948, when the blooming thing was published and made available to pipemakers. The date of actual publication was marked by two letters written early in 1949. One to Alistair Anderson on 6th January: “George and Iain and I have signed a letter to the bank for an overdraft to pay for the printing of the K Book pending consideration by the General Committee on 21 January of how the money is to be arranged.” And later in the same letter: “ I had a very nice letter from Reid. He said that he had already sent copies to customers abroad.” And the other letter was to Seton Gordon on 1st January: “To those who cavil at the price the thing to say is that it costs less than a bottle and a half of whisky. What is wicked is not the price of the book but the charges for printing and the price has been fixed to cover that cost alone and no more. Personally I doubt if it will cover the outlay.”

So there was a major worry out of the way. Meantime there was something of a run on the available PS books, and you find this observation in a letter to Alistair Anderson [a member of the Music Committee] dated 14 January, 1949:

“It is possible that the Kilberry Book will slow down the demand for the PS books, since the latter have been the only piobaireachd music obtainable of any kind. On the one hand the ordinary piper just wants a setting of some tune. On the other the PS books are preposterously cheap-16 tunes for 3/6 (18p) as against 114 for 45/-. The erudite notes in the PS books are, I fancy, read by very few only, and the canntaireachd translations never looked at. Similarly, few will be bothered to wade through the preface of the Kilberry Book.”

Sheriff J. P. Grant
Sheriff J. P. Grant … got short shrift on idea for review copies.

It is of interest to note some of the early reactions to the book which were received. First there were suggestions that review copies should be made available to the press. This received short shrift in a letter to J. P. Grant dated February, 1949:

“We decided not to send any review copies of the book to newspapers on the grounds that no review worth anything was likely to be written and it would be a mere waste of the Society’s money.” A more tactful reply was sent that same month to Seton Gordon who was expecting to be given the task of reviewing it in the Oban Times. “To send copies for review seems a waste. Only 500 copies are being printed, and we want pipers to have their wants satisfied. It was stated at the Piobaireachd Society meeting that less than a month after first appearance over 200 copies had been sold.”

Click here to read part 3.