An era in bellows piping ended on Monday with the news that Colin Ross died in hospital after a short illness.

Colin was a major figure in the revival of bellows-blown bagpipes. He specialised in the music of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders and essentially invented the modern Scottish smallpipes. He was regarded as the best Northumbrian pipemaker of the 20th century.

Born 1934, in North Shields in north-east England, Colin initially played the violin but fell in love with the Northumbrian smallpipes whilst studying sculpture at King’s College, Durham. He made his first set of pipes in 1961 – a copy of his own set – and three years later was elected vice-chairman of the Northumbrian Pipers’ Society.

Colin pictured in his workshop in 2016.
Colin pictured in his workshop in 2016. (Photo: chroniclelive)

Colin became a full-time pipemaker in 1978, working at his workshop in Whitley Bay in the north-east of England. He strove to produce smallpipes which had similar reeds and cylindrical bore to the Northumbrian smallpipes, but with an open end to the chanter, and with the scale and ‘covered’ fingering of a Great Highland bagpipe. In an interview in 1999 he recalled: “I was asked to adopt a Scottish practice chanter for a player who wished to play it using bellows and a bag rather than blowing it. He also wanted drones to go with it to make up a full set of what was called Chamber pipes at that time. This was completed in 1979 and in effect was the first set of Scottish smallpipes with the bellows and the drones on a common stock.”

In 2008 he was awarded the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, the highest award the Society confers. In May 2010, the Northumbrian Pipers’ Society celebrated his long and distinguished contribution to piping and to the Society with a concert in his honour at Newcastle University.

His wife, Ray, whom he married in 1962, died in 2011. We wish to express our condolences to Colin’s family. A full obituary will appear in the Piping Times in July.