By Hamish Moore
I first encountered Colin Ross at a concert in Edinburgh where he was playing fiddle with The High Level Ranters; what an inspirational evening for me. I was hearing, for the first time, Northumbrian pipes, fiddle, accordion and guitar as an ensemble.
Colin’s enormous legacy to the Northumbrian world of piping is without question. It is, however, his contribution to Scottish culture and piping which is maybe less well known. As I have been involved in the revival of the bellows blown pipes of Scotland almost from the start, I would like to pay tribute to him, both from personal and national points of view.
Colin, who died in late May, played a vital part in what has undoubtedly become one of the most influential and important revivals in Scotland’s history, that of the country’s bellows piping tradition. By the early 1980s the Border pipes had been played on recordings by The Whistlebinkies and Jimmy Anderson from Stirlingshire worked on the development of these pipes and the Scottish smallpipes by adapting oboe reeds for his chanter. These can be heard on a record made by Kentigern where Dougie Pincock was the piper. In addition – vitally – the Lowland & Border Pipers’ Society had been established.
It was Colin Ross, however who had the idea of using the Northumbrian chanter reed technology in the design and production of the modern Scottish smallpipe chanter. This improved the sound and created a ‘standard’ chanter and reed for the instrument. In 1982, Colin made the first smallpipe D chanter. It was made for his brother-in-law, Artie Tresize who went on to use the pipes in his fast developing show, ‘The Singing Kettle’. That same year, I was gifted an early 19th century set of Scottish smallpipes, complete with bellows, by my then next door neighbour in Kingussie, John MacRae. Colin restored these and made his second D smallpipe chanter for this set. He then went on to design the full range of chanters in A, Bb, and C all using his standard Northumbrian reed.
This inspirational breakthrough of his transformed the sound of the emerging Scottish smallpipes. Subsequently, I modified Colin’s Northumbrian reed to suit the Scottish ear but it was his initial creative thinking which formed the basis of the revival of the Scottish smallpipes.
When I started making pipes, Colin was generous in his help, in particular with reed making, an example I’ve tried to follow throughout my life as a pipemaker.
His legacy has been, and will continue to be, far reaching and long lasting. He will be missed.