Bruce’s letter from P.M. Donald MacLeod / Archie Kenneth Quaich draw

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Donald MacLeod.

Further to our recent article on the late Bruce Thomson’s tune, Tommy MacDonald of Barguillean, Bruce’s son, Ewan tells us that his father’s talent was admired by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. The two first met in the late 1940s when Thomson, then serving his National Service in the Gordon Highlanders, was posted to Fort George where he was taught by the legendary Lewis piper who also encouraged the young officer in composing.

Ewan, writes: “Presumably, my dad had sent him [Donald] a copy of his collection, The Pass of Brander to see what he thought of it.” Donald’s letter is reproduced, below:

“I do like The Portsonachan Cook. It has all the attributes of a good hornpipe, a lively, well balanced air, with a touch of ‘fun’ about it. I like the way each bar begins with a solid pulse, counterpointed with the second pulse being of a light texture. I feel that this gives us stability of rhythm — most essential in ‘dance’ tunes.

Bruce Thomson piping at a friend's wedding in Aboyne in 1954.
Bruce Thomson piping at a friend’s wedding in Aboyne in 1954.

Molly Matheson could just as easily have emerged as a strathspey, but there are two things I like about this tune. Its construction suggests the older musical form, what I call The Golden Era of Bagpipe Music Composition — it’s solid, musical and well balanced.

“Again, there seems to be a cunning change of key, so to speak, in the third and fourth, which enhances the operation. Yes, I like this.

“No, the MacDonald tunes, march, strath, and reel, just haven’t ‘come off’. I couldn’t fault the construction in any way, but I just don’t feel about them as I should, but maybe other ears would like it.

Charles Lucas is a good tune. I very much like common time tunes and this is a fine example. Somehow, I feel if I’d put it together, the last bar in each measure would be different from yours, but that is merely a matter of taste, so don’t let that put you in any frame of mind to change it. Yes, indeed a good tune.

“I like The Broken Knee — evidently (like some of mine) written with tongue in cheek — but it ‘came off’. The last bar I find disconcertingly similar to Charles Lucas — I’m back on that one again — but no matter, it suits.

Nikki Thomson is good. It sounds ‘country dance-ish’ — but some of our best tunes have this lilting sound. I would say that it can be played on the accordion — well and good.

Duncan MacLean, although well constructed, does not appeal greatly to me — and I can not say why. Something about the general air, I think. Again, this is only my opinion, and it could go down well with others.

Donny McVicar is not only a jig, but a very good one. The measures follow each other as natural as night follows day. The air is good and the lilt is lovely. Congratulations on this one!

“The un-named 2/4 march has something about it. Try the last two bars which I’ve inserted to see if you like them.

“I like W. Alexander Law very much, particularly when I come to the last part. Strong, meaty stuff here and a challenge to any player to play it correctly. Plenty opportunity for the unwary to make ‘crossing noises’ going from D to F’.

Scotty Law is good. A nice example of a lilting 6/8 march, with a very strong last measure. Sometimes, I feel that a last measure like this one is what leaves a taste in the ears of the audience, particularly if it is the first time of hearing.

“Well, taking these tunes by and large, they are a creditable lot, even if one or two (particularly) the MacDonald tunes, did not impress as much as others. They should give you a lot of personal satisfaction.

“Meantime, with best wishes,

“Yours sincerely,

“Donald MacLeod.”

Ewan goes on to note that his father also appeared on the cover of the Piping Times 40 years ago [pictured, right].

A celebration of Bruce’s life took place at Fowlis Wester Church, near Crieff PH7 3NR last Saturday.


The annual Archie Kenneth Quaich ceòl mòr competition takes place on Saturday, February 29 at the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s rooms in Edinburgh. This will be the 28th year of the Piobaireachd Society-sponsored competition for amateur players held in memory of its Music Committee editor [pictured] who died in 1989.

The draw is:

1. Allan Harper;
2. Iain Kirkwood;
3. Lachlan McDonald;
4. Aaron Yeung;
5. James Murray;
6. James Kenny;
7. Sandie Greenwood;
8. Robert Frater;
9. Gordon Hislop;
10. Leslie Barrett;
11. Walter Gray;
12. Stewart Gaudin;
13. Janette Greenwood;
14. Con Houlihan;
15. Jim Waugh;
16. Stuart Letford;
17. John Forbes;
18. Michael McGowan;
19. Evan Wraga;
20. Stewart Allan;
21. Tom Peterkin;
22. Andrea Jones;
23. Andrew Park;
24. Gill Cairns;
25. Neill Mulvie;
26. Dugald MacLeod.

The judges are Patricia Henderson and Donald MacPhee.


Thank you to all those who sent information on the surviving descendants of Pipe Major James Robertson. We have passed the information to Tobar an Dualchais.