Double Gold Medallist, Niall Matheson has composed a piobaireachd in tribute to his former British Army comrade, the legendary Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies.
The two served in The Queen’s Own Highlanders through the 1980s and 1990s, Niall for 12 years and Alasdair for 17. Alasdair joined as a junior soldier in 1980 at the Bridge of Don depot in Aberdeen after leaving school at age 16. Niall went straight in, aged 19, in 1983. Both served together until September 1994 when Niall left the Army. There was 11 months between their respective birthdays.
In 1992, Alasdair Gillies succeeded Pipe Major Bruce Hitchings BEM MBE as Pipe Major of the regiment. He died in his home town of Ullapool in 2011, aged just 47. Bruce contributed Alasdair’s obituary to the Piping Times. In it, he wrote: “Alasdair was a proud Queen’s Own Highlander and the Queen’s Own Highlanders were proud of him. Known as the Family Regiment, I hope that those closest to Alasdair felt the arms of the regiment enveloping them on the news of his passing.” After leaving the Army, Alasdair took up the prestigious post of Director of Piping Programme at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA, where he led the pipe band and established a bagpipe degree course. Alasdair’s son, Norrie, formerly a student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, followed in his father’s footsteps when he recently joined The Highlanders regiment. (The Highlanders formed in 1994 with the amalgamation of the Queen’s Own Highlanders and the Gordon Highlanders.)
Taught initially by his father, Norman, he grew to become one of Scotland’s outstanding pipers and indeed musicians of modern times. Despite the demands of military service, he won all the top piping awards, some many times over. An invitational solo piping contest, the Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies Memorial Recital Challenge, is held each year at Piping Live! in his memory. Last year’s competition was won by Callum Beaumont.
Niall Matheson was born in Newtonmore and taught by by John MacDougall and Dr Kenneth MacKay. He now lives in Ross & Cromarty and teaches piping in the state schools there. Like Alasdair, Niall also played with the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band.
Niall’s tune, Salute to Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies, comes under the Tertiary B piobaireachd structure.
Niall’s typeset score is reproduced here. Click on the image to make it larger.
Niall has sent us a recording of him playing the tune. It can be heard here: