With the 2020 invitational solo piping competition organised by The Glasgow Uist and Barra Association coming up on March 7 at The National Piping Centre Otago Street, we found the following critique from the 1978 competition interesting. Competing that day were many who have become some of our leading judges today.

By Captain John A. MacLellan

The noticeable absence of many big name piping competitors was a feature of the recent Uist & Barra competition. The Class I Piobaireachd which was restricted to previous winners of the Highland Society of London’s Gold medal and to winners of the previous Uist and Barra Piobaireachd competitions drew only 11 entries. The competitions were sponsored this year by Highland Queen Scotch Whisky and this fact was evident on the trophy table by the array of ‘bottle prizes’. In addition, of course, were the usual valuable Uist & Barra Trophies which included the Pipe Major Robert Reid Memorial Medal and the Finlay Mackenzie Challenge Trophy. The first prize was won by lain MacFadyen who played the Battle of Auldearn – No. 1 setting – which is taken from the Colin Campbell Canntaireachd Manuscript. Andrew Wright, who played The MacDougall’s Gathering, was placed second while Kenneth MacDonald who has recently been making a welcome come-back to competitive playing gained third place with The MacLeods’ Salute. The fourth prize was awarded to James McIntosh who played MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart. This competition was judged by Pipe Majors Donald MacLeod and Ronald MacCallum.

The Class II Piobaireachd competition attracted an entry of 26. The holding of a second competition is becoming a regular feature at indoor competitions and does provide a competitive platform for less experienced players who need not the with big piping names. All in all, the standard of this competition was disappointing mainly because of poorly sounding instrument either being badly set-up or tuned.

Sandy MacPherson.
Sandy MacPherson.

Judging was Sandy MacPherson making his first appearance at a major competition as a Sheriff and we offer him our congratulations on his recent legal appointment. Accompanying Sandy was one of piping’s elder statesmen, Roddy MacDonald, well known as “of the Glasgow Police”, although retired from that force for many, many years. First prize was awarded to Dr. Angus MacDonald who played Patrick Òg MacCrimmon’s Lament. Many listeners thought that the addition of a crunluath a-mach would have really rounded off a good performance.

The two girl entrants, Anne Sinclair and Patricia Henderson were placed second and third playing The Little Spree and Lament for Mary MacLeod respectively. They are to be congratulated for once again making their piping talent felt, their other talents in the field of good looks requires no judges to place them as prizewinners! The MacDougall’s Gathering scored once again this time for Tom Spiers who was placed fourth.

The March, and the Strathspey and Reel competitions
There was a programme entry of 41 competitors to be judged by the present and immediate past Pipe Majors of Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, Pipe Majors lan McLellan and Ronald Lawrie. Having played of the ‘first’ round by playing both March and Strathspey and Reel at the initial visit to the platform, the judges chose seven competitors for each short leet but which list included eight names in all, which showed the superiority of their playing over the other 33 entries. Dr. Angus MacDonald did not get into the Strathspey and Reel leet and Robert Wallace did not make the one for Marches. So with the following forward in each competition the stage was set for an enjoyable two hours listening. They were Tom Spiers, lain MacFadyen, Harold McAleer, Hugh Mclnnes, James McIntosh and Murray Henderson.

Ton Speirs in 1979.
Ton Speirs in 1979.

The marches began with Tom Spiers playing the Abercairney Highlanders in a setting reminiscent of the late Pipe Major John MacDonald, Inverness, and seldom heard these days. This was a good tune with some occasional ‘flat’ spots in expression. Next to play was lain MacFadyen with John MacFadyen of Melfort which tended to be a light sounding performance both in fingering and in pipe tone. lain was followed by Harold McAleer who played the popular Hugh Kennedy. There appears to be some deficiency in the double C’s in what was otherwise a strong performance. The Pap of Glencoe was played by Hugh McInnes and many listening were somewhat taken aback to hear him play a different version of the second part on the second time around. Otherwise, this was a well-played performance on an excellent bagpipe. James McIntosh played The Highland Wedding in rather a ‘softish’ fashion on a bagpipe which could be termed as in like vein. The John MacLellan, Dunoon, composition, Southall was played by Dr. Angus MacDonald who preferred to give the tune a well-pointed treatment which in all probability was over done. Last to play was Murray Henderson who played Pipe Major John Stewart in a nice musical fashion with a nice marching swing.

The final placings were (the Oban Times Challenge Trophy) – 1. Hugh McInnes; 2. Murray Henderson; 3 lan MacFadyen; 4. Tom Speirs.

The Strathspey and Reel short leet began with Rob Wallace playing Blair Drummond and Pretty Marion which performance rather fell away in tempo at the end of the reel. Tom Spiers played next. His tunes were Struan Robertson (another seldom heard setting, but a nice one!) and Bessie Macintyre. Third to play was lain MacFadyen who played Dornie Ferry – this was a popular performance with the audience. Harold McAleer who had the misfortune to play his tunes over twice instead of once as stipulated also played Dornie Ferry and the reel was Lexy MacAskill. Like his March playing this was a strong rather direct performance. Cabar Feidh and Loch Carron were played by Hugh McInnes who turned in a very good performance. Second last to play was James McIntosh who chose to present his tunes in rather a deliberate fashion and it could be said that his performance was too much down-tempo from what one normally hears. Murray Henderson closed the competition playing Blair Drummond and Ca’ the Ewes. Once again this was a performance which caught the audience’s approbation and Murray got probably the best reception of the day.

An interesting comment was heard from a listening group of very distinguished past competitors who themselves had excelled in the Master’s March, Strathspey and Reel competitions at Oban and Inverness. They thought that some of the performances in both the March and Strathspey and Reel leets were at about the “ready for polishing’’ stage and that in general most of the performances lacked finesse. The prize-list was (the John Kennedy Challenge Trophy) – 1. Murray Henderson; 2. Tom Speirs; 3. Hugh McInnes; 4. lain McFadyen.

At 9 p.m. (a not unusual time at Uist & Barra competitions) the Jig competition commenced. This was judged by Donald MacLeod, Roddie MacDonald, Ronald MacCallum and Sandy MacPherson. Not all the competitors who had entered decided to wait for this competition, which was most enjoyable with some excellent tunes being played. Fingering tends to become fancier and fancier in this musical department and much practise is necessary to do many of the tunes justice. The prizes were awarded to (the A. J. MacDonald Trophy) – 1. lain MacFadyen; 2. Hugh McInnes; 3. Dr. Angus MacDonald; 4. Harold McAleer.

Dr. Leslie Craig from Furnace, Argyll, was the chairman for the day and the prizes were eventually presented at the end of a long day by Mrs Ronald Morrison whose husband has for so many years been the successful convenor of this highly popular competition.

The Charles Hepburn Trophy for most points overall was awarded to lain MacFadyen.

* From the May 1978 International Piper.