Memories of London greats

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David Ross of Rosehall. Photo taken in the old London Scottish Regimental HQ at 59 Buckingham Gate sometime around 1966/67. We are grateful to Roddy Livingstone for the photo.

Jeannie Campbell’s recent article on Owen MacNiven contained a few passages that triggered in solo piping judge, Roddy Livingstone a few memories of some of the leading lights of the London piping scene of yesteryear.

He writes: “During the 25 years I was a pupil and friend of James Campbell [son of Archibald Campbell of Kilberry], he mentioned Owen’s name on many occasions. James always said that Owen used his mother’s maiden name as he felt it was less likely to lead to unconscious bias (Gallagher perhaps not Scottish enough and with potential Irish connotations).

“James always spoke of Owen as a very, very good player, particularly of light music. I recall James telling me he had attended Owen’s funeral in Nottinghamshire and that there was no one there who knew what a great piping talent Owen had in his younger days. Recently, I was looking through some historic papers relating to the London Piping Society. Owen is mentioned as a judge (under the name Gallagher) of the senior events at the Annual Competition in the mid-1960s.

“David Ross of Rosehall [pictured, above] was a Londoner by birth, albeit of a Sutherland family, but it was his wife who was from Rosehall. I count myself lucky to have met him on a couple of occasions when I was a teenager and even more fortunate to have received a lot of tuition from J. B. Robertson and James Campbell.

An old College of Piping publication.

“‘Blind Archie’ MacNeill was the composer of the tune, David Ross of Rosehall, the score of which was published by the College of Piping. In the late 1970s I recall trying to obtain an accurate score for Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban which was also originally published as sheet music by the College. Seumas MacNeill told me at least twice that the sheet music was going to be reprinted but that never happened. Eventually, it appeared in Seumas’ Book 2 in the mid-1980s. It would seem that this type of publishing, if not commonplace, was something the College did from time to time. I believe the connection between the two of them was Willie MacLean (Raasay/Kilcreggan) who was David Ross’ principal teacher.

“Both David Ross and David [D. C.] Mather were educated at the Royal Caledonian Schools in London which was originally an institution for the orphans of Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars. Another Caley old boy was John Garroway (later Glasgow Police and a teacher at the College of Piping) after whom a great reel is named (in Donald MacLeod’s Book 1). My first teacher was also there from 1916-23 having lost his father in the First World War.

“During a trip to New Zealand I also met Angus MacAulay, who can be seen in the photograph [below] of the the march to the field at the 1937 Argyllshire Gathering. Angus was from South Uist and among that group of pipers described as “the best player never to win the Gold Medal”. He did win just about everything else, including the Bratach Gorm. Angus ran a piping and Highland outfitters business in London from about 1930 until he emigrated in 1952. In fact, he took over the premises of what had been R. G. Lawrie’s London shop.

The March to the Field at the 1937 Argyllshire Gathering. Front rank: possibly PM Willie Logie (Seaforth), Owen MacNiven, Angus MacAulay, Archie MacNab, Charlie Scott. Behind Charlie is Robert Nicol, and then Louis Beaton and then Philip Melville all on that outside flank. Behind Archie MacNab is Duncan MacIntyre then Hector MacLean.

“Also, when Pipe Major George Greenfield left the British Army (The Royal Scots) and settled in London as a professional piping and dancing teacher, he adopted the name George MacRae. I think George won the Former Winners’ MSR at either the Argyllshire Gathering or Northern Meeting in the 1930s; or if he didn’t he was certainly in the prizes more than once, which is no mean feat in the company of J. B. Robertson, John Wilson, Malcolm R. MacPherson, the Bobs etc.).

“George died in the 1980s and his pipes were donated to the Scottish Piping Society of London and thence awarded as a prize in a junior competition. I think the winner has long since given up piping and have no idea what became of this beautiful instrument.”

We’re sure you will agree that Roddy has provided some fascinating information on pipers of yesteryear in the London piping scene. Thanks, Roddy.

• Inveraray & District Pipe Band included David Ross of Rosehall in its MSR at the 2016 UK Championships: