The funeral of Tommy Johnston will take place on Wednesday, August 12 at Dalnottar Crematorium in Clydebank near Glasgow at 11.30am.

Due to restrictions placed on gatherings in Scotland as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, numbers are restricted to 20 people. Therefore, only Tommy’s family will be attendance although others who wish to pay their respects are welcome to gather near the crematorium entrance.

Tommy died last week after a short illness.

Tomorrow night’s Silver Chanter will be the 54th year of the competition. The Silver Chanter remains one of the most iconic piping events in the piping world. Indeed, as soon as the first Silver Chanter was held – in 1967 – it was felt immediately that this was a special event.

Last week we uploaded MacTavish’s wonderful article from that very first Silver Chanter but let us now remind ourselves of the background to this unique competition.

Seumas MacNeill and John MacFadyen at Dunvegan Castle. The woman behind them in the centre is Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod. Late 1960s.
John MacFadyen and Seumas MacNeill at Dunvegan Castle. The woman behind them in the centre is Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod. Late 1960s.

The first Silver Chanter competition was held in 1967 at Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye, seat of the Clan MacLeod. Eight competitors played. The competition came about because by the mid-1960s the attendance of the top pipers at the Skye Gathering had fallen considerably and Dame Flora MacLeod, the piping-loving 28th chief of Clan MacLeod, would not accept this.

Dame Flora had been the Honorary President of the College of Piping since its official founding in 1944 and in the early winter of 1966 she met with Seumas MacNeill (the College’s Joint Principal) and John MacFadyen to discuss the action to be taken to bring the top pipers back to Skye. The three came up with a solution: the Silver Chanter competition.

The idea was that only the best pipers were eligible to perform and only MacCrimmon tunes to be played as an annual memorial to the MacCrimmons, hereditary pipers to the MacLeods. The venue would be Dunvegan Castle. Thus, the first MacCrimmon Memorial Piobaireachd Competition – as it was called originally – was held in the historic drawing room of the castle on August 24, 1967.

The chairman for the evening was Dr. Kenneth A. MacKay and the competition was confined to Gold Medallists, or to former holders of the Dunvegan Medal (which is awarded for piobaireachd playing at the Skye Gathering). Ten pipers were featured in the programme but eight ultimately took part. Each submitted a list of six MacCrimmon tunes from which the judges, Seton Gordon, Major General Frank Richardson and Col. Neil Ramsay selected one. The entire proceedings were recorded by BBC Scotland and excerpts were broadcast later. The result of the competition was as follows:

Dame Flora MacLeod with Hector MacFadyen.

1. Hector MacFadyen (Lament for MacSwan of Roaig);
2. lain MacFadyen (I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand);
3. John MacDougall (Lament for the Earl of Antrim);
4. Duncan MacFadyen (Lament for the Only Son);
5. Captain D. R. MacLennan (Lament for Donald of Laggan).

The others who competed were Hugh C. R. MacRae (Too Long in this Condition), William M. MacDonald, Inverness (Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay) and William MacDonald, Benbecula (Lament for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon).

The trophy, a beautiful silver chanter, was presented to the winner by Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod who expressed her appreciation and the great enjoyment that the competition had given her.

By the 1970s the Skye Gathering had become a two-day gathering with all the top pipers attending. Not only did it achieve its purpose in bringing the top pipers to Skye, the Silver Chanter was the first of a new type of competition, the invitational competition, which has since been copied all over the world. The competition’s lasting success remains one of the most amazing phenomena in recent piping history.

After 50 years at Dunvegan Castle, the competition moved to the National Piping Centre in Glasgow in 2018.

Tomorrow evening sees Connor Sinclair (Lament for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon), Stuart Liddell (Lament for the Children), Sarah Muir (Lament for the Earl of Antrim), Callum Beaumont (Lament for MacLeod of Colbecks), Iain Speirs (Lament for MacSwan of Roaig) and Fred Morrison (Lament for Patrick Òg MacCrimmon) compete for this highly coveted prize. From Dunvegan Castle to the National Piping Centre – and the internet – the Silver Chanter continues to charm the piping world.

Watch the Silver Chanter.

The 2018 Silver Chanter competitors.