‘Piper of Tobruk’ painting sells for £11k / Entries to 2021 Vale Junior comp. / Donaldson book delay / Australians dominate Balmoral Classic


A painting by an English artist but with a Scottish subject drew attention at an online auction held last month.

The Piper who played the retreat at Tobruk [pictured] is an oil on canvas painting by Winifred Nicholson. The Cornish painter created the piece in 1952 and it stands 2ft 4in x 3ft (70 x 90cm). On completing the painting, she kept the work and it passed to her descendants after she died in 1981.

Pipe Major Robert Roy, MBE, DCM, of The Black Watch was dubbed the ‘Piper of Tobruk’ after his heroic action at that fierce Second World War battles. He encountered difficult personal issues when he fell in love with a German woman at the end of the war. However, Nicholson’s model for the painting was a shepherd that she had come across while staying at a retreat at Sandaig in Ross-shire on the west coast of Scotland. During the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, Nicholson visited the Scottish Highlands many times, often with her close friend, the poet Kathleen Raine.

The painting attracted a number of bidders before selling for a hammer price of £11,000 (with the buyer’s premium on top of, the picture actually sold for £13,000) at the auction held by Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh on October 23. The buyer is as yet not known.

Each new year usually kicks off with the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band’s annual Junior Piping and Drumming competition, held in mid-January. Entries are now open for the 2021 competition which will be run digitally.

In addition, the competition is confined only to those young pipers and drummers living in Perthshire, Dundee and Angus region. This has always been the case with this particular competition.

Prizewinners from the Vale’s 2017 competition.

The closing date for entries is midday on Thursday, January 14, 2021.

All video recordings must be emailed to valeleadtutor@hotmail.com by Saturday, January 16 2021.

Click here for full details and an online entry form.

Meanwhile, ahead of a hoped for 2021 competitive band season, the Perthshire based organisation has ditched its distinctive red-hued MacNaughton tartan kilts and returned to its original Murray of Atholl tartan, pictured.

From the late 1980s onwards the band wore the MacNaughton tartan as a result of sponsorship from Perth based textile wholesaler, MacNaughton Holdings. That sponsorship ended in 2003.

Known simply as ‘The Vale’, the band was formed in Pitlochry, Scotland in 1906 and was originally called The Pitlochry Pipe Band. Its competitive heyday in Grade 1 was from the 1980s to the early 2000s under the leadership of Ian Duncan. Its Grade 1 band folded in 2018, leaving the organisation with a Grade 3 band and a Grade 4 band.

Willie Donaldson, right, and the cover of the soon-to-be published new edition of Pipers.

The new edition of Willie Donaldson’s book, Pipers has been put back to next July.

The book was first published in Great Britain in 2005 by Birlinn, the Edinburgh-based publishing company that’s also behind the new edition.

Willie Donaldson is also the author of the best-selling book, The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society (2000), which castigated Archibald Campbell of Kilberry for distorting many of our classic ceòl mòr pieces and, indeed, changing the way in which piobaireachd is played – and not for the better.

• “I concluded that the tradition had not been passed on by John MacDonald as he had originally received it. The Bobs had been mis-taught; and so had I. I would have given much to avoid this conclusion, having the highest regard for Bob Nicol and Bob Brown, and long accepted their teaching as the real thing.” – Read Willie’s blog that appeared here in July.

The 14th Annual Balmoral Classic, featuring the US Junior Solo Piping & Drumming Championships, began on Saturday morning with piobaireachd contests streaming via YouTube starting at 8:30am EST writes George Balderose (Executive Director of The Balmoral School of Piping & Drumming). This was the first Balmoral Classic that was online, remote and virtual.

15 pipers were invited to participate in the contest: 11 from eight US states, two from Canada, one from Australia, and one from Scotland. Four drummers were invited to compete in the contest: two from the US, one from Canada, and one from Australia.

Competitors submitted one video for each of two events in their discipline: an MSR and Piobaireachd for pipers, and an MSR and Hornpipe & Jig for snare drummers.

The piping contestants this year were – Sebastian Benedetto (Cape Neddick, Maine); Gillian Blaney (Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada; Alexandra Knox (Woodbine, Maryland); Elizabeth Knox (Woodbine, Maryland); Harrison Little (Fergus Falls, Ontario); Hugh MacKay (Redmond, Washington); Calum MacNeil (Dearborn, Michigan); Thomas McCollum (Deerton, Michigan); Alexandra Miller (Safety Harbor, Florida); Katherine Miller (Safety Harbor, Florida); Rhys O’Higgins, Madison, Wisconsin); Jacob Shelton, Golden, Colorado); David Stulpner, Swanbourne, Perth, Australia); Colin Swett (West Chester, Pennsylvania); Duncan Winters, Grand Junction (Colorado and Dollar, Scotland).

The drumming contestants year were – Rowan Brown (Middle Island, New York); Thomas Carruthers (Melba, Canberra, Australia); Alec Flansburg (Rotterdam, New York) and Cameron MacDonald (Whitby, Ontario, Canada).


Ceòl Mòr (The Balmoral Award) – 1. David Stulpner (Corrienessan’s Salute); 2. Gillian Blaney (The Battle of Waternish); 3. Katherine Miller (Lament for Captain MacDougall); 4. Hugo MacKay (Beloved Scotland); 5. Sebastian Benedetto (Black Donald’s March).

David Stulpner.

March, Strathspey & Reel (E. W. Littlefield, Jr. Award) – 1. David Stulpner (Inveran, Inveraray Castle, Bessie MacIntyre); 2. Katherine Miller (The Braes of Castle Grant, Lady MacKenzie of Gairloch, The Smith of Chilliechassie);
3. Alexandra Knox (The MacNeil’s March, Lady Louden, Roddy MacDonald’s Fancy); 4. Rhys O’Higgins (John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage, John Roy Stewart, Thompson’s Dirk); 5. Harrison Little (Balmoral Highlanders, Susan MacLeod, Willie Murray).

Overall (Patricia Murray Memorial Award and a set of MacRae Bagpipes by McCallum) – 1. David Stulpner.

Judges: Jim McGillivray, Rob Wallace and Scot Walker.


March, Strathspey, and Reel (St. Andrew’s Society of Pittsburgh Award) – 1. Thomas Carruthers; 2. Cameron MacDonald; 3. Alec Flansburg; 4. Rowan Brown.

Overall: Thomas Carruthers.

Judges: Jim Kilpatrick, Steven Shedden and Gordon Bell.

After the Saturday contests, there was a live award ceremony, attended by the competitors, their families, our judges and staff, and Classic supporters. After a break, we were treated to an outstanding solo virtual concert with Scottish fiddle virtuoso Alasdair Fraser, followed by a live Q & A session with Alasdair.

The weekend finished on Sunday morning with two workshops, free for the contestants.

Many thanks to the 2020 Balmoral Classic contestants, judges, musicians, sponsors, donors, the Balmoral School staff, the online publications and platforms, and the many volunteers, who helped to make the first virtual Balmoral Classic an outstanding success!