Ross and Ali help food bank / The Crisis – a correction / Piper model identified / Keanu: Pipe on, dude

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Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton.
Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton.

Two of Scotland’s leading live folk musicians are donating all their merchandise sales today to a Glasgow food bank. Pipers Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton are encouraging other musicians to do the same.

In 2009, there was one food bank in Scotland. There are now 52 in Glasgow alone compared to 18 branches of McDonald’s. The Trussell Trust runs 15 of the city’s food banks while 37 are run independently. The population of Glasgow is 598,830.

Ali said: “We consider Glasgow to be our home. We feel like we should be doing something to help out the less fortunate folk that share this city with us.” All merchandise sales purchased from the duo’s website today will be donated to the food bank.

As well as gigging together for almost 20 years, Ross and Ali have played with, amongst others, Treacherous Orchestra, Old Blind Dogs, Salsa Celtica, the Dougie MacLean band, Shooglenifty and Capercaillie.

The Perthshire-born duo met as youngsters in the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band and honed their folk music prowess through the influence and guidance of Gordon Duncan and playing at music sessions in The Taybank pub in Dunkeld where they were popular draws. Ross also teaches at the National Piping Centre.


Pipe Major J. B. Robertson, Scots Guards.
Pipe Major J. B. Robertson, Scots Guards.

Our post on Tuesday – ‘Stories of the Tunes – Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban’ – prompted several readers to contact us to say that William Fergusson did not compose The Crisis, the tune referred to in the first paragraph of Seumas MacNeill’s article.

We were aware of this but decided to publish Seumas’ original article as it appeared in the September 1988 Piping Times. The tune was in fact composed by Pipe Major J. B. Robertson and published in the Scots Guards Book 1. Indeed, in the November Piping Times, Seumas printed a letter from Jim Caution who pointed this out. Coincidentally, J. B. died the previous month (on October 2).

Roddy Livingstone was a pupil and friend of J. B. and tells us that J. B. actually accompanied the UK government delegation to Germany in a military role at the time of the said crisis (the time in May 1938 when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, signalling the imminent outbreak of war in Europe).

Roddy was a pupil of J. B. from 1982 until a few weeks before he died. He tells us: “Although by this time he no longer played the pipe, it was evident from his finger work on the chanter exactly how great a player he was. I have never ever seen another piper who was able to combine such great strength with a lightness of touch.

“He was renowned for his march playing but his record in the senior MSR events at Oban and Inverness in the 1930s shows his all-round ceòl beag competence. Had it not been for the war interrupting his competition career (he was only 34 when hostilities were declared), I am sure he would have achieved a number of wins similar to Alasdair Gillies.”

Thanks to all who contacted us.

• Famous pipers: J. B. Robertson.


We are grateful to Andra Noble for contacting us with some information regarding the model for Winifred Nicholson’s painting that sold recently for £11k.

Readers may recall we stated that 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 Scotland’s west coast. Nicholson was an aquaintance of Gavin Maxwell, of Ring of Bright Water fame, who leased Sandaig (Camusfearna in the book) and he died in 1962, a year or two after Camusfearna was destroyed by fire. Sandaig is just over three miles from Glenelg.

Andra tells us that a John Donald MacLeod, who lived at Upper Sandaig and who was a part-time keeper of the Sandaig lighthouse, knew Winifred Nicholson. He was not a piper but Nicholson nevertheless asked him to be the model” for her painting. He also owned two dogs. Thank you, Andra.


John Dew.

John Dew, who as we reported on Monday, has just published his first collection, is offering what he calls an “Educator’s Discount” with the book. This is, says John [pictured], to encourage teachers to buy the book at a discounted rate with a view to have the book as a source for musical material for their band or students.

If you’re a music/bagpipe teacher or Pipe Major of a pipe band you should email John in the first instance or visit his website.


And finally, Hollywood actor, Keanu Reeves dons a kilt and has a go at getting a note out of a set of pipes in the third and final Bill and Ted movie, Bill & Ted Face the Music, that’s about to be released.

Bogus? Keanu sounding what looks like a piobaireachd high G. We wonder if he’s having a bash at Patrick Òg? Lament for the Laird of Anapool? Those drones are tuning a bit low, Keanu.

Reeves (56) also plays a theremin and trumpet in the scene that comes early in the movie. The Canadian actor appeared on US chat show host Jimmy Fallon’s show this week and said: “I can play one note on every instrument. With the bagpipes, it has to be in A but it doesn’t have to be.”

Fallon described how he thought he had died when he first heard the pipes. Reeves’ film partner Alex Winter interjected swiftly: “I thought I had died a few times when I heard Keanu playing the bagpipes!”

Party on, dudes!

Bill & Ted Face the Music was released in the US in August and is curently showing in some UK cinemas.